India’s is a ‘constitutional autocracy’ : Hereditary ruling classes are inherent in India, said Ambedkar


‘Parliamentary Democracy is…in reality a government of a hereditary subject class by a hereditary ruling class’, said in 1943, Dr. BR Ambedkar, who is celebrated as a key founder of Indian democracy. It is merely a formal democracy founded on semi-feudal, and semi-colonial foundations, experience of decades tells us.

Ambedkar 1

We shall in this article, being published in two parts, to mark Dr. BR Ambedkar’s birth anniversary (April 14), go into the issue of Constitutional autocracy (in this part-1)  and his views on hereditary ruling classes, and hereditary ruled classes, (in part-2) a subject less discussed, in fact avoided by most of the scholars, including Ambedkarites, and leftists. These are issues very relevant and needs to be discussed in present-day India.

During the current election season, seen by many as a crucial one, Ambedkar and the Constitution were mouthed by all political parties,with showy celebrations of his birth anniversary on April 14.

Everyone now a days sees a vote-getter in Ambedkar, who is pictured as a father of India’s democracy. But it is much more than that, more than votes and vote-banks. There is statecraft–craftiness too–in what they do, to befool the masses.  They have larger goals.  Modi claims the legacy of  Ambedkar, like most political parties in India, though he was shunned by many of them for long. He was not allowed to be elected directly to the Constituent Assembly, and never to Loksabha; he was twice defeated. 

The ruling classes and their parties are out to sustain,  though in vain, the dubious democratic credentials of the system. Quite often they seek to invoke Ambedkar only to embellish and laud to the skies the so-called biggest democracy India has, which in fact is a Constitutional autocracy.  

In the course of a debate in Rajya Sabha on September 2, 1953, Ambedkar himself said : “People always keep saying to me: ‘Oh, you are the maker of the Constitution’. “My answer is I was a hack. What I was asked to do, I did much against my will.” (Oxford Dictionary says ‘hack’ is ‘a person hired to do dull routine work.’)… But I am quite prepared to say that I shall be the first person to burn it out. I do not want it. It does not suit anybody.”

(see,  14 April, 2016)  

The BJP and Congress in their Manifestos, issued very recently, swore by both the document and its chief draftsman, but both are silent, unrepentant, for all the brazen violations and crimes they perpetrated with impunity on the people for decades.  

The academic and media pundits would be waiting in the wings–covering up and ignoring what is mentioned above–to praise the ‘great wisdom’ of the Indian voters, whatever the results, if only to serve the respective winning sections of the ruling class parties, by rendering them legitimacy they do not have. If Modi returns and unleashes his offensive, they will duly praise the ‘great wisdom’ of the Indian voters. Even Hitler arrived through voting, we must remember.

 PM Narendra Modi assured:

“Lying in the name of the Constitution has become a fashion for all the constituents of the INDI alliance whenever elections come. The Congress, which made Babasaheb  lose the election, did not allow him to receive Bharat Ratna, and tried to destroy the Constitution by imposing Emergency in the country, is today resorting to lies in the name of the Constitution to abuse Modi,” the PM Modi said, on April 12, addressing a rally in Rajasthan’s Barmer.

“As far as the Constitution is concerned, keep Modi’s words in writing, even if Babasaheb Ambedkar comes back himself, he too can’t abolish the Constitution. For the government, our Constitution is Gita, Ramayan, Mahabharat, Bible and Quran,” Modi said, on April 12, addressing a rally in Rajasthan’s Barmer.

Modi, who swore as above, in his latest Newsweek (April 10, 2024) interview said:

“We are a democracy, not only because our Constitution says so, but also because it is in our genes. India is the mother of democracy...the largest democracy in the world, over 600 million people voted in the General Elections in 2019. In a few months from now, over 970 million eligible voters will exercise their franchise.”   

“A democracy like India is able to move ahead and function only because there is a vibrant feedback mechanism. And our media plays an important role in this regard.”

Uttam ED

Cartoon by Uttam.  Courtesy : Constitution never comes in the way . 

Indian democracy is anything but democratic for so many reasons, despite all such claims and vows, which we shall see briefly. Our media is mostly silent on this basic feature, and so Modi and his ilk are happy about it. The main task of the media is to “ manufacture consent,” as Noam Chomsky said, and confine the debate within narrow limits and hail India as the largest democracy.     

Modi speaks of parivar vad, rule by political dynasties, a fact of Indian model of  democracy, wherein the mere electoral ritual is equated with democracy itself.

Democracy is not meant to be a one day affair, as it is in India, the day polling takes place. It is missing in daily life, political, economic, or cultural.

India has been, for decades now, under an undeclared Emergency, enabled by so many draconian laws and a lawless regime, notwithstanding claims of having  Rule of Law. DV Rao, veteran communist revolutionary, described it as a Constitutional autocracy, an undeniable fact. Some called it, in recent past, an electoral autocracy.  

