Majoritarianism And Deviance From The Indian Constitution


Unity in independent India being diverse and plural nation was a dream come true. We have survived and proved as a truly democratic republic state until recent times with minimal flaws. This was made possible by a more accommodative and flexible conflict resolution mechanism in the form of a colossal constitution. The present majoritarian regime manoeuvres the crevasses existing in our bulkiest written constitution towards its agenda, which has led to crumbling of the constitution. This has jeopardised the inherent core constitutional democratic values, which is the soul of the living document. It is evident through the latest Democracy Index released by the Economic Intelligence Unit in which India has dropped 10 places and retained its status as a “flawed democracy”. The rhetoric of Right-wing populism, “Acche Din” and creation of “New India”, has captivated human emotions, aspirations and hopes, which resulted in a majoritarian government after 1984. Today, more than being an inclusive democracy, India is moving in the direction of spectacular politics and heroic representation.

In recent times, the constitution is made to work anti-thetical to the original intent of the constitutional framers. Though it has been widely debated that the Indian constitution is a carbon copy of the Government of India Act 1935, the constitution-makers with much deliberations and debates have framed a more flexible document than a rigid one keeping in mind the diversity and the plurality of the nation. As being a fluid document, in the initial decades of independence, it was subjected to various interpretations and conflicts amongst three pillars of Indian polity – Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. Through various judicial interpretations, the implicit core constitutional values were put forth in front of the public eye. The volatile decade of 1970’s further embellished the constitution, through judicial pronouncements and constitutional amendments. The watershed judgement of 1973 Kesavananda Bharati case led to the ‘Doctrine of Basic Structure of the Constitution’, which limited the amending powers of the constitution, in turn, gave way for judicial review. This timely intervention of the judiciary to protect the eminence of our constitution was heralded and a balance was restored. Thus, the Supreme Court of India is aptly called as the guardian of our constitution. This makes us ponder over the present functioning of the Judiciary and the relation between the judiciary and the parliamentary executive.

The constitutional feature of synthesis between the parliamentary sovereignty and judicial supremacy has been lately compromised and the judiciary is widely accused of working in collaboration with the executive. The healthy clash between the judiciary and the parliamentary executive has ceased to exist. One such episode is the silence maintained by the judiciary when the executive abolished the article 370 and 35A, by which the temporary and the special status conferred to Jammu and Kashmir was nullified. It’s been more than a year since the annulment of article 370, till today the rights and liberties of people of Kashmir are in dismay.  The judiciary has not proactively safeguarded their basic fundamental rights through judicial review and judicial activism. This has led to a dilution of checks and balances between judiciary and executive.

Implicit concept of Federalism of Indian polity, safeguarding diverse cultural and socio-economic aspirations which is key to Indian democracy and constitutionalism, has been hit hard. Majoritarian nationalism that we witness today has heavily altered the federal structure of the Indian state and is trying hard to move towards homogeneous “One Nation”. Indian constitution has guaranteed a federal structure with a strong centre, which necessarily doesn’t mean weak states. India is a quasi-federal state and the tool of cooperative federalism effects in the smooth functioning of the centre-states relations. There is continuous chaos between the states and centre in regard to fiscal federalism. The recent example was seen in the centre denying the allocation of GST compensatory cess to the States citing pandemic situation as an ‘act of God’ and have asked the states to raise its funds through debt instruments. Already debt struck state fighting the pandemic with its own resources finds it to be ‘rubbing salt in the wound’. Center shouldn’t act as a Big brother rather work in a cooperative and conducive manner.

Governor as being an agent of the centre using his discretionary powers disrupts the coalition politics of non-BJP parties in government formation. This is witnessed in the states of Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh in 2018 state assembly elections, which shows an authoritative majoritarian regime undermining the constitutional ethos. Another pertinent disruption of the federal structure is Hindutva politics being non-accommodative and wanting for a cultural homogenisation. This is evident in the recently formed 16 member expert committee, appointed by the Union Ministry of Culture, to conduct a holistic study of the origin and evolution of Indian culture during the past 12 millennia and its interface with other cultures of the world, which don’t have representation from Dalits, Minorities or even any from the northeast and the southern states. Combative federalism is not the solution rather there should be competitive and coordinated federalism.

Each one of us must be reminded of the crippling images of the migrants who had nothing except for the hunger walking miles and miles. How erroneous was it to have a short session of parliament without a question hour? Parliament is considered sacred and a temple of democracy, where there are continuous deliberations and reconsiderations. Healthy debates and clashes in the parliament gives way to a holistic democratic and a representative functioning of the government. The absolute majority enjoyed by the ruling government takes the advantage of absolutism and majoritarianism by undermining various legislative procedures.  In recent times there is a procedural lapse in the passing of important bills like the Farmers Bill, Labour bill which would serve the interests of the corporates and move towards a misplacement of priorities in the current times. It seems as if everything is alright so no one should dare question the leader. It is noted that 7 bills were passed in 4 hours with a voice vote. This has led to subvergence of democratic values. In this unprecedented time, it was very important to have heard and discussed varied voices. Time is ripe now to look deep into the economics and various social developmental indicators. From declining GVA, the unemployment rate at its highest, to the distress of farmers and migrant labourers. This should be an awakening call to restore the intrinsic value of parliamentary democracy.

The archaic colonial-era sedition law, section 124A of IPC, is used to silence the right to dissent guaranteed under article 19. Not agreeing to certain ideas and notions of majoritarianism is not necessarily being “Anti National” or amounts to hate speech. Dissent in the form of opposition and disagreements are a necessary tool to thrive for betterment of the nation. In the name of public order and national security one cannot curtail the political and civil liberties of an individual or an organisation. Free speech vocalising minority religious views cannot be subject to sedition. Vigilantism and a police state are not what a democracy should witness. Hindu nationalism has overpowered the secular politics in terms of lynching, Citizenship Amendment  Act 2019, which has explicitly and overtly mentions religion as a criterion for citizenship is a purported error made by the majoritarian nationalist state. The final blow to it was seen when our prime minister laid the foundation for Ayodhya Temple. Linking politics with religion and the idea of one nation, one religion or one language is a serious threat to our constitution. Homogenization won’t look, feel, hear, taste or smell delightful. Saffronising a multi-coloured nation will be a peril. Existence of multiple identities is surely a blessing in disguise. Creating an identity or the government imposing an identity won’t let the citizens thrive or experience the life to the fullest.

Constitution of India is considered as a living document, which is meant to be amended according to the changing needs of our society without tearing down the soul of the constituion. To keep it alive and vibrant it is important to interpret the provisions of the constitution well, so that we can cherish the multiplicity of  India  The contestations and aspiration of the masses in the age of neoliberalism should be well-coordinated and accommodate in the different levels of socio-political functioning of the government.

Lipika Ravichandran is Junior Research Fellow, Centre for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University



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