January 26, 1950 marked the dawn of a new era as the Constitution of India came into effect. It was a defining moment in its history; it gave a new face to the country, making it sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, though the words ‘socialist and secular’ were added later through the 42nd amendment of the Constitution. It is an all-encompassing document to give the right direction to the country. It is a ‘light house’ erected by 389 leading lights of the country who constituted the Constituent Assembly. Its all-embracing and inclusive nature prompted a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court to pronounce in the Kesavananda Bharati case that the basic structure of the Constitution should not be altered.
But times have changed; new custodians have come to power. Their scant regard for the Constitution is getting exposed every passing day. Apparently, their ultimate aim is to rewrite the Constitution. This objective comes out -- sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly – through their own motormouths. They consider ‘secularism’ as a western concept and it should be removed from the Constitution. More than ever before, the constitutional rights and values are in danger today. The fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression; equality before law; freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion…. All these are facing grave threat from the government. Filing FIRs against peaceful protesters and putting them in jail, as happening in many States, are infringement of civil liberties. These are ominous signs of throttling democracy.
The eagerness to rewrite the Constitution stems from the Sangh Parivar’s keenness to implement its agenda of moving towards a Hindu Rashtra. The Citizenship Amendment Act should be seen in this background. Granting citizenship on the basis of religion is a precursor to making India as perceived by RSS ideologues. For those who believe that ‘Hindutva is the quintessence of Indian nationalism’, the Constitution is a hindrance. The ‘secular fabric’ enshrined in it is the biggest barrier to reach their goal.
Cooperative federalism, the core of Indian Republic, is under threat. The abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir without even consulting the State government are nothing but an attack on the concept of federalism. The unprecedented tussle between Governors and Chief Ministers in some States contradicts the letter and spirit of the Constitution. At the time the Constitution was being debated, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel sought to make it clear that a Governor’s “special powers” wouldn’t lead to “invasion of the field of ministerial responsibility”. But, with each Raj Bhawan being occupied by Governors ‘specially chosen’ by the Modi government, the State governments are made to feel handcuffed in their functioning. The developments in Delhi, Puducherry and Kerala are examples in this regard.
As the country enters the 70th anniversary of the Republic Day, the worst news has come from the ‘Global Democracy Index’ this past week. The country has slipped 10 places to 51st position among 167 countries, a global ranking of the ‘most and the least’ democratic countries. This has primarily happened due to an “erosion of civil liberties.” Ironically, the decline started from 2014, the year Modi government came to power.(Published on 27th January 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 05)