The essential feature of the Constitution is to provide with certain limited democratic rights with one hand, and take them back with another hand,” DV Rao analysed in his court statement.

“The Constitution grants all powers to the ruling classes to snatch away all freedoms, which are supposed to have been granted by it. It is the ruling classes and their favorites alone who are enjoying these freedoms…

“The balance sheet of the Constitution provisions regarding the freedoms for the people and the powers for the ruling classes to snatch them away, is nil, as far as the people are concerned.”

Com Devulapalli Venkateswara Rao (Born 1917 June 1- died on 1984 July 12),  prominent communist revolutionary of India, and a member of Loksabha (1957-62),  had a political life that spanned nearly five decades. Out of those years, he spent nearly 17 years in underground activities and about 5 years in various jails in his life and work as a communist revolutionary. All except two of these years were in post-1947 August India, and most of it after the 1950 Constitution arrived. His statement was based on experiences, his own and of people he served.

DV Rao’s Court Statement ,  originally written in a Hyderabad prison during  1970-71, and  was  read out in full  as a Defence Statement, on  December  14 to 18, 1971,  in the Special Court that tried DV Rao, T. Nagi Reddy (1917-1976) and 40 others in the famous  Hyderabad Conspiracy Case , the  first of its kind after 1947. Subsequently it was printed and reprinted several times in English and Telugu, as a book of about 320 pages. He updated it with a detailed Foreword to its 1981 edition.

 (The  Proletarian Line Publications,  5-5-1022/107, Mallikarjuna Nagar (North),  Chintalkuta, LB Nagar, Hyderabad-500 068.) 

( see article that was in two parts : India has a Constitutional autocracy, DV Rao, veteran revolutionary and an MP,  told the Court, in his assessment of India’s  Indian Constitutional System. It was published on Republic Day, 2021, by the unique, and bold journal,

This point of view was presented in detail by veteran Law Professor, political scientist, and working class leader Dr. KS Sharma (born 1934) in the year 2000, in an important conclave held in Bangalore: National Commission To Review The Working Of The Constitution, constituted by PM Vajpayee on 2000 Feb 22, held the Conclave, convened by Subhash C Kashyap, Chairman of the Drafting Committee of its report. He was Secretary General of India’s parliament for three terms (Loksabha 7th 8th  and 9th.) Kashyap is an expert on the subject, and is the author of a book: Constitution Making since 1950- An Overview 1950-2004. Sharma was heard with rapt attention, and without a murmur.      

While people must  make use of whatever is available in the Constitution and laws, we   should never lose sight of the fact that what we have is a constitutional autocracy, and all our rights are at the mercy of the ruling classes, who violate everything with impunity. That was what KS Sharma, an author who contributed to,  explained. This article briefly presents the issue.  

( see an article in two parts:  A Peep into the past.. Remembering Ambedkar and Revisiting his Thoughts (06/12/2021), and Remembering Dr. B.R. Ambedkar:  Celebrating the 74th Constitution Day,  November 26, 2022.) )

At a time apprehensions on the fate of the Constitution are predominant, these views are of significance, and need to be studied.  

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Modi, who himself has no mandate of 50 percent vote, guarantees

“It is in our genes,” Modi said, about India’s democracy. And genes are related to heredity, and hereditary ruling class families are inseparable from that!

BJP’s Manifesto for 2024, just released, is titled Modi’s Guarantee, with a Foreword by Modi that says: ”In the next five years, with your blessings, it is Modi’s Guarantee that we will work 24 by 7 for 2047.” 

So it is no parivar, but an individual: it is Modi who guarantees for a period until 2047!

The rulers are shoving under the carpet all undemocratic practices, and ascribe to themselves a mandate they do not have in the real sense: In 2019 Loksabha polls, only 600 million people voted, and out of them Modi-led BJP polled 38% votes. But Modi claims the mandate of 1400 million Indian population.  That is his assertion though 62 % voted others, not Modi, who knows it well. That is why now in 2024, Modi gave a call to get more than 50% vote. We will know if Modi makes it in a couple of months.

Former president Pranab Mukherjee, a scholar too, had said: “The Indian electorate tells the ruling party, ‘I am giving you enough seats to form the government but please remember you do not have our total mandate’. That means you have to carry along those who have not voted for you because they are the people of this sovereign democratic republic.” (Hindustan Times, Jaipur, Aug 02, 2019).  He was conferred with Bharat Ratna by Modi regime, but his words carry no weight with him.

