The Roots

'Constitutional Democracy is Crumbling'

Asis Ranjan Sengupta

The Constitution that people have today as Guide Book of Indian Parliamentary Democracy was set up in the Constituent Assembly, headed by Dr B R Ambedkar. The Draft Book borrowed at random from all the written or unwritten Constitutions of leading functioning Democracies of Western Countries, in particular, but, as a British Colonial legacy, it derived the British Westminster style from Great Britain, though, the British Nation have no written Constitution at all.

The misuse and abuse of the Book, had started within a few years of commissioning, so much so, that visionary Dr Ambedkar, soon openly dissociated himself from that painstaking endeavour, under his leadership, without hesitation, in his lifetime. The systematic conspiracy to dishonour the valuable safeguards, has been continuing unabated, rather, it gained momentum, with passing days. Here are a few recent instances :

Rajyasabha: The RS was created, as an upper house, just in the fashion of the House of Lords, in England, or the bi-Cameral Legislature of US. The realisation of the Constitution makers, was very clear. India opted for a 'first past the post' method of Electoral majority, in a multi-Party system, unlike Britain, where it is the Bi-Party system, and US, having a strictly Federal, Central Government, elected on the basis of indirect election. India adopted, a loose Federal structure, with a strong Unitary bias, and a Cabinet, headed by PM as head of Government, very much like France, but unlike their President, here the post is ornamental. Now to balance all these, contradictory borrowings from the "best of the excellent" from various sources, an imbalance troubled the makers, and that is regional imbalance first, the second is, gross majority Party rule, where the voices of small, constituents are just ignored. As Indian Democratic Republic, chose the highest vote gathering Party to hold and run the Government, the risk remained that, any Political Party, gaining majority, in bigger or more populated states, might capture power, running the whole, while, certain regions, not choosing the same Party, might be bypassed in decision making, as numerical majority, only matters. In order to address the anomaly, one concept of proportionate representation of state Legislative Assembly members, on the basis of party membership, was devised. According to that, all Parties in State Legislatures, got the opportunity to send, elected representatives in the Upper House, and the House is not dissolved with the dissolution of the Lower House, affecting the States, it is of a continuing nature, members retiring after a certain tenure. But this regional representation spirit of the Law makers, is flouted more often in disrespect to the Constitution forefathers. Without going into much details, the cases of Sitaram Yechury (CPM), Dr Manmohan Singh (Congress and ex-PM) or Arun Jaitley, can be cited. Each of them, comes to RS, from other than their home region. Yechury (Andhra), from W Bengal CPM, Manmohan Singh (Delhi), from Assam Congress, Arun Jaitley (Punjab), from BJP. Nothing could be more against the Rule Book.

Then this RS, has the system of nominations from different sections of professions, and communities, to ensure, their voices being heard, in the National political level. Such nominations are made by the Government, from among them, Players, world of performing Arts, like music, Stage, Films, Sports, and certain minority communities. Once upon a time Pandit Ravi-shankar, or Jasraj, ornamented the house. But, particularly in recent times, these nominations have failed to serve the very purpose. Members like Sachin Tendulkar, or Rekha hardly attend the sessions, and none found them raising any topic on behalf of their community, even. Derek O'brien, who was originally a Christian community representative, has now joined a particular Party later. So these nominations are now mere adherence to convention, and adding glamour to the House, nothing more.

The Speakers: The role of Speakers and their Deputies, in all the Houses, states and both the Houses of Parliament, are from among the elected members. But the dignity of Constitution, demands, they should rise above their Party affiliations, with assuming the Chair, and conduct the House in impartial manner. But again, in the days of total value erosion, the sanctity of the Chairs, are undervalued, rather make a mockery of the Chair. Mr Somnath Chatto-padhay, was probably the last of the Romance, in this respect. During the Constitutional crisis, in the UPA-I regime, in connection with the nuclear logistics procurement bill, he astutely, rose over his party affiliation, or rather acted against his Party mandate, to save the crisis. But such prudence of constitutional law and practice, are fast withering away. In case of State Assemblies too, the very nomination or election to the chair, is based on ugly politicking, and in office, they are found to be partial with the Treasury Bench.

Take for example, the rampant misuse of the provisions of Money or Finance Bills. The Money Bills, as per rule, are only those, that are related to the income and expenditure of the Union Government, that too in case of urgent or emergency needs. As it is a very tricky problem, to decide, which bill is actually, Money Bill, and which are not, the makers of the Constitution, left it to the discretion of the Loksabha Speaker, to apply his / her wisdom and experience in Constitutional law and practice, to take a final decision, in the matter, and the decision thus taken, is final. No challenge or, raising issue, is permissible, and, the Bills routed in this channel, need no debate, or passing in both Houses. The approval of Lower House is enough. This made no serious constitutional crisis, in the past, but recently, the misuse of this, supreme discretionary power of the LS Speaker, hit the all time low, as AADHAAR Linking, Income Tax rules, and above all the FCRA (Foreign Currency Regulations Act), all of which have nothing to do with Government 'Finance' issue, found route through this channel, raising a high debate, and questioning the dignity of the Chair of the Speaker. The FCRA, framed by Late Indira Gandhi to monitor the foreign funding of domestic institutions or bodies, were under the Ministry of Home, their task was to check and enforce. But as steady recipients of fabulous foreign funds, both Congress and BJP, were dragged to Court, for illegal fund benefits, but not only the Act, falling under the jurisdiction of Home Affairs, was amended, but amended twice, to provide immunity to the erring Political entities, as 'Finance Bill', even though, it has no relation with the income or expenditure of the Union Government. The same farce was enacted, when AADHAAR linking with all service providers like Bank Accounts, or Mobile Chips, are made mandatory, by a stroke of Money Bill, again no connection with Government Money, day to day business. The framers of the Book, could not foresee, the lowering of standards, both Chair Persons, and the Office bearers of Government, so they made no check point for this autocracy, taking advantage of democratic norms.

