The government has undermined secular democracy; social justice; federalism; and economic self-reliance
Surreal is, perhaps, the only way to describe marking of the first anniversary of the Modi 2.0 government. As the government data detailing the pre-coronavirus disease destruction of the economy and the consequent ruination of crores of lives during the last year was being released, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi was writing to all of us describing the year as “a golden chapter in the history of Indian democracy”. This ruination has been aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic and the unplanned and abrupt unilateral lockdown announced by the PM. This lockdown has neither strengthened the efforts to combat the pandemic nor has it provided any relief to beleaguered citizens. The situation continues to worsen.
India appears to have entered a post-truth society. The Oxford Dictionary defines post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. The propaganda and spin machine of the government projects a surreal world divorced from the truth.
The first year of this government has been traumatic. Apart from all other issues such as the economic downturn, increase in people’s miseries, assaults on democratic rights and civil liberties, this year has been traumatic for the single-minded focus with which this government began to systematically undermine India’s secular, democratic, republican order.
Among the attacks — the delivery of a verdict and not justice in the Ram temple site dispute in Ayodhya, the triple talaq criminalisation of only Muslim men, not other’ for deserting their wives — are two that spring to mind immediately.
Modi 2.0 began with an immediate assault on the Constitution with the abrogation of Article 370. In one stroke, the state of Jammu and Kashmir became a part of history and was bifurcated into Union territories. The promises made during the freedom movement and the Constitution have been betrayed. The manner in which this was done was an affront to the constitutional scheme of things. By dissolving the elected assembly and not holding the elections along with the 2019 general elections, this government deliberately bypassed the constitutional stipulation that the border of any state in India cannot be altered without the concurrence of the assembly. As the assembly was non-existent, the governor appointed by the Centre was presumed to be the substitute, whose consent was naturally obtained. The entire exercise was done surreptitiously.
Then came the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), a brazen violation of the Constitution in stipulating religion as a criterion for citizenship. The Constitution underlines the equality of every citizen, irrespective of caste, creed, gender or any other attribute. The corollary to CAA was the National Population Register on whose basis the National Register of Citizens would be prepared. This exercise was rightly seen by many as the intensification of communal polarisation that feeds into the larger construct of targeting the Muslim minority. These two, along with many other assaults, are part of the effort to transform a secular, democratic, republican India into an intolerant theocratic, exclusivist fascistic state, which is the project of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Citizenship is the fundamental requirement for every other right provided by the Constitution. Once people are stripped of their citizenship, they stand automatically stripped of all their rights and liberties in India.
These assaults on the Constitution were accompanied by the weakening of the constitutional institutions. Both these issues were challenged in the Supreme Court (SC) and continues to remain there without being heard, considered or adjudicated on. The SC has chosen to consider matters such as anticipatory bail to journalists charged with aiding campaigns of hate as being more important than the defence of the Constitution. From the deepest recesses of my memory come surging images of courts during South Africa’s apartheid regime where criminals were acquitted, and the victims prosecuted. Retired SC Justice Gopala Gowda recently commented that the draconian experience of the infamous ADM Jabalpur case in which anyone considered a political threat to authorities could be taken into custody without trial, during the Emergency, is now passé.
The four foundational pillars of the Constitution — secular democracy; social justice; federalism; and economic self-reliance — are taking a severe beating. Sharpening communal polarisation and the undermining of secularism are accompanied by attacks on any expression of dissent. Draconian laws such as the Sedition Act, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the National Security Act are used. The stigma of social oppression has worsened.
There is increasing centralisation of all authority by the central government bypassing elected state governments, negating federalism. A unitary State is required not only to centralise authority to facilitate the realisation of the RSS project but also to create a surveillance-based “security State”.
The grandiose announcement of ~20 lakh crore financial package in the name of self-reliance is nothing but a blueprint for India’s self-subservience. It provides profit maximisation for foreign and domestic corporates. The net result will be the further widening of economic inequalities which have already reached alarming levels.
Such are the dark clouds that have engulfed the Indian Republic during the last year. The silver lining must be enlarged by all of us together to overshadow and consume these dark clouds.