chapter  5
27 Pages

The conservative constitution

Freedom of speech and the Constituent Assembly Debates
ByGautam Bhatia

Gautam Bhatia’s chapter points to the emphasis placed on freedom of speech by nationalist leaders, particularly in their opposition to sedition and press censorship laws under the colonial government. Why then did the framers of the Indian Constitution impose considerable qualifications on the freedom of speech? He argues that colonial free speech regulation cleaved along two lines: the first aimed at defending the legitimacy of the regime from a rising nationalist movement; the second built upon the idea of colonial difference, viewing Indian audiences as incapable of responding to speech in an autonomous manner. While framers of the Constituent Assembly eschewed the latter, they were able to draw upon a version of the former. They urged that a transformation in who ruled – Indians instead of foreigners – meant that leeway ought to be afforded to the government in resisting speech that attacked its legitimacy. Bhatia also connects the conservativeness of the Constituent Assembly to the Supreme Court’s similar interpretation of free speech laws in India. He urges that both rely upon similar discursive strategies to allow restrictions to swallow up the right granted by the Constitution in the first place.