The Indian elite is given to thinking of the Constitution as some sort of a sacred emblem, and believes that none will dare commit sacrilege against it.But the constitution,however noble a document,is made by people,and it has to be protected by people from damage and danger.When one reads that an MP of the governing party has proposed in parliament alteration of the Preamble itself,it should send alarm-bells ringing and awaken people to the looming menace.
One senses that the presence and charisma of ‘the people of India’ in the document is what irks the honourable member.Men of his kind would perhaps put the vague ‘Rashtra’ incarnate in ‘the Leader’ above the Constitution. Hence we need to awaken the people to the threat to destroy their collective life-work.
This is what bothers me about Bombay High Court judge Gautam Patel’s learned and exhilarating speech at the invitation of famous lawyers Indira Jaisingh and Anand Grover.
The honourable judge has pointed to the extraordinary role of the Constitution,which in his view has performed the miracle of bringing together and unifying astonishingly divergent groups of people with diverse origins,cultures and languages.The second and non-negotiable gift it has bestowed on people is their power to change their rulers every five years.The rulers are kept on their toes by this very fear of losing their right to govern.This also might explain their paranoia which also drives them to hold in suspicion any sign of dissent and questioning of their authority.
This is no doubt true and borne by our own experience of the snowballing allegations of conspiracy here,there and everywhere.
But is that something magically performed by a piece of paper,however inviolate?
Actually the document and its unifying power have not arisen out of nothing.It is a hundred years of unceasing and uncompromising struggle by the divergent peoples of the country against the common enemy,the colonial power,that brought about the unity reflected in the phrase ‘We the People’.The makers of the Constitution were brought to that state of responsibility and power,and mandated to frame this venerable document by the united people.The choice of democracy as the desirable form of the republic had been willed by the united people as their representatives from different parts of the country had met and deliberated for two years even as hostile forces were buffeting the country and threatening its survival.The very first article of the Constitution of the newly independent country then in the throes of an ordeal by fire says:’India that is Bharat shall be a union of states’.According to the honorable judge this is what the elusive ‘idea of India’ stands for.
But the crux of the matter is that this unity is not forcible,as had been the case with earlier empires,though these might have seeded the rudiments of that idea.
The First Amendment of the American constitution was something that ensured the sustained vitality of the people,the fundamental freedoms that kept alive the people’s power to act.This,I would like to plead,also applies to our own Constitution and the state.Unless we hold these freedoms intact,the people who uphold the dignity and authority of the Constitution will lose their health and vitality and power to act.That is the reason why the recent and ongoing attempts to restrict and attenuate them are so very disturbing.
Along with that the powers bestowed on different states also indirectly suggest the people in their ineluctable and historical variety and diversity.The recent tendency towards centtalization and robbery of the powers of the states without even a cursory gesture of consent amounts to a trampling of the constitutional rights of the people.
This kind of centralization is obviously an offensive against fundamental freedoms of the people,enfeebling them and their initiative in an unprecedented portentous manner.The states are directly,more intimately connected to the people at grassroots.Centralization puts peoples of the states at the mercy of a remote power which can scarcely be held to account by ordinary citizens.
Some of the campaigns are surreptitious,like putting yes-men as the heads of significant institutions of democracy, or crippling them by changing their composition and their rules of operation,some are indirect,like the amended UAPA,and some are blatantly direct like virtual abrogation of some rights under the pretext of protecting national security.
The final and cumulative impact of these heinous acts is the total disempowerment of the people who are expected to turn into a herd of sheep too tame and too dispirited to care who and what they vote for. Once a regime is assured of dissipation of the will to question and resist,it is most likely to dismantle the Constitution itself and proceed to re-make the state after its own image.
It is true that the judiciary from time to time have expressed alarm and distaste for such transgressions.They are most careful to keep strictly within the bounds of their constitutional mandate,but if the executive truss such scruples and habitually invade the territory of the two other supreme authorities in the state,even such strong gestures of challenge might not cut much ice,though undoubtedly of much worth and significance.
The dissenting media and voices are also playing important roles. But unless the people,the original progenitors of the state,are awakened from their slumber,these alone will not suffice to stop the invasion at the track.
Here one has misgivings as opposition parties are already badly divided and are enmeshed in calculations of their shares of the cake.The very idea that they will get a walk-over thanks to the rising voice of protest,or that some ethereal ‘international community’ will do the hard work for them is just a pie in the sky.Not a doubt about it.They must go to the people at grassroots, share their pains and frustrations, lead them in a struggle to make their voices heard.Otherwise,all the noise we are making today might not awaken the giant into a tremendous effort to shake off the heavy shackles that lie heavy on its limbs.
The farmers’ victory is an indication of what awakened people can do.But such mighty struggles need to be there on every front.The end is not sectoral victories but total and complete rout of the enemy.
Hiren Gohain is a political commentator