My idea of India this Republic Day, the 71st anniversary of the Indian Constitution coming into force, is to reclaim the Constitution of India.
Over the last few years, I have felt the safeguard of the Constitution becoming weaker, thanks to the misadventure of our governments and its aides, chipping away at our constitutional protections, bit-by-bit.
The last five years have seen many small and big changes that our government has done to the pillars of the Constitution – the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary; impinging on their autonomy. All this has led to us moving closer to being a totalitarian state.
The 2019 Democracy index’s global ranking by the Economist Intelligence Unit has stated that India has slipped by 10 points to rank now at the 51st position. India, the world’s largest democracy, is now categorised as a “faulty democracy.” This slip can be credited to the erosion of civil liberties in India.
A few changes to our set-up includes the introduction of electoral bonds, with total opacity for corporate funding of the political parties. No doubt the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gained a lion’s share of the electoral bonds, while common individuals are legally bound to be financially transparent and accountable.
Right to Information (RTI) has been one of the best things to have happened to Democracy in the recent past. However, recently the government has diluted the provisions of the RTI. Through amendments, now the government controls the tenure, salaries, allowances and other terms of services of Information commissions. This would impinge on the impartiality of the Information Commissioners.
The key feature of our democracy has been the power balance so that no one can misuse it. The defense services were headed by the President for this reason. However, now with the establishment of Chief of Defense Staff and National Security Advisor, both of whom report to the Government, rather than the president, I feel that the PMO has been ‘centralising‘ power under it.
Another key feature of our democracy, which has now been sabotaged evidently, is the post of the Governor and the Speakers. Both these posts were supposed to be non-partisan, however, with appointments of Governors from the ruling party background, the Governor has seemingly become the Centre’s agent, creating party/coalition imbalances in the federal structure.
This was amply evident when, post-election, the Governor seemingly favored one party/coalition over others for inviting to form the government. Similarly, the role of the Speaker when it comes to the disqualification of MLAs has come under scanner, leading to the judiciary suggesting reforms in the process. The way the government misused the Jammu and Kashmir Governor’s rule, making it a substitute for an Assembly while abrogating provisions of Article 370 and 35A, was a classic example of hijacking democracy.
Another example of how autonomy of educational institutes has been ransacked, is by the political appointment of Vice-Chancellors and other administrative posts. The current crisis between students of various universities and the government is a manifestation of this damage. It seems like those who ascribe to the Hindutva ideology are appointed to various posts, even as the government is seemingly purging those who oppose its ideology.
The media is an important watchdog in the overall schema. However, with the corporatisation of media, and the nexus of corporates and government, the media has become a tool in the hands of the government to further its propaganda, to silence its critics and to create jingoism and distractions, away from the issues of national importance. Rather than questioning the government, the media often ends up pulling the opposition in the dock.
One of the ways by which the performance of the government is assessed is by publishing data of various parameters at a regular frequency. However, a trend that we have seen in the recent past is either fudging the data, delay in the publishing of data, altering the parameters to project a rosy picture or even canceling certain surveys. The way the government has played with the GDP figures has been shameful, nationally and internationally.
In the ‘digital age’, especially with the advent of social media, the government’s transparency and our ability to question them are supposed to increase. Things that mainstream media often failed to report were brought to the fore by citizen journalists. No doubt then the government has found it convenient to suffocate the internet. India has the infamy of having the maximum number of internet shutdowns last year.
The judiciary is often the last hope against the bad laws passed by the government. However, the government has been increasingly trying to jeopardise the autonomy of the judiciary by interfering in the appointment of judges and their powers.
The faith of the common public in the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court has been eroding day by day. This has been very evident by the incongruity of conclusions and decisions in the Babri Masjid case and lackadaisical attitude with reference to challenges to the Abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A and amendments in the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Nail-by-nail, the coffin of constitutional security has been sealed. The final nail was thought to be the Citizenship Amendment Act and its dangerous combination with the National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Citizens. Making religion a basis for granting fast-track citizenship was a shameful disrobing of the secular nature of our constitution.
With these small changes over the period of the past few years, the government has diluted the protections offered by the Constitution. This change has been so slow and surreptitious that most people have either not noticed or not bothered about it.
However, as the country has been gripped by the resistance against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the looming dangers of the NPR and the NRC, these attempts by the government to play around with the constitution has come to the fore, uniting a diverse group of protestors against the establishment.
In conclusion, there cannot be a more opportune moment in the history of Independent India to accept the dangers to our constitution and reclaim the constitution to ensure that its safeguards and balance of power remains as it was envisioned by the founders of the constitution.
Long live the Constitution of India!