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Derailing The Constitution: A Threat To The Idea Of India

By Shehzad Poonawalla

26 January, 2015

As a keen observer of politics and a student of the Constitution, I often wonder if the 2014 Lok Sabha election results, have thrown up, in the midst of cheer and change, a much avoidable narrative of triumphanism, unilateralism and chauvinism that threaten the very Idea of India.

The most visible attack has been on the secular soul of India or Bharat. Today, secularism is considered to be a bad word in our political lingo. One is often mocked for being a "sickularist" or a "pseudo secular" not just by social media supporters of the ruling party but its top leaders and spokespersons who have polluted and adulterated the word. Firstly the contention of the ruling party leading lights, that former PM Indira Gandhi began the politics of 'minority appeasement' and introduced the dirty word of 'secular' into our Preamble is just not correct. The founding fathers had already discussed the issue of secularism thread bare in the Constituent Assembly and had consciously introduced Articles and Provisions that made 'secularism' an inalienable part of our constitution. It was an affirmative decision to not replicate Pakistan and become a theocratic state albeit of the Hindu variety.

The definition of secularism is coming under great scrutiny after May 16th 2014. Some say, it was the 'minority appeasement' in the garb of secularism that they are opposed to. Fair enough but why are the same set of people not opposed to 'majoritarian appeasement' in the same breath? The ruling party in its election manifestos no less, has time and again over many years, spoken of re-building a religious structure in Ayodhya even while the matter is pending before a court. The fact that they haven't done so despite being in power for six years between 1998-2004 says as much about their intent as their attempt to use religion as a mobilizing clarion call for the their politics. Is that secular?

Let's pick up more recent issues. The External Affairs Minister says let us make the Holy 'Geeta' our national book. Firstly, shouldn't our Constitution be the only book that enjoys that status? If the Geeta is universal, as was later claimed by those who came to defend that demand, why make it a 'national' book and limit it to one nation. Let it be an international book!

But the agenda is very clear- unleash a kind of communal hegemony that runs completely contrary to the tenets of our Constitution that guarantees equality and equal treatment to all irrespective of one's faith and beliefs. BJP Leader Subramanian Swamy had articulated the real position in much clearer words when he penned an article in 2011. His contention, an uncontested reflection of the ruling party and its affiliate RSS' agenda was that 'Minorities in India ought to be disenfranchised (denied right to vote) unless they accept they are Hindus". Sounds no different than what the ISIS would want, doesn't it? Another affiliate of the ruling party - the VHP declared recently that its not just India but the entire world that is Hindu.

Today, the fringe has become the mainstream. I am tempted to pull out the PM's views and statements on the subject especially after he, as per a Supreme Court observation in 2004, 'twiddled his thumbs like a modern day Nero while Gujarat burnt under his watch'. His utterances on James 'Michael' Lyngdoh emphasizing on the Christian roots of a former Chief Election Commissioner and Muslim refugee camps in Gujarat being compared to 'baby making factories' by him can not be erased by a mere high end PR exercise. Today, MPs and Ministers of his party echo a line that the PM in his most natural avataar, would be mighty proud of. Sakshi Maharaj, says that 'Madrassas are terror training camps' and no action is taken against him despite the Home Ministry report that the claim is bogus. His 'Hindu women should have four children' remark, both sexist and communal, evokes nothing more than a mere notice from the BJP that the MP denies from even receiving! His colleague Yogi Adityanath speaks of Love Jihad- a conspiracy by Muslim men to trap Hindu women, which was de-bunked by no less than two high courts- Karnataka and Kerala. He is not even served a notice for his 'we will take 100 women for 1' remark!

Those accused in the horrible Muzaffarnagar riots have been lauded with ministerial berths and special security. Another member of the Modi government, Sadhvi Jyoti, who used the most foul language to describe those who invest their faith in a secular India, is rewarded with special protection too! All of this, has Mr. Modi's affirmative assent to it not just just his tacit complicity.

Today, the after effects of this grand plan to undermine secularism and the Constitution is showing its symptoms. Delhi, which for 15 years was peaceful, just before elections has witnessed communal tensions in Trilokpuri and Bawana. Churches has been burnt and desecrated. Meanwhile, Modi's central government, responsible for Delhi's law and order 'twiddles its thumbs'!

The Constitution precept of pluralism was as much about celebrating India's religio-ethnic diversity as it was about respecting our language diversity. Today we find not just a religious hegemony but also a language hegemony, forced on to the entire country by the Modi government in education and elsewhere, that seems like a throwback to the days that caused much cleavage in our society on these lines.

Finally, the Indian Constitution has been modeled to allow a process of collective decision-making that safeguards us against the terrible outcomes of concentrating all power in one individual. For over 60 years, we have as a nation, built up democratic institutions that act as a safety valve. Today, a unilateralist approach and an almost dictatorial control over these institutions threaten the very foundations of our democracy. 'Ab ki Modi Sarkar' is a good campaign slogan but a very discomforting political reality! It is as if nobody else in the government matters? Never before, have we witnessed a situation where fellow members of the Cabinet are not even free to decide who should be their private secretaries leave alone policy initiatives concerned with their departments!

The media, often touted as the 4th estate in a democracy, seem to be more busy in clicking 'selfies' and 'nero worship'.. sorry I meant.. 'hero worship' than any substantive questioning on policies. Parliament is being by-passed and the ordinance route is being adopted on key legislations like Land acquisition, which can impact millions of farmers, causing even the President of India to caution the gobvernment on this. Autonomous bodies are being packed with 'yes men' and 'party insiders' - take the example of the CBFC, whose chief was involved in making campaign films for Narendra Modi and considers him to be a 'hero'. Will such a Board ever clear films that are critical or Mr. Modi's policies or wolrd view? Isn't that an assault on the Constitutional Freedom of our expression too?

The list is endless and the irony is its only been about 8 months of Mr. Modi's government in power. May 2014 would well be remembered for an election that Modi won. The question is will it also be looked upon as an election that the constitutionalists lost? I hope not.

Shehzad Poonawalla is a lawyer-activist. Views are personal. He tweets @shehzad_ind






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