It's common these days to drop behind-the-scenes footage of how a project – a film, a song – came to be, showing people the process of making it, the effort involved, the struggles and the issues. But imagine having a way to witness the makings of pivotal moments in history. That’s what the Contested Nation podcast brings to the table: what went into making the document that forms India’s foundation, the Constitution of India.
This unique podcast explores the debates that the Constituent Assembly engaged in, the differing opinions, and the values they passionately discussed. “The idea was to explore how debates, events and issues that were discussed from 1946 to 1950 remain relevant to India today, in 2023. To understand how those events and discussions continue to shape our understanding of what being Indian means,” says Shruthi Vishwanathan, podcast host and founder of The Equals Project, an initiative focused on helping people understand their relationship with the Constitution of India.
Contested Nation, an initiative by The Equals Project in collaboration with Suno India, was launched in August last year. The six episodes have dived into diverse topics, from how the freedom of speech and expression baked into the fundamental rights connects with the restrictions imposed by the government that prevent gatherings and protests, to discussing how the Constituent Assembly dealt with the question of citizenship and belonging against the backdrop of citizenship debates that have taken a bitter turn today.
“The questions that emerged when the Assembly was formed are similar to the ones we see today, whether it's around religion, caste or individual choice. In this context, we try to compare the different views and opinions on what India should be, as discussed back then to now,” Vishwanathan says.
At a time when TV news debates evoke a feeling of chaos and constant attention-seeking, the Assembly debates come as a refresher on how to disagree fiercely but respectfully and “how to work with people with conflicting views to find a common cause and build a common mission.” As Vishwanthan says, “The assembly members strongly disagreed but also left us a strong model of how to negotiate when we have conflicting opinions.”
With audio clips from the Assembly debates and Samvidhaan—a series commissioned by Rajya Sabha TV— the podcast, for a second, makes you feel like you have a front-row seat to the many discussions the makers of the Constitution engaged in. Through narration and guest interviews, the podcast producers have strung together a comprehensive picture of the debates while also making it fun to engage with.
The hosts understand that the Constitution, which should be the most accessible document to a citizen, remains out of reach for many because of the language used. This is one of issues they are addressing by highlighting the personal relationship that people have with the document.
“We want to engage an audience that might not be familiar with it and give them a flavour of why it is important to engage with it. People today are becoming more aware of the Preamble and it’s being laid out in spaces, something I haven’t seen before. There is interest and maybe through this podcast we can get people to explore more of the document by making constitutional terms accessible,” explains Vishwanathan.
The podcast also includes a fascinating episode called ‘The Other Assembly’ which focuses on the assembly of Pakistan. When the partition happened in 1947, the Constituent Assembly, first formed in December 1946, was divided into two, one for India and another for Pakistan, and the two assemblies that sprouted from the same base had very different journeys. Vishwanathan talks about how this led to a less talked about topic. “It was interesting to explore what the political and social forces were that made these two countries have very different constitutional journeys, and how these journeys are still evolving.”
The six episodes focus on the Constituent Assembly debates to bring in varied discussions such as women's choice and marital desire, individual choice, how different communities dealt with the question of belonging after the partition, and the implementation of a Swaraj Constitution in Aundh.
The final episode of Season 1 will be on Manipur and will be released later this week. The podcast is available on Suno India, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.