The article, in Part-2, also exposes the hypocrisy of BJP, which, notwithstanding its claims, is not an exception to this phenomenon.  It is not merely Nehrus-Gandhis, whom Modi hates and targets, but several dynasties, old and new, across India wield their clout in certain territories. Such dynasties include, to cite only a few examples, those of Charan Singh, Devilal, Scindias, Mulayam Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Badals, Deve Gowda’s, Karunanidhis, MGR-Jayalalita, NTR’s,  Pawars, Thakres, Patnaiks, Abdullahs, Paswans, G Venkata Swamis.

***                    ***

 Why we call it a Constitutional autocracy

Abu Ordinance Indira Gandhi Emergency

Classic cartoon by Abu Abraham on Indira’s Emergency of 1975-76, in Indian Express. 

It is an undeniable fact that despite the Constitution, the so-called rule of law, and the Supreme Court, India has been witnessing autocracy and denial of rights – denied to individuals as well as organizations (that were banned). We briefly mention a few features of lawful autocracy. 

– Preventive detention, provided for in Article 22 of the Constitution itself, has been invoked, and upheld by the Supreme Court, through various draconian laws like TADA, MISA ESMA AFSPA earlier and UAPA now: Thousands were imprisoned, often bail being denied for years, even by the Supreme Court.

– Sedition law ( IPC 124 A), has been used, ever more increasingly. It is rehashed, reworded in Indian idiom, in the new Bharatiya Nyaya Samhita 2023.   

– Thousands were jailed for years, even decades, as under-trials…for periods far more than they would be even if convicted.

– Thousands were bumped off, in encounters, and thousands were ‘missing’, many without a trace and without a burial : the Supreme Court has been a mute and helpless witness.

–  Emergency rule, provided for in the Constitution itself, was imposed, and Right To Life And Liberty were denied, and the top Court upheld.

– Every Fundamental Right was trampled, hundreds of times, with Restrictive clauses provided for in the Constitution itself.

– Now over the decades, undeclared emergency has been in vogue: it began with Congress regimes, and perfected by Modi-led BJP.    

– NHRC was constituted, but remained ornamental as it has no teeth to defend Human Rights. It has no jurisdiction when armed forces of India are the culprit, which is the case in many parts of India, and for decades. 

– Vast parts of India have been under police and army rule: Kashmir and Northeast- each of them- have lakhs of armed forces stationed there for decades. This was the case with Punjab, Assam, and it remains so in vast parts of central India (Bastar etc).    It all began under Congress rule, and continues under Modi.  

– Around one lakh people, most of them unarmed civilians, were killed in Jammu Kashmir over the decades; Countless thousands were killed in Northeast; majority of them during Congress rule.

Indira Gandhi’s Emergency of 1975-76, upheld by the top Court,  saw around one lakh people being imprisoned, and pre-censorship of media was clamped.

Why only individuals? State governments, elected the same way as the Union, were dismissed, more than 123 times, most of the times by the congress regimes, invoking the Article 356. The first EMS Ministry of 1957 was dismissed, arbitrarily and mischievously, by ‘democrat’ Nehru himself. Bommai judgment applied some breaks, but  could not really stop it: at least 26 times it was invoked post-Bommai (Hindustan Times 2024 march 11).

– Communal riots and massacres took place – rather organized with state tacit support –  thousands were killed, whether it was anti-Sikh riots of Congress vintage, or anti-Muslim  Godhra of Modi-led BJP. Christian missionaries and churches are always under threat, Graham Staines case being most notorious.

– Those who dared to expose them are being punished with prison terms in cases dug out from past: Not alone is Sanjiv Bhat IPS, already in jail, who was sentenced, in March 2024, for a jail term of 20 more years, in an old case of 1996. Civil rights lawyers like Teesta Setalvad are punished under cases cooked up. Elgar Parishad case of Modi regime is by now notorious.    

– Government employees were, and can be, dismissed, arbitrarily, without  stating any reasons, and without enquiry, as provided for in the Constitution itself  (Art 311-2).

– Congress has been unrepentant for most of its crimes: Its Manifesto offers no self-criticism, harps on the Constitution being its guide, but is almost silent on these matters of violation of rights. How can it be a fighter against fascism people can rely upon? 

***                             ***

Even electoral democracy is anything but democratic: India never had a rule by majority

By democracy, it is often assumed or understood that it is the rule by majority: Many countries insist a mandate of at least 50 percent vote; if necessary they hold a run-off repoll. Some countries have the Right to Recall, wherein people can also unseat a government under certain conditions; India does not have this democratic feature.

But worse is the fact that India never had a rule by majority, i.e, one that had a mandate of 50 percent plus vote.  Rajiv Gandhi regime that had arrived on a sympathy wave following the assassination of his mother, PM Indira Gandhi, had the highest vote, but narrowly missed that. That is a feature of Indian democracy Modi, as also others, avoid to mention, but we will not go into that now. 

It is well known that the Indian Constitution opted for parliamentary democracy instead of a presidential democracy and to a great extent adopted the Westminster Model of Democracy of UK. It is not appreciated that there are, and there could be, other forms beyond the UK model, of course apart from the US and French (Presidential) models. India is celebrating the Amrit Utsav (75th year) of Parliamentary Democracy.

