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Constitutional Concerns 

Fr. Cedric Prakash sj

On 14 November, speaking at a function in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath vehemently stated, “I believe that after Independence, the biggest lie in India is the word secular…the people who gave birth to this word and who use it, should apologise. No system can be secular. Political systems can be neutral towards sects, but not secular.” Coming from the CM of the biggest State in the country, this is obviously no off-the-cuff remark, but a well-calculated attempt to test the waters and at the same time prepare for the 2019 General Elections.

This is not the first time that a Senior BJP functionary has negated a core value of the Constitution of India. There have been several utterances from many of them these past years, which have systematically denigrated and eroded the rights and freedom guaranteed in and of the values enshrined in the Constitution of India! There have been lofty proclamations of the establishment of a ‘Hindu State’ by 2020; the annihilation of the minorities particularly the Muslims and Christians. Besides there are also routine pronouncements of the abrogation of Article 370 which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir and of Article 35A which was added to the Indian Constitution through a presidential order and which empowers the J&K Legislature to define the State’s ‘permanent residents’ and their special rights and privileges. There is talk of a ‘Common Civil Code’; that the rights of the minorities have to be abolished. The word ‘socialist’ in the Preamble does not gel with some of them!

Therefore, as the country observes yet another ‘Constitution Day’ on 26 November, the day on which in 1949 the Constituent Assembly adopted and gave to the people of India a Constitution the citizens of India have much to be concerned about! The opening 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 (sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic) 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.

Much however, 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. Above all, despite ample factual data none of the ‘big’ media houses will dare expose the colossal failure of the so-called ‘ Gujarat Model’; of how it has benefited a few at the expense of the vast majority!

As if on cue, most of the ‘mainstream’ media will conveniently defocus from the grim realities, which plague the nation today! Issues, which hog the headlines, are carefully orchestrated, they include: the film ‘Padmavati’ or a letter written by a Bishop to the Christians on voting for the ‘right candidate’ or a ‘Miss World Pageant’ or of course a cricket match. 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. Those who stand up for truth and justice are immediately labelled as ‘anti-nationals!’ Some of the media anchors arrogate on themselves the ‘lie’ that they speak on behalf of the whole country. With political patronage, they literally get away communicating blatant falsehoods. Hitler’s minister of Propaganda Goebbels would not be able to compete with our ‘republican’ propagandists!

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 postponing 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. As seen in the utterances of BJP functionaries like Yogi and others from the Sangh Parivar there are sufficient 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 anything can happen in the run-up to 2019. 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”

Every citizen must then be concerned about what is happening to the Constitution of India. ‘Constitution Day’ is an appropriate one, to pledge that one needs to do all one can to safeguard and promote the spirit and sanctity of our Constitution!

* (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: cedricprakash@gmail.com )

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