Let’s Save the Republic on 75th Republic Day


This 75th Republic Day celebration of India provides an opportunity to reflect on the critical challenges faced by the Indian state and to contemplate how to uphold, preserve and protect India’s cherished ideals of democracy, secularism, and the rule of law, which are considered the cornerstone of the Indian republic. The notable features of the Indian Republic include democracy, a constitution, and civil and political freedom for all citizens, irrespective of their caste, creed, religion, or language. In a democratic republic system, the constitution holds paramount importance, with no individual or entity having absolute power. The rule of law must be maintained and enforced in all circumstances. However, over the past decade, the political class, executive, and judiciary, which constitute the State, have significantly undermined the constitutional values and principles of Indian republicanism.

Undeniably, this is the most critical phase for the Indian republic and this 75th Republic Day is also a grim reminder to us what would be the future of Indian democracy. What kind of statecraft we have envisioned under the present scenario? India has been a secular and multicultural society for centuries. However, recent developments in the country raise concerns about the future of democracy, secularism, and constitutional values. Some indicators show that less chances of survival of republicanism in India. Notably, India has scored pathetic performance on global indices for successful democracies, almost non-existent press freedom as per the Global Press Freedom Index 2023, controversial judicial decisions that have undermined people’s trust in the judicial system, and attacks on minorities have led to growing sense of insecurity among Muslims. The consecration ceremony of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on 22nd January 2024, despite objections from various quarters, has only added to this insecurity. These developments reflect the prevailing atmosphere in society, characterized by cultural aggression and radical Hindutva nationalism. Such tendencies arise from a deep sense of insecurity and may harm India’s future. The propensity to assert nationalism constantly is unnecessary.

Indian democracy, which was once recognized for its remarkable scale and duration, has suffered a setback due to the unprecedented rise of xenophobic violence, Hindutva nationalism, threats to religious minorities, and the transformation of the secular, democratic, welfare state to a chauvinistic state. These trends have intensified with the growth of Hindutva nationalism, culminating in the latest episode in Ayodhya on January 22, 2024. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which came to power in 2014, has either promoted or tolerated attacks on women, Dalits, Christians, and Muslims by its members in the government, party, and cadre. Furthermore, the BJP government has centralized state power and curtailed human rights and civil liberties. It is crucial to understand that the protection of democracy and religious freedoms are intricately linked, and safeguarding both is of utmost importance.

Communal Polarization at its Peak

Whatever happened in Ayodhya on 22.01.2024 has reinforced the notion that the Indian constitution, democracy and secularism inching towards a slow death. One of the foremost challenges to secularism in India is the escalating communal polarization that has permeated various facets of society. On January 22, right after the consecration of the idol at the new Ram temple in Ayodhya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his televised address that “Ram is not a dispute, Ram is the solution, Ram is for everyone”. However, the reality on the ground was different. Violence broke out in some parts of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, and any form of dissent was met with police action. Screenings of the documentary film “Ram ke Naam” by Anand Patwardhan were disrupted in Hyderabad and Kerala. Some educational institutions even imposed restrictions on their students. Students were beaten up, and posters were torn down in some areas.

Following the idol consecration ceremony at Ayodhya, there were reports of violence and attacks on minority communities’ places of worship across the nation. Reports from all around the country surfaced about the rampant hooliganism in north Indian cities, where people were seen flying saffron flags from their motorbikes and cars. A ferocious mob of thousands of people has removed the holy flag from the mosque in Shahjanhanpur, Uttar Pradesh. A similar incident involving the vandalism in a historical mosque occurred in Agra as well.  On Monday, January 22, 2024, there were other vandalism incidents at Mira Raod, Mumbai, and adjoining parts of the city. The incidents ranged in scale from violent confrontations in numerous regions of Maharashtra to slippers supposedly hurled into a mosque, a tiny establishment burnt down in Telangana, and a graveyard set on fire in Bihar by saffron-clad criminals.

It is deeply sickening to see the current political scenario where hate has taken predominant and those who spoke about the rule of law, constitutional values and democracy have been treated as foes. The enormous rise in divisive politics and the exploitation of religious sentiments for political gains is unprecedented and also questions our claim as a civilised democratic society. It is the question of where we are heading. The ruling party, in particular, has not hesitated to exacerbate tensions between different religious communities to seek political advantage in the upcoming 2024 election. This ‘us versus them’ approach not only undermines the pluralistic ethos of the nation but also endangers the coexistence of diverse communities. The increasing incidents of hate speech, discriminatory practices, and communal violence are indicative of the growing divide between communities. The government’s role in addressing this issue is crucial, but the lack of decisive action to curb hate speech and communal incidents raises concerns about their commitment to maintaining a secular fabric.

India, a country known for its diversity, democracy, and secularism, has been facing some challenges regarding the rights of its minority communities. Many international forums and communities have started raising their concerns about India’s future, as the basic human rights of its largest minority community have been violated. India has democratic institutions such as an election commission, a human right watch body, and a minority rights institution, but if these institutions are not able to protect constitutional values, secularism, and the trust of minorities, it could become a threat to the Indian state’s existence. India gained independence in 1947, and its constitution describes the country as a democratic, secular state that protects the religious freedom of all communities, irrespective of religion.