Parliamentary democracy in India is ornamental

Parliament Sitting Dates

Source: PRS Legislative Research. 

Parliamentary democracy in India is ornamental, more so under Modi, the parliament being worse than a “talking shop”,  as described in AP Assembly ( see his speech in the assembly, published in, 2016 july 28)  while quitting it in 1969 March, by T. Nagi Reddy,veteran communist revolutionary who was a legislator four times.

( see TN’s speech extracts here..

 Parliament has no deciding role on crucial matters, including on war and peace, and o n farmers’ Bills, or their withdrawal. More than a dozen Bills are rushed on a single day, without a semblance of discussion.  Ordinances are issued and re-issued to circumvent any hurdles.And Modi era tops the list.  

During the term of the 17th LS, 35% of Bills were passed with less than an hour of discussion in Lok Sabha.  The corresponding figure for Rajya Sabha was 34%. In 17th Loksabha,729 Private members’ bills (PMBs) were introduced  but only two were discussed. None of such PMBs was passed by both houses since 1970 (PRS research).        

The farce of India’s electoral democracy has become a juggernaut running on the four-wheels of moneybags, liquor crates, communal and caste mafias, manipulation and muscle power. With all these evils, it is anything but democratic, except for the ritual of periodic elections. Some called it as an electoral autocracy.

The wheels of the juggernaut are all well-greased with state funds that are intended to buy votes in an auction by offering freebies and welfare schemes. The PM riles at them, but himself announced in an election season, that 800 million people would get, free of cost, five KGs of staple grain, surely a world record. And that would be for next five years: The PM was sure so many people would need them, even after five years, despite his projected third term and despite the big GDP figures he reels off day in day out.

Elections are increasingly exposed as a big business

Nirmala Sitaraman, Union Finance Minister, offered a seat to contest by the ruling BJP, honestly declared she can not dream to spend the required amounts to contest, and declined the seat. One can imagine the going rates in BJP led by Modi that claims ‘no corruption’, though nobody believes them. She also added that she can not play the caste-community cards, as required, to her advantage. That is India, the mother of  democracies.       

Assets of the candidates, declared by rule, reveal how they are climbing up, election after election. Media reported how Biden, Obama and Bill Clinton joined a “historic” fund-raising event last fortnight that yielded $ 25 million. That is peanuts when compared with politicians of India, the mother of democracies. In phase-1 of the current Loksabha polls, one candidate declared his assets as Rs. 650 crore plus ($ 80 million plus); invariably the declarations are under-statements. An equal amount was declared by two dalit brothers who both were candidates in Telangana, to show the emerging billionnaire class even among SCs.

Specific and credible allegations are mutually made by ruling class parties that upto Rs 500 to 1000 million is being spent to buy party tickets for one Loksabha seat. After buying the ticket, an equal amount is spent on electioneering, including on buying votes. This is more so in the South India, relatively the more developed region, where each voter is paid upto Rs. 500 to attend an election rally, and an equal amount to buy one vote. A family of four members get Rs 2000 from each party; two main rivals pay them Rs 4000; poorer states pay half the amount.

Where contest is bitter and critical, Rs 6000 million were reportedly spent in Munugode assembly constituency (in Telangana) bypoll by the two major parties, TRS (now renamed BRS) and BJP.

The Election Commission itself has been a pliant and tainted machinery

And the BJP has a double-engine: all the state agencies (related to the police, CBI, ED, IT etc), are busy leashing the Opposition, corrupt as is it is. Only they are beasts cultivated by the rulers, and never even bark at the masters. The media has been willing and free to serve the Establishment, and more subdued than ever in raising questions. The Election Commission (EC) itself has been a pliant and tainted machinery: One of the Commissioners resigned just before the polls for unstated, or mysterious reasons; and two were appointed newly within hours. Earlier the Chief Justice of India was an ex-officio member in the selection process; but the CJI was eased out by the Union, and the Supreme Court fell in line. EAS Sarma, a Former Secretary to the Government of India, published a series of open letters he wrote to the Centre and the EC itself. For example, see 

Election Commission’s assurance to conduct “One Nation, One Election” casts doubts about its independence

 It is another question that Modi’s BJP has in practice reduced it into a sort of Presidential election. The call for a ‘double-engine sarkar’ is a camouflage for that. Modi and BJP are  pitting his name not only for an Assembly seat, but for a corporator’s seat in Metropolitan cities of India.

Covering it up, Modi harps on ‘hereditary parties’ controlling the polity as their family property. Hereditary ruling classes are in inherent in India, said Ambedkar. We shall discuss that in Part-2 of this article.

***                              ***

Ramakrishnan is a political observer who contributed to

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