‘The Paradox of Power’

‘The Republic is dead. Long live the Republic’! On 22 January 2024, the Republic of India, which came into being on 26 January 1950, was fully dismantled. It was not about the statue, or Lord Ram, or the Ram temple for that matter. It involved multiple violations of constitutional rights. It represented the political colonisation of Hinduism. ‘People are witnessing the emergence of political Hinduism, with Modi being the chief priest. In its background, its design, the nature of its mobilisation, and in its impact, 22 January was a political event, meant to anticipate, precipitate, and consolidate a political triumph. It was, in essence, a consecration of a “Hindu rashtra” that is neither in line with Hindu ethos nor a rashtra as defined by Indian nationalism.

Indians have a new constitution now, not in the form of a fresh document, but by way of a fresh arrangement of political power that crystallises the changes that people have witnessed over the past decade. The original Constitution recognised minority rights as the limit, so as to define what a democratically elected government could not do. The new one institutes the will of the majority community to draw a line of fire that no organ of the government can cross, no matter what the text of the original Constitution said. Indians now have a two-tier citizenship: Hindus and associates are the landlords while Muslims and other religious minorities are the tenants. The original compact of the “union of states” has been replaced with a unitary government that delegates some administrative functions to the provinces. The fast-fading fiction of division of power between executive, legislature, and judiciary has now been repudiated in favour of governance by the all-powerful executive that lays down legislative rituals and demarcates the arena where the judiciary is permitted to adjudicate. Parliamentary democracy has given way not to a presidential system but to a rule by one–an elected king–a system where people elect their supreme leader and then leave everything to him.

This imposition of a new constitution does not yet enjoy the legitimacy of a constituent assembly. The Cabinet resolution might claim that the spirit of India was liberated on 22 January 2024, but it is not yet the official date of birth of India’s second Republic.

Whatever the 2024 poll outcome, one cannot wish away the reality of this new political order. One cannot push away any further the challenge of radical rethinking.

It is pointless to blame the RSS and the BJP for doing what has been their raison d’être. The onus must lie with those who pledged their allegiance to the Constitution of the first republic. The gradual degeneration of secularism from the politics of conviction to convenience has contributed to this dismantling. The sheer arrogance of secular ideology, its disconnect with the people, its refusal to speak to people in their language and idiom has helped the delegitimisation of the very idea of secularism. One cannot forget that this death knell came thirty years after a full-fledged warning was announced by way of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. For thirty years, secular politics prevaricated, from a lazy assumption that this disease will disappear on its own to the cynical belief that caste politics can counter it. If secular politics is in shambles today, it is the outcome of its own sins of omission and commission.

Republican politics has to rethink its strategy. The old lines dividing different parties may not be relevant in this new political world. The present crisis calls for a tectonic reconfiguration in politics. Those who are true to the spirit of the Republic will have to practically merge into a single political bloc. As elections turn into a plebiscite with a pre-decided outcome, electoral politics will have to take a back seat. Movement politics and street opposition would be more efficacious in this new situation. But that too would come under pressure as the space for democratic protest would shrink. Politics of resistance would need to carve new and innovative ways while remaining democratic and non-violent.

[Contributed by YogendraYadav]

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Vol 56, No. 34, Feb 18 - 24, 2024