India, like many other countries, has recently seen a rise in xenophobic violence and Hindutva nationalism that is hostile towards religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians. The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF-2023) has identified India, along with several other countries, as a place where the government allows or even promotes violations of religious freedoms. This means that people are not free to practice their religion without interference. The USCIRF (2023) report says that India’s multi-religious and multicultural identity is being threatened by a view of national identity that excludes people based on their religion. According to the report, groups that support this view and are responsible for violence against religious minorities include those connected to the ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch also share these concerns.

Minorities Welfare Missing in Government Policies

Secularism goes beyond mere coexistence; it involves the active protection and promotion of the rights and welfare of all religious communities, particularly minorities. However, the absence of a comprehensive minority welfare agenda in government policies and programs reflects a systemic failure in addressing the needs of marginalized communities. Despite constitutional provisions ensuring the rights of minorities, there is a discernible gap in the implementation of inclusive policies. Issues such as economic disparities, educational opportunities, and access to healthcare persist among minority communities.

The Muslim community in India faces significant challenges, including but not limited to under-representation and backwardness in education, employment, trade, health, and professional courses. Unfortunately, these challenges are often systemic in nature, leading to disparities in opportunities and outcomes. The government must acknowledge and address these disparities by designing inclusive policies that specifically target the upliftment of minority communities. Without targeted interventions, the gap between majority and minority communities is likely to persist, hindering the overall progress of the nation. Muslims often find themselves under-represented in various sectors, limiting their economic opportunities. The government must actively promote policies that encourage equal representation in the workforce, fostering a more inclusive and diverse economy. This not only benefits minority communities but contributes to the overall economic growth of the nation, creating a more equitable and prosperous future for all.

The government’s neglect of the welfare and social development of religious minorities is a matter of serious concern. The state must adhere to its constitutional mandate of equality and implement progressive policies to address the specific challenges faced by minorities. Recognizing the importance of inclusive development in fostering national progress, it is imperative that governments prioritize the well-being of all citizens, irrespective of their religious affiliations. Failure to do so not only perpetuates social disparities but also undermines the very essence of a just and equitable society.

Now AMU on the Radar of Saffron Brigade

Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jamia Millia Islamia (Jamia), and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) are widely recognized as strongholds of free speech and intellectual discourse in India. These universities have always been welcoming to all sorts of debates, and discussions, and have been known to foster dissent. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) views these institutions as an obstacle to its political agenda because they have consistently opposed the communal and divisive policies of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BJP. Regrettably, Jamia and JNU have nearly lost their distinct academic culture due to strict control and administration restrictions in nearly every area of academics. Such interference has had a significant impact on the universities’ unique identity and academic standards. After JNU and Jamia Millia Islamia, the saffron brigade’s next ambition is to make AMU unimportant in academic circles.

The unnecessary controversy surrounding the minority status of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is another fresh example of how the state treats the place of dissent, discussion and institute which promotes religious and scientific education. The sudden and unprecedented attack on AMU’s minority status not only threatens the autonomy of educational institutions but also sends a message of insecurity to minority communities. It is evident that minority educational institutions play a pivotal role in fostering a sense of identity, preserving cultural heritage, and promoting educational diversity, if still government adamant about slashing AMU’s autonomy, character and heritage then it will convey a very wrong signal to the entire minority communities. AMU is not just an institution rather serves as the bedrock for the transmission of cultural values, traditions, and language from one generation to the next. By enabling minorities to establish and manage their educational institutions, the Constitution recognizes the importance of protecting their distinctiveness within the broader fabric of Indian society. When a government disregards the constitutional safeguards provided to minority institutions, it sends a distressing message about the commitment to upholding the principles of justice, equality, and secularism. Such policies not only violate the letter and spirit of the Constitution but also undermine the delicate social equilibrium that defines the Indian pluralistic society.

Furthermore, the policies of the State that target minority institutions can lead to a feeling of further alienation among the affected communities. These policies may be seen as an attack on the cultural and religious identity of minorities, which can lead to resentment and mistrust towards the state. The alienation of minority communities has serious implications for social cohesion and national integration, hindering the collective pursuit of shared goals and aspirations. It is crucial to maintain the trust between the government and minority communities for the health of a democratic society. Government policies that aim to reclaim or derecognize minority educational institutions not only undermine constitutional guarantees but also erode the trust that is essential for a harmonious and inclusive nation.

In summing up

On the occasion of India’s 75th Republic Day, it is vital to confront the challenges that confront its democracy, secularism, constitutional values, and social justice. The unity of the nation is at risk due to the polarization of communities, the lack of a comprehensive welfare plan for minority groups, and the targeting of minority institutions such as AMU, which reflects the government’s discriminatory attitude towards minorities. To preserve the Indian republic and its fundamental principles, all stakeholders – government, civil society, and citizens – must work together to encourage interfaith dialogue, implement inclusive policies for minorities, safeguard the autonomy of minority institutions, and ensure that communal harmony and fraternity remain intact. The responsibility of upholding secularism is a collective one, and it requires a multi-pronged approach to ensure that India remains a symbol of diversity, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence. This approach should focus on addressing the root causes of communal tensions, promoting social and economic inclusion for all communities, and fostering a culture of mutual understanding and respect. Only then can we safeguard the future of Indian democracy and ensure that it remains a beacon of hope for generations to come.

Dr Narender Nagarwal teaches at Campus Law Centre, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi

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