Democratic Forces should Unite to Save the Constitution
The Constitution of India, whose prime architect was Dr Ambedkar, was adopted on 26th of November 1949. It was not conceived just as a document of codified laws and regulations but it was an embodiment of the values inherited from our freedom struggle. The leaders of many streams of our struggle for national liberation sat together and deliberated for nearly 3 years to draw a roadmap for the future objectives and structure of governance for India. The coming together of such luminaries from various ideological inclinations and backgrounds gave our Constitution an inclusive and diverse approach which could cater to the cultural, spatial and social diversity of the country.
The constitution thus drafted was a very organic document which protected, strengthened and reinforced the richness and depth of our cultural diversity and imbibed it with a sense of modernity. Thus the ideas of Republicanism, Rule of Law, Democracy and Secularism formed the solid bedrock on which the concrete structure of our independent Nation State was built upon.
Unfortunately, this very dynamic and lively document, the supreme law of our land and its principles are under attack from the majoritarian, patriarchal and fascistic regime of the BJP- RSS combine.
Article 1 of the Constitution deals with the territory of the Union. It describes India as a “Union of States”. This “Union of States” was not an expression of mere political unity between different geographical units but was much more than that. The Union of States was envisioned to become a Union of People coming from different geographical and cultural regions and united them under a secular, democratic republic while protecting their diversities—cultural, linguistic, religious and regional.
However, the recent assault on the autonomy of Kashmir, abrogation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of its territory into two separate Union Territories with total disregard to the Kashmiri opinion was an act of aggression against this unity of people of India and principles of Federalism as envisioned by the Constituent Assembly of India.
The Constitution came into effect completely on 26th of January 1950, the Republic Day of India. But some important provisions relating to citizenship and elections etc. came into force on 26th November 1949 itself. Ironically, the provisions considered most important by the Constitution makers are under sustained attack from the ruling regime from the last 6 years. The way in which the National Register of Citizens of India (NRC) exercise was conducted and the assurance to Non-Muslims and threats to Muslims given by some BJP leaders in Assam has tainted the secular credentials of the Indian State.
Article 5 of the Indian Constitution deals with citizenship and it came into effect, precisely to deal with the refugee crisis in Punjab and Bengal. At that time, even after the horrors of the partition, the Constitution makers did not allow religion to be a basis for granting citizenship, maintaining the secular and equidistance approach the state should have towards religion. Attempts are on to mutate the secular, non-religion based citizenship for one based on religion which openly discriminates with a particular religion.
The proposed amendments to the Citizenship Act will totally invert the secular character of Indian citizenship as envisioned by the constitution makers and replace it with the majoritarian designs of the BJP-RSS. Recently-announced plans to impose the NRC nationwide will only create hatred and animosity between communities and will put strain on the secular, democratic fabric of our constitution and society.
Rule of Law is considered as the cornerstone of any Constitutional scheme. The Oxford Dictionary defines Rule of Law as “the principle whereby all members of a society (including those in government) are considered equally subject to publicly disclosed legal codes and processes”. This basic political equality, constraints on individual and institutional behavior and respect for individual rights is being threatened by majoritarian forces in the lengths and breaths of the country.
Numerous instances of mob-lynching and violent attacks on minorities and Dalits are taking place with seeming impunity for the perpetrators. Instead of holding them accountable for their horrendous acts, some of them were garlanded and greeted by none other than the Union Ministers. This impunity and support from the ruling ranks have further emboldened the stance of such elements and the principles of Rule of Law and Equality before Law seem burdened with majoritarianism.
By establishing political equality between the people of the country, the constitution makers wanted to root a non-hierarchical society but the current regime has undone much of their labour with its majoritarian and sectarian view. The idea of Hindu-Rashtra is based on strict hierarchies of caste, varna, gender and religion and it has no place for Dalits or minorities. This hierarchical division questions political democracy and equality, which was so much emphasized by Dr Ambedkar.
By repeatedly bypassing the legislative bodies such as the Parliament of India and affecting the working of the Judiciary, the current government is also undermining the principle of separation of power between different organs of the State apparatus with checks and balances. The recent Ayodhya verdict has raised questions about the judicial Independence.
The ordinance route, lack of debate and accountability of the executive to the legislature are taking India on the path of becoming a totalitarian state at an alarming speed. Coupled with this decay in the legitimacy of different organs of government is the blitzkrieg against individual rights. The right to Freedom of Speech and Expression and the right to question and criticize the government are being challenged in the name of Hindutva Nationalism with sedition charges being slapped on the citizens.
Progressively lowering levels of state spending on education is making the Right to Education ineffective. The Right to Information was regarded as a fundamental right as part of the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 (a) by the Supreme Court for over two decades. To give effect to this, the Right to Information Act, 2005 was enacted but it has been weakened considerably recently taking away the most important accountability mechanism for citizens and civil society.
The Preamble of the Constitution provided a simple but effective design for the functioning of the future Indian state. All those promises made in the Preamble are under threat today. We are to make a transition from Political Democracy to Social and Economic Democracy under the aegis of the Constitution but recent years have shown that the current regime has set the trend backwards. Instead of achieving a non-hierarchical and egalitarian society, we are now witnessing multiple hierarchies challenging the spirit of Justice, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in India.
The BJP-RSS combine does not believe in Constitutional morality. It wants to impose an undemocratic, monolithic, illiberal socio-political order on the people. In this challenging period it is the historic responsibility of all concerned citizens of the country to come together to protect the values we have inherited from the freedom struggle and our Constitution.