Our Constitution, the Corner Stone of Indian Democracy, is Violated by the Narendra Modi-led Government With Impunity
The invocation of cultural nationalism propagated by BJP and RSS negates the creative nationalism fashioned during the freedom struggle.
26th November is observed as the Constitution Day. It was on this day in 1949 that the Constituent Assembly adopted, enacted and gave to the people of India the Constitution. It is a historic and revolutionary day. It is rather tragic that the NDA Government is trampling upon the Constitution on a recurrent basis.
The Constitution celebrating liberty, equality and fraternity is a emancipatory document for Indian society which has always been highly inegalitarian, hierarchical and patriarchal because of many entrenched structures of inequality. Our Constitution not only provided us a legal framework and fundamental law for governance, but also gave a blue print for social and economic development and transformation of our nation along progressive lines. It is indispensable for taking India out of exploitation and underdevelopment because of centuries of colonial rule and indigenous inequities based on caste, deprivation and exclusion.
While most countries in Asia and Africa could not sustain their constitutions, India remained an exception and till today our polity and society, to a great extent, stand distinguished in the world for upholding the Constitution. Our unity and integrity has been sustained and nourished because of the Constitution. Every MLA and MP swears by the Constitution at the time of taking oath and they are duty-bound to uphold it. But unfortunately, Shri Anantha Hegde who is a Minister in the NDA Government had the audacity to say that those who claim to be secularists do not know their ancestry and, therefore, people should define their identity in terms of caste or religion. He added that the government has been elected to change the secular aspects of the Constitution. Such statements made by a minister against the Constitution is highly reprehensible.
The world marvels at our Constitution as a legal framework which affirms equality for all irrespective of faith pursued and language spoken. It captures in its scope our complex but delightful diversities and provides us the secular framework for governing the country. As fundamental law of the land, it not only is based on law and jurisprudence but also the age old values of accommodation which always embraced the other. No wonder that an American expert on Indian Constitution, Professor Graneville Austin, described it as the corner stone of our nation. When Mikhail Gorbachev, during his meeting with Margaret Thatcher in late 1980s, expressed his apprehensions that his country, the Soviet Union, would get disintegrated, he was advised by Thatcher to look at India which, through its Constitution, could forge unity and solidarity among diverse ethnic identities and sustain its integrity.
It was Dr BR Ambedkar who stressed on cultivation of constitutional morality for safeguarding the unity of our country and ensuring liberty, equality and fraternity to our citizens. He also stressed on employment of constitutional method to redress grievances of people and cautioned that any other method contrary to the Constitution would spell the grammar of anarchy. In fact, he famously stated that India needed a religion based not on scriptures but on liberty, equality and fraternity. And these ideals have been invoked in the preamble to our Constitution. In other words we need a religion-affirming compatibility with our Constitution which is a fine example of law, jurisprudence and our civilisational values of tolerance and acceptance. Celebrated jurist Justice Krishna Iyer saw within the scope of our Constitution the eternal principles of Patanjali’s yogic principles even as he upheld its progressive principles of law and jurisprudence.
We should be deeply mindful of the fact that along with republican values informing every aspect of the Constitution, its socialist and secular aspects constitute the building block. The words “socialist” and “secular” were incorporated in the preamble of the Constitution in 1976 by the Government of Indira Gandhi. These are of abiding significance for India and flowed from the vision of our great leaders who nourished it while spearheading our freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi stressed on the neutrality of State to religion in 1930 when he drafted the resolution on Fundamental Rights for Indian National Congress for its adoption in Karachi session. Professor KT Shah, a distinguished Member of the Constituent Assembly, moved an amendment to incorporate the words “secular”, “socialist” and “federal” to Article 1 of the draft Constitution which states, “India that is Bharat is a union of States”. The Constituent Assembly did not accept it. While participating in the discussion on that amendment, John Mathai — another prominent Member of the Constituent Assembly — had opined that the word secular should find a place in the preamble and not article 1 of the Constitution. Now secularism is not only there in the Preamble but also has been held to be the basic structure of the Constitution by the Supreme Court in the historic Bommai judgement delivered by its 9-judge bench.
The “Jana Gana” which Tagore invoked in our national anthem remain supreme and their mandate and might is at the root of our Republic and democracy. This secular fabric needs to be strengthened. The danger to it has come from the philosophy and outlook of many right-wing political parties and their associates controlling the State apparatus. The demolition of the Babri Masjid posed a grave danger to our Republic and that danger has been fomented and intensified over the years, imperilling our credentials rooted in secular and inclusive values. Added to it is the prevention of women to enter Sabarimala temple despite the Supreme Court verdict.
The NDA Government has drafted the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 which is under the scrutiny of the joint committee of both the Houses of Parliament. Its provisions reduce the idea of citizenship of India to the level of religion. It is evident from the bill’s mandate that only Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Jains who come to India from outside could be considered for Indian citizenship. In excluding Muslims, it violates the Constitution and the right to equality. The government wilfully violated the Constitution when it imposed the President’s rule in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh by dismissing the duly elected Congress Governments and in complete disregard of the Bommai judgement of the Supreme Court.
The march of the Republic in many sectors has been impressive. In several others, it is very disappointing. The biggest danger, in the form of inequality, has been increasing. People are being marginalised and made victims of exploitation. When the Constitution was adopted on November 26, 1949, Dr. Ambedkar rightly said, ”On 26th January 1950 we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. … How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? We will do so by putting our political democracy in peril.”
On the 69th anniversary of our Constitution, the contradictions pointed out by Ambedkar have multiplied and have assumed proportions of a crisis. It is extremely important to salvage the Republic. The invocation of cultural nationalism propagated by BJP and RSS negates the creative nationalism fashioned during the freedom struggle. Minorities are living in perpetual fear and anxiety about their life and liberty. Other deprived sections are being targeted on the basis of the food they eat and the caste or tribe they belong to. Neo-liberal economy is reducing every thing to the level of commodities and market forces. Value of health and education and many vital aspects of our life is determined by market and corporates. This is very dangerous. We need to salvage this great Republic. Only Jana Gana can do it.
We need to follow Ambedkar’s slogan “Educate, Organise and Agitate”, in order to deepen public reasoning and democracy for empowering people to use constitutional methods for reducing inequality and contradictions pointed out by Dr. Ambedkar. The recent and recurring attack on institutions by the present leadership constitute a serious assault on the constitutional scheme of governance. It has resulted in creating conditions for the failure of the State in a measured way. It is imperative that the Constitution should be vigorously defended and safeguarded for defending the idea of India.
The Author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K.R.Narayanan and had a tenure as Director in Prime Minister’s Office during 2004-2009.