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Whither Constitutional Priorities?

Whither Constitutional Priorities?

When the Constituent Assembly adopted and gave to the people of India a Constitution on the 26 November 1949, the very first words of the Preamble read “We, the People of India”. These visionary words basically imply two fundamentals (i) that the Constitution belongs to every single citizen of the country and (ii) that no Government has the right to tamper or tinker with its basics unless there are grave reasons for Constitutional amendments. The Preamble focuses on basic principles, which are non-negotiable, and which provide a way of proceeding for every single citizen of India; enshrined in this Preamble are the core values of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity.

But times are changing! There is a gradual but systematic denigration and erosion of the rights and freedom guaranteed in and of the values enshrined in the Constitution of India! As India commemorates yet another ‘Constitution Day’ the question uppermost in the hearts and minds of many Indians will surely be, “ Whither Constitutional Priorities?”

Much has happened in the country in the recent past: the Election Commission of India (ECI), an independent Constitutional body, delays announcing the dates of the Assembly Elections in Gujarat for no explicable reason. Several cases and complaints of how the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) can easily be tampered with to benefit the ruling party are not looked into with the urgency and importance they deserve. The ECI apparently seems to take cognizance of ‘infringements’ by opposition political parties but seems to ignore major and more serious ones by the ruling political dispensation.

The Judiciary is the one body that has to safeguard the Constitution. There have certainly been some landmark judgements; however, this seems today more an exception than the rule. We are aware that in several incidents the Judiciary seems to be compromised. Many of the judges and even public prosecutors simply toe a political party line, just because they are apparently ‘indebted’ to their political masters. We have several instances in which the guilty just get off (even when they murder) for want of ‘evidence’ or because the prosecuting agency has not done its job thoroughly. Justice A.P. Shah, the former head of the Law Commission has called for an investigation into the mysterious death of CBI Special Judge B. H. Loya in December 2014. Loya was the presiding Judge of the high-profile Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter killing case, in which the prime accused was Amit Shah the President of the BJP. The Judge, who succeeded Loya, discharged Amit Shah.

The media is regarded as the fourth pillar of democracy: an absolute, if a democracy is meant to be vibrant and meaningful. Sadly, this is not the case in India today. Several media persons, who have stood up for justice and truth, like Gauri Lankesh have been killed (on 21 November Sudip Dutta Bhaumik a Bengali language scribe was killed in Tripura); many more are intimidated and harassed and even have false cases foisted on them . A good percentage of mainstream media in India is corporatized, coopted or just bought up; these take comfort in being a ‘mouthpiece’ of the ruling party or the ‘establishment’.

Only a rare species among them would have the courage to highlight stories like the ‘mysterious’ death of Judge Loya, the blatant corruption of Jay Shah (the son of Amit Shah), of the suicides by farmers, of how Government policies like demonetization have impoverished millions of Indians, of protests all over the country, of the profiteering by business houses like the Ambanis and Adanis. Instead they will conveniently defocus and highlight only issues like the film ‘Padmavati’ or a letter written by a Bishop to the Christians on voting for the ‘right candidate’ or of a ‘Miss World Pageant’. Some TV anchors have managed to increase the TRPs in insidious ways. They think that they are divinely ordained to shout down, any dissenting voice, anyone who thinks differently. They arrogate on themselves the ‘lie’ that they speak on behalf of the whole country. With political patronage, they literally get away communicating blatant falsehoods.

Then we have our politicians. Many of them revel in hate speeches; they are divisive and discriminatory. They swear by the Constitution but alas, very often, their deeds belie their position and responsibility. If they are in power, people’s issues rarely take centrality; when they are in opposition, they will do all they can to sabotage the parliamentary process. (The ruling party has conveniently postponed the Winter Session of Parliament without taking the opposition into confidence)  Many of them remember the people only before the elections; some of them, even preside over the killing of their own citizens. We have a BJP politician who offers a bounty for the killing of an actress. The police do not file an FIR, the Courts do not issue a ‘suo motu’ and the ruling party seems to legitimatize his words and possible deed!

Finally, we have the ordinary Indian citizens: millions burdened with trying just-to-survive without access to the basic amenities of life. A sizeable section is at the receiving end of a grossly unjust system. Millions become poorer every day. On the other hand, there is small ‘fringe’ group, who take law and order into their own hands; they are ‘convinced’ that they are the supreme authority who should decide about what the others should eat or drink; see or read; what others should wear or how they should worship. They feel they have a right to mete out punishment: murdering ‘beef-eaters’ or ‘honour’ killing. The tragedy is that they seem to be in connivance with the Government or have the latter’s patronage.

On the face of it, everything seems to be disjointed and rather unconnected. There is however, a method in this madness. We have clear indicators today pointing towards the possibility of a change of some of the key elements of the Constitution. As long as the ruling political dispensation does not have the required numbers in Parliament, then the country is indeed safe. However, given the political machinations, the manipulations and corruption in high places, the common citizen has to be concerned!

Thanks to the visionary leadership of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (the Chairman of the Drafting Committee appointed by the Constituent Assembly) and his team of highly committed persons we have a great Constitution. We need however, to question ourselves, as to whether we are truly vessels of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity and have the courage to challenge those who are hell-bent on destroying the letter, spirit and sanctity of the Constitution. Ambedkar puts it succinctly, “Constitution is not a mere lawyer’s document, it is a vehicle of Life, and its spirit is always the spirit of Age.” And he also states, “However good a Constitution may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad”

For those who care about the future of India, ‘Constitution Day’ is an appropriate one, to pledge that we will do all we can to safeguard the spirit and sanctity of our Constitution!

(The writer 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: cedricprakash@gmail.com)

(Published on 27th November 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 48)