Constitution in Danger

Democracy appears to be in peril. And the constitution is in danger. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in a hurry to radically amend the Constituion without officially tabling amendments in parliament. They use their brute majority in the Lower House to bypass parliament and ignore the Opposition. The fragile democratic system that India boasts of so often is facing threat. The threat is coming from the saffron ideology. People are living through a time when fundamental rights, civic virtue, freedom of the press, even facts and reasons are under assault like never before. Then people don't know how to combat fake news.

Human Rights are violated at every level by security forces without being answerable to any authority. Democratic institutions with some autonomous status are at worst rubber stamps for the BJP government at the Centre. Thus hundreds of recommendations made by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) over the years go unattended. The NHRC, otherwide a toothless tiger, now derives comfort from the fact that the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, GANHRI, has given them 'A' status accreditation, recognising their full compliance with the UN mandated 'Paris Principles'. But all this matters little to the ground reality—prevailing in the so-called disturbed areas. It makes little sense to stone-pelters in Kashmir where NHRC is helpless in making any effective intervention to stop army atrocities against civilians. Nor does it matter much in censoring security forces from indulging in false encounters in Manipur and elsewhere in the country. Of dozens of custodial deaths taking place every year NHRC finishes its duty by announcing monetary compensation to the next of kin for a few.

Not that only the marginalised and minority community people live in insecurity. It's a case of zero tolerance of dissent which in essence makes recurring swan song about democracy by the powers that be farcial. The BJP brand of democracy is hypocrisy—plain and simple.

By any international index India lacks the rule of law. The system is out and out authoritarian, not democratic. Independent observations on the Indian democracy are bone-chilling. Much to the dismay of the Modis India is likely to slip further from its current 138th place in the World Press Freedom Index as four journalists were murdered in less than six months amidst a sharp rise in hate speech. The Paris-based 'Reporters Without Borders' in its exclusive report on India observes a rapid increase in breaches of press freedom. Journalists working in big media houses, both print and electronic, know it better how much freedom they enjoy in their profession. This is the era of 'paid news' and 'fake news' and they are being coarced to make the scenario bizaree. How many stories are being killed in news rooms daily is open to question. Journalists literally have no freedom, they are paid to carry orders of their masters—in most cases the big corporates. And scribes belonging to small press feel insecure all the time for unearthing truth, for exposing politician-mafia nexus, for reporting on industrialists violating environmental and labour norms. Those who champion democracy are eliminated. True, there are unions of journalists with affiliation to this flag or that but they are too docile to voice the cause of journalists. There is no organisation to protect journalists who face death threat in the field. They die in conflict zones while covering the events. The very ranking of India in press freedom index tells a lot about the state of affairs but the actual scenario is more grave than what one fathoms from the 'Index'. And yet they call it the biggest democracy of the world.

Press freedom is a broader issue but how freedom of speech is being denied to the aggrieved across the country does hardly get notice of the NHRC. Dissenters are being denied permission for organising peaceful protest rallies against forcible displacement, against submergence of villages. Organising masses openly is becoming increasingly difficult. Civil liberties are trampled with impunity. With every passing day they are becoming more intolerant and inimical to any voice of dissent. Political oppositon is not allowed to function within the ambit of Constitution. Anybody trying to diligently promote and stand by values like secularism, freedom of speech and freedom to practise one's religion, all rights enshrined in the Constitution, is being branded as anti-national. Strangely, they are not called anti-democratic. The emerging trend of cultural homogeneity pursued by the saffronites is very much against the spirit of pluralism. It acts against honouring diversity accepted by the Constitution. Then it is the order of the day. This Democracy is not for the Democrats.

For quite some time the government has been mooting the idea of parallel polls. The Law Commission is now hearing the opinions of opposition parties on this issue of simultaneous polls for state assemblies and parliament. If anything it is anti-democratic and runs against the principles of federalism. Most political parties including the Congress, however, have rejected the Law Commission's suggestion of simultaneous polls or what they call 'One Nation, One Election' scheme. They call it 'constitutional perversity'.

Meanwhile, the Niti Aayog which has replaced the Planning Commission, has floated an outrageous proposal, the essence of which is 'make the President head the Executive'. As per Niti Aayog's suggestion if the dissolution of the Lok Sabha cannot be avoided and the remainder of the term of the Lok Sabha is not long, then a provision can be made for the President to carry out the administration of the country, on the advice of a council of ministers to be appointed by him/her till the next House is constituted. This is a step to switch over to the Presidential form of government with absolute powers vested in a single person, through the backdoor. The Sarkaria Commission recommendations have been shelved once and for all. That states are dignified greater municipalities is a fact of life. If the Law Commission has its way in reforming Law, the Constitution would be crippled beyond repair. Backward India has a backward democracy but even that is under attack. If the saffronites remain in power for another five years, the Constitution as people know it will be totally unrecognisable making room for authoritarianism.

Vol. 51, No.2, Jul 15 - 21, 2018