The leaders of ten countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will be present for the Republic Day Celebrations in New Delhi on 26 January 2018.That so many VIPs will be coming to India at the same time for a celebration (which has no ‘extraordinary significance’) is unprecedented. The Government of India will surely go to town about this. There will be much cheering at the parade on that day when India displays to the world her military might and perhaps by the way her cultural diversity. The annual Republic Day parade has been a major attraction over the years; however, times have changed. Many in the country today will be asking if ‘we, the people of India’ have something genuinely to celebrate about. The answer from the vast majority would be a categorical “NO!”
Republic Day is actually the celebration of the Constitution of India. It was on this day in 1950 that the Constitution came into effect. Two months earlier on 26 November 1949, the Constituent Assembly of India adopted it. The transition from being a colony of the British regime to becoming an independent republic with a democratic government system was not an easy one. Thanks to the Constituent Assembly led by the visionary Dr. B. R. Ambedkar ‘we the people of India’ can take legitimate pride in the fact that we have with us a Constitution which is one of the best Constitutions among the Democracies of the world. Our Constitution is the ONLY Sacred Book, which belongs to every citizen of the country.
Today the key principles of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, which are at the heart of the Preamble of the Constitution, are being trampled upon. Every effort is being made to negate the Secular and Socialist aspects of the country. Though India is the biggest democracy in the world, the very notion of being “ a government by the people, of the people and for the people” is being thrown to the winds. Fundamental rights of the people: the right to life and liberty, to equality, to freedom of speech and expression, to freedom of religion are being denigrated and denied all the time.
The Judiciary for one seems to be in a shambles. On 12 January, the four senior most judges of the Supreme Court (after the Chief Justice), Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph held a press conference to highlight their concerns about the judiciary. It was the first-ever public media conference held by sitting judges of the highest court of the land. They did so they said, with great reluctance because "the four of us are convinced that unless this institution is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, democracy will not survive in this country ,” asserted Justice Chelameswar (the second most-senior judge of the Supreme Court)on behalf of the group. The fact that the judges decided to speak out besides being historic literally shook the Constitutional foundations of the country.
Many across the board (including legal luminaires) strongly believe that the independence of the judiciary has been compromised in the recent past. Some of the key issues, which need impartial and sagacious responses, include the premature death of Justice Loya, the Gujarat encounter killings with the alleged connivance of Amit Shah, the corruption cases again the Amit Shah’s son. There are several others including the allegations of corruption by the current CJI, the final call on the Gujarat carnage of 2002, the false cases foisted on some independent media and human rights defenders besides, a huge backlog of cases, which need to be brought to a closure. The situation in some of High Courts and many of the lower courts is even worse- many of the judgements pronounced are totally biased and unjust- blatantly siding with the oppressor (or the ruling political dispensation).The tension continues to simmer in the Supreme Court – but thanks to the courage of these four Justices the possibility of greater transparency, accountability and objectivity is hopefully now a possibility.
The big concern for these Justices is the Constitution; in their media conference, they felt that it was their duty to safeguard the values, freedoms and rights which are enshrined in our Constitution and which have been guaranteed to every single citizen. Twenty years down the line, they declared with anguish that they would not like future generations to condemn them for having ‘sold their souls.’ They certainly did have many reasons to air their grievances and for that, the country owes them a debt of gratitude
The BJP has subtly declared their intention that once they get the required numbers in Parliament they may change the Constitution and foist the ‘Hindutva’ ideology on the country. There are currently several indicators pointing to this. On 27 December 2017, Union Minister Anant Kumar Hegde of the BJP said, “s ome people say the Constitution says secular and you must accept it. We will respect the Constitution, but the Constitution has changed several times and it will change in the future too. We are here to change the Constitution and we’ll change it . ” Earlier in November 2017, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath made a similar statement. Whilst many simply laugh away such posturing as wishful thinking, it is also necessary to see them as ominous signs.
In the past, India had a fairly vibrant and objective media. Sadly, this fourth pillar of democracy stands shattered today. Several media persons, who stood up for justice and truth(like Gauri Lankesh, Sudip Dutta Bhaumik and others) have been killed; many more are intimidated and harassed . The big corporations or the current political dispensation owns most of the so-called ‘mainstream media’; others are coopted or just bought up. It is shameful that some of them have just lost their balance and have become a mere ‘mouthpiece’ of the ruling party or the ‘establishment’
In the conclusion of his Making of India's Constitution Justice Khanna writes “if the Indian constitution is our heritage bequeathed to us by our founding fathers, no less are we, the people of India, the trustees and custodians of the values which pulsate within its provisions! A constitution is not a parchment of paper; it is a way of life and has to be lived up to. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty and in the final analysis, its only keepers are the people."
More than ever we, the people of India are called to be vigilant today and to ensure that the justice guaranteed to us in our Constitution becomes our inalienable right!
* ( Fr Cedric Prakash sj is a human rights activist. He is currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 22th January 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 04)