#WeThePeopleMatter: The centrality of ‘We the People’ today

India Election 2024 Voting Vote

Ongoing elections 2024

Between 19 April and 01 June, around 1-billion Indian people are voting to constitute India’s 18th Parliament. During the election campaigning, in his quest for 370/400 seats, India’s sitting prime minister Shri Narendra Modi has repeatedly re-energised the divisive Hindu-Muslim issue – and reportedly later retracted some of his statements.

Basing upon statements made by senior RSS and BJP leaders over the past few years, a section of people claim that if BJP gets a two-thirds majority in the 18th Parliament to form the government, the Constitution of India will be changed to create a State based upon the religion of the Hindu majority population – a “Hindu Rashtra”. If the claim is correct, this will consolidate the link between religion and politics, precisely as exists in every “Islamic Republic”, where there is no semblance of democracy.

The religion-politics nexus

Religion is primarily to help individuals understand and connect with a divine entity. It is a social-cultural paradigm, a set of ideas and beliefs, with practices based upon unquestionable principles and rules – dogma, prescribed and enforced by religious leaders. However, religious dogma that demands unquestioning adherence by the laity, also unifies individuals and groups of people, and modifies or regulates individual and social behaviour and customs.

Thus, religious leaders possess powerful political and social agency to influence and control people, using their intimate link with leaders and elites in the social, political, economic-business, intellectual-academic, and civic life of a nation.

Religion has undoubtedly been used by religious and political leaders and social reformers, in socially constructive ways. But more often, throughout history, religious and political leaders have also perversely manipulated individuals and societies, and social and political institutions, for political and economic gains, and for furthering personal and/or political agendas. Or simply to satisfy personal need for power to control large numbers of people, even entire populations.

Thus, in all societies, religion has been directly or indirectly, openly or clandestinely, in nexus with social-economic-political power structures. A small number of powerful persons including extremely wealthy persons, can influence the cooperation of religious leaders. Alternatively, as in Iran in 1979, religious leaders can sieze political power.

Today in India

Political leaders define or re-define political and economic policies to further their social, economic and political agendas. In some nations especially including our own, leaders of society innovatively but perversely introduce exclusionary religious dogma to further these agendas, in order to gain full-spectrum control. Such concentration or centralisation of power, especially when it is based on religion, is socially divisive. It is antithetical to democracy, and anathema in a People’s Republic.

Independent India’s founding fathers scripted the Constitution of India, with Article 15 assuring We the People that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion. Further, Article 25 assures We the People the right to freedom of religion, and Article 51A(e) makes it the fundamental duty of citizens to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious diversities. These three articles assure We the People that the State remains separate from, leave alone adopting, any particular religion. They define secularism as one of the core values of the Constitution, long before the word “secular” entered the Constitution Preamble in 1976.

Why ‘We the People’ matter

At the present juncture, We the People have a crucial role to ensure that coming generations of Indians have a future in a democratic and secular Republic of India. We need to elect a Parliament such that we get a government which will observe and provide the democratic rights in Articles 15 and 25, and promote Fraternity for the unity and integrity of our Nation.

With four of seven phases of voting completed, there are indications that BJP-led NDA is unlikely to get a two-thirds majority (363 seats) in Parliament. The Election Commission of India not releasing the actual numbers – but only percentages – of voting in the completed phases, and that too with inexplicable delay, despite demands for the data, has not only brought itself to appear inefficient but also under possibility of bias in conducting free and fair elections.

However, if NDA gets a simple majority, there is likely to be a credible Opposition in Parliament. And, democracy and secularism for We the People is a possibility.

S.G.Vombatkere retired in 1996 from service in the Indian Army, in the rank of Major General.

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