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Indian democracy at the crossroads
Monday Musings... By JP

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Between the idea, And the reality… Falls the shadow," wrote T. S. Eliot in “The Hollow Man”. He may have had in mind the current state of the Indian Constitution which celebrates its 60th anniversary in Jan. 2011. Sixty years of Indian Constitution, whether you like it or not, is like Eliot's poem. Though constructed in an Utopian mould, the Constitution is yet to create a just and egalitarian society.

We have been seeing through all these years that the existence of the Constitution has done nothing of any positive significance to millions of our fellow citizens. It has not alleviated poverty. It has not dispensed justice. It has not provided security. It has not guaranteed rights that it had promised to guarantee. The fundamental right to education is also yet to become a realisation for millions. It has taken our Parliamentarians 60 years to articulate the Right to Education Bill!

The Constitution also envisages that every single corner of this country will be governed by the elected representatives of the people who are thus authorised by the Constitution to administer the institutions of the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature on behalf of the people equitably. But the poorest of the poor, the marginalised and the under - privileged, continue to live in a rudderless country — a country where the electoral, legal, legislative and the administrative sections do not care for the welfare of the millions.

From among the many flaws that come to mind, just two issues will suffice. One is caste, a very contentious issue. It has been impossible to get rid of caste simply because political leaders find it convenient to use caste for their own advantage. The “undoing” of caste and age - hold social hierarchies was the avowed mission of the framers of the Constitution. Caste and new social hierarchies have become even more firmly entrenched.

The other is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which is in force in the North - East and in Jammu & Kashmir. In the entire North - East and in J&K, the Constitution has been set aside and AFSPA is in force. Only one who has had the “opportunity” to live with the people of some of these regions will realise that they live in an Orwellian world of brutalization of minds and hearts.

It must however be admitted that insurgency and Maoist activity, which has resulted and continues to result in the deaths of countless thousands, was the reason for the introduction of AFSPA. But it is in the way of its implementation that has led to a further alienation of the peoples of these regions. The periodic elections that are held amidst highly fortified security camps have been regarded by the people of those States as “a meaningless symbol of Parliamentary democracy”.

If, as the “visionaries” of the Constitution believed that this would be a “single, united” country governed by elected representatives of the people, the very fact that the “citizens” of these eight North East States live under the rule of AFSPA proves this vision wrong.
Yet the Constitution is a unique written document. The Constitution embodies the Assembly's desire for a social and economic revolution through the Directive Principles of State policy. Ancient traditional ethos of social justice are woven into the Constitution's DNA strand but at the same time there is one other pernicious strand that can be traced to the Government of India Act of 1935. This Act perpetuates a “colonial continuity” that allows the Legislative for its own ends, to slip in ordinances and amendments to stifle the Constitution!

The Constitution was primarily concerned with establishing a just social order and assure in political stability. Consider the origins of the Constitution. It was born in a particular socio - cultural milieu in which the dominant emotion was that of a newly - won freedom. It was articulated by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Maulana Azad, Sardar Patel, K. M. Munshi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad and B. K. Rau, the Constitutional adviser. The Constitution on which they worked for three years is the textbook blueprint of a Utopian Republic.

The genealogy of the Constitution shows why this “longest written document” with its avowed mission of re - creating Plato's Republic is still extraordinary. The Constitution owes its “intellectual” inspiration to a bewildering diversity of predecessors — American, French, English Parliamentary democracy and British jurisprudence. But there is more to its genealogy; for within the Indian Constitution lie ancient Indic legal and political traditions with its ideas of the rule of righteousness and ethical codes derived from Brahmanic and Islamic codes. The vision that appears, given this genealogy, is that this country would become a nation of citizens cast in the mould of Plato.

In this mixed potpourri of the birth of the Constitution, attempts were made to add elements of Gandhian “Swaraj”. Mahatma Gandhi was primarily concerned with greater decentralisation in decision - making, rather than with offering an alternative blueprint for a “Panchayat Republic”. Obviously this nebulous Gandhian ideal found no takers even then and is not likely to find any takers now! Gandhian “Swaraj” is now a road that never ought to be taken at any cost as far as our leaders are concerned! Not that there are no efforts by others to theorise a “Gandhian Constitution” by incorporating ideas about village - level democracy and Panchayat Raj but there were no takers even from the Constituent Assembly!

Dr. Ambedkar, in his address to the Constituent Assembly Session in Nov. 1949, was explicit when he said there should “be constitutional methods of achieving social and economic objectives”. But “equality and fraternity” have never been a part of our society even from the earliest times. There have been ancient “recordings” of history which did find their way in the Constitution but then a detached reading of the country's history, including the revisionist versions of it, clearly show that caste and social hierarchies were a deeply rooted part of Indian society. And they continue to be so to this day.

Dr. Ambedkar, as the Chairman of the Drafting Committee, made a comprehensive attempt, in spite of his skepticism which he expressed in his speech to the Constituent Assembly, to achieve within the framework of the Constitution, the “removal” of a caste - based society and rebuild India on the basis of equal citizenship, fundamental rights and compensatory social justice. In other words, an “egalitarian and just society”.

Take the case of caste. There was no pernicious trend of introducing caste back into Indian society. It already existed even during the heady days when the draft of the Constitution was being prepared. From the post - Mandal era onwards, caste-based politics has been given a permanent transfusion of life. Today instead of a cohesive community of citizens, we now have a complexity of caste - based neo - colonial social hierarchies that are impervious to every legal and administrative measure.

Is it possible that those responsible for drafting the Constitution were not aware that there could never be “eradication” of caste identities? Certainly, they were aware. All of them were legal luminaries of their day, erudite and learned. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and other stalwarts of the drafting committee envisioned the country as a unified nation of citizens.

The Constitution granted universal adult franchise to a country in which more than three - fourths of the population was illiterates. The Constitution, in its conditionality of acquiring citizenship, makes no reference to race, caste, religion or creed. A reading of the Preamble to the Constitution creates a conception of justice that includes “social, economic and political justice, liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship…” to insure the “dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation”. This is the idea and the reality is different.

The “dream” of the “makers” of the Indian Constitution was to bring about a balance between social demographics and just social reality. But that dream seems to be turning into a nightmare as the now complex demographics and social realities have merged to become a hydra - headed monster. Sixtyyears of freedom and Constitutional rule of law have done nothing to dispel the sense of disquiet that our very own Armageddon is at hand.

Courtesy: star of mysore

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