Chairs of President or the State Governors : The Indian Union, is subdivided into provinces and Union Territories. The States Have Governors, and Union Territories have Lieutenant Governors, as Constitutional Heads of respective Governments. Unlike the US president, Indian President, enjoys no real power in executive, and unlike the French President, he/she does not enjoy any head of the executive position.

The President of India, is an ornamental post, supposed to counsel, guide the Government, but no actual role in decision making or functioning. The President, may or may not belong to any political Party, but, as a President, one must be impartial and above controversy. The Vice-President is another ornamental chair, whose main job is to hold the Chairman post in RS, and play the role of a speaker. In any case, both the Chairs have some dignity, as many political luminaries in the past, like Dr Rajendra Prasad, Dr Sarvapally Radhakrishnan, held the chairs in past, and Dr Abdul Kalam, was the last among them. Here, one finds Presidents or Vice-Presidents, down the decades, who hardly ever exercise position as a custodian of Constitution, or check valve of administrative excess. Former President Late F Ali Ahmad, failed to desist Late Indira Gandhi, from the decision of the promulgation of Emergency, and meekly signed the order. And there are unaccountable number of such instances that can be cited to prove, that our Presidents never cared for exercising their constitutional position, as a chief custodian of the Holy Book.

And Venkaiah Naidu, the present Vice-President, is working as a party worker, as he was, before becoming VP. His ignorance is so alarming that this VP, during the imposition of Hindi debate, he brazenly remarked that Hindi is the 'National Language' as per constitution. He was elevated to a high constitutional position, and he evidently lacks the basic idea about the Constitutional provisions, by which, Hindi, is only the "Official Language" of the Union Government only, and that too, along with English. (section 343(1) of OL Act)

Similarly, The Governors in the states are supposed to rise above past political affiliation, and discharge duties impartially, as custodian of the Constitution. But, soon after few years of the power transfer, these posts, became, old age homes for discarded horses of political race, and found acting more on behalf of their political masters, than, as wise interpreters of the laws of Centre-State relations. The Lieutenant Governors in Union Territory, without Assembly, like Andaman-Nicober island entities, are actual administrative heads, but in case of UTs with Assembly, like Delhi NCR, LG is the Head, but he is supposed to function, in close interaction with the local Government bodies. In the time of Nehru, he used the Governor topple the first non-Congress Government of Kerala, in 1959, in W Bengal, Dharmavira, toppled the first Left Front Government and promulgated President rule, in 1967. And the recent developments are sordid, as the Karnataka Governor, went all out of the way to accommodate, the minority party, just to please his bosses. Previously the BJP nominated Governors in Goa and Manipur acted in identical partisan fashion. The Lieutenant Governors in Delhi and Puduchury, are making all efforts, to block, and misguide, any move by the local elected Government. The Delhi Lieutenant Governor is always at loggerheads with the AAP Government, created more deadlocks and awkward obstructions, than facilitating smooth running of government. In another shameful incident the saffron Governor of Tripura, forgot his official capacity, and openly justified the hooligans who vandalised the Lenin statue, after the Assembly election results. This is clear violation of the Constitution.

Legislature: The Loksabha, as people see, is a key functionary of the Democracy. Prudent discussions, debates on Bills, or exchange of views on crucial National issues, should take place here. First, say three decades, saw really leading Orators, wise Think Tanks, were elected as members. But now, it is a place for Criminals, Hooligans, persons accused in money laundering, or murder and rapes, even convicted guys, free on bail after filing appeals, throng here. No debates, only personal attacks, ugly hurling of expletives, no discussions, only slogan shouting, ruckus in the well, halting proceedings, are only hall mark of Indian Parliament. And persons with strong muscle power, or voluminous voice power, are suitable for a House, where even the dignity of Lady members are not maintained. When P M can ridicule a lady member for her loud laughter (Surpa-nakha), nothing better can be expected from the other members of the majority Party.

The Poll Process: The electioneering right from the booth level, are mired in controversy, from very Nomination filing to the casting votes in the Booths, it is all free play of muscle power, black money, bloody clashes, and farcical caste or ethnic confrontation. More-over, the recent debate over the transparency of the EVM has put the credibility of entire Election process in question.

Apart from all these, the Judiciary, is supposed to be another pillar of Constitutional Democracy, but, even that supreme body and, where people rush to get justice, as a last resort, came into question, when four sitting Judges, charged the Chief Justice, with allegation of "Bench Fixing" of select suits, to provide favourable relief to the ruling party, office bearers, and Ministers. This is an extreme example of failure of the Justice delivery mechanism, but that is the so common and usual experience of hapless citizens, knocking the doors of blind goddess of justice, only to be kept waiting endlessly, amounting to denial of justice.

Regarding the poor state of 'Press', the fourth pillar of Democracy, the less said the batter. Threats, intimidation, even murders are used to silence the free Press, and the paid or purchased media houses rule the show, while Republic TV or Z News, flourish with manufactured shows replete with fake news. The Tribune Editor, who exposed AADHAAR, data security lapses, or Paranjoy Guhathakurta, exposing the Adani tax scam, lost their jobs, and Wire Webzine, is slapped with multi-crore criminal defamation suit, for Joy Shah exposure, and in more extreme case, Gauri Lankesh was killed.

Thus the more the attack on the constitution mounts, the vilification campaign against the early framers, direct or indirect, gains momentum, and 24x7 saffron troll factory keeps on spewing venoms on the legacy of Nehru or the likes.

Vol. 51, No.3, Jul 22 - 28, 2018