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PRAKASH KARAT | 26 JANUARY, 2019

This Republic Day ...

The assault on the fundamental rights of citizens continues


January 26 this year marks the 69th anniversary of the Republic. It was on this day in 1950 that the constitution that declared India a republic came into force.

A Republic means a State which is not a monarchy but that which is representative of the people; it means people are sovereign. The constitution made India into a secular-democratic republic.

It is this republican Constitution which has been under continuous assault ever since the Modi government assumed office in 2014, nearly five years ago. The latest instance of this assault is the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which is before the Rajya Sabha.

This is an amendment which seeks to redefine the concept of citizenship as spelt out in the constitution and provide for citizenship based on specific religious affiliation. This bill is being opposed by a mass movement in Assam and other North-Eastern states, where the change in law would threaten the identity of local communities and the demographic composition.

The Constitution provides for an independent judicial system and the integrity of the higher judiciary. The Modi government has made no bones about its intention to undermine the independence of the judiciary. It has done so in two ways. Firstly, by seeking to interfere in the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the High Courts. It has sought to nullify, or, delay making appointments as recommended by the collegium of the Supreme Court. Secondly, it has declared that it will not follow judgements of the courts which do not suit it. The Sabarimala judgement is one such example. The RSS-BJP combine and even union ministers have sought to pressurise the Supreme Court to take up the Ayodhya dispute case in the manner they want it to.

The armed forces of the country are strictly insulated from politics under the constitutional scheme. However, more and more the government seeks to involve the armed forces in its political agenda. The current chief of the staff of the army has been making a series of pronouncements in the political sphere – whether it has to do with Jammu & Kashmir, or, the North-East. This trend, if encouraged, will be dangerous and will lead to undermining the integrity of the armed forces.

The secular basis of the republican constitution is under furious attack. Apart from talk of changing the constitution, insidious efforts are on to erode the secular principles enshrined in the constitution. Recently, the state legislatures of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have called for the cow to be declared the rashtra maata. The religious faith in the holy status of the cow is now sought to be given the State symbol of the “Mother of the Nation”. If the RSS and the Hindutva forces have their way, the cow will be accorded a superior position than ordinary citizens in the constitution.

The Modi government has gone to great lengths to pamper big business and to privatise the natural resources of the country. This amounts to privatising the republic. The scale of enrichment of the few at the expense of the many has reached staggering heights. According to the latest Oxfam’s report on wealth and inequality, nine billionaires in India own as much wealth as 50 per cent of the lower half of the population. The top 10 per cent hold 77.4 per cent of the total national wealth. The 119 billionaires in the country add Rs 2,200 crore per day to their wealth. This makes a mockery of the directive principles of the constitution, which amongst others, states that “the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to sub-serve the common good” and “the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment”.

That the concentration of wealth is facilitated by crony capitalism has been starkly brought out in the case of the Rafale deal. Despite the vigorous denials of the Modi government, sufficient evidence has piled up regarding the loss to the State exchequer and the windfall gains to be made by a favourite capitalist of Narendra Modi. The recent report in The Hindu by its former editor, N Ram, has brought out the exorbitant pricing for the new contract signed for 36 Rafale planes.

One of the strongest legacies of the freedom movement was the exercise of national sovereignty and independence. That sovereignty has been seriously compromised by the deepening strategic alliance forged by the Modi government with the United States of America. A political party and ideology which has no record of participation in the independence struggle and anti-imperialism has hitched India’s armed forces and strategic interests with that of the United States. It has no hesitation in allowing US air force and naval ships to operate from Indian bases.

The authoritarian onslaught fuelled by the Hindutva agenda has not spared any aspect of the constitution, or, the institutions working under it. The subversion is taking place from within. Those holding constitutional positions such as governors are purveying anti-constitutional ideas; some vice chancellors of central and state-run universities are speaking out and acting in anti-secular and anti-democratic ways; the CBI has an acting director who has a record of pro-Hindutva views. The list is lengthening day by day.

The assault on the fundamental rights of citizens continues apace with dissenting voices and intellectuals being branded as anti-national and attracting sedition clauses against them. Cow vigilantism and mob lynchings are immune from the law.

This is the bleak picture that surrounds us when we celebrate Republic Day. It should strengthen our resolve to intensify the struggle against the anti-secular, anti-democratic and anti-people regime. It makes it imperative, therefore, for all citizens who cherish democratic, secular and constitutional values to take a pledge to ensure that the next Republic Day in 2020 will be observed not under the current regime but under a secular government.

(Prakash Karat is Politburo Member of the CPI(M))

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