In the din and disruption of the recently concluded Winter Session of Parliament, caused by the government’s ill-advised demonetisation decision, a serpent more sinister for our republic lurked hidden from the public eye and media glare. In one of the brief interludes of business amidst the disrupted session, an insidious question was planted in the Rajya Sabha on December 2, 2016—starred question No. 185 by BJP MP Dilipbhai Pandya of Gujarat, regarding ‘Review of the Constitution’. The question addressed to the Minister of Law and Justice had three points:
- The status of the effort made so far to review the Constitution.
- Whether the constant increase in the number of bills being moved to amend the Constitution indicates the need for such a review; and
- Whether any person/group is studying this matter and advising the ministry and if so the details thereof?
The answer of the government was ominous and necessitates eternal vigilance on the part of the citizens who value our hard-won liberty, democracy, pluralism and strong republican institutions as envisioned by our Constitution—a fruit of careful deliberation and debate by nation builders imbued with the ideals of our freedom movement and the best of human civilisational values.
The government’s reply to Pandya’s question was laid as a statement on the table of the House by Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Minister for Law and Justice, and Electronics and Information Technology. In its written reply tabled in the Parliament, the Government of India, ominously finds our Constitution inadequate and subject to continuous review not by any august Constituent Assembly duly and democratically constituted by the people of India, with whom collectively the sovereignty of this democratic republic reside, but by ministries and departments that derive their validity and existence from the very Constitution that they seek to review. And they claim to do so on the recommendations of a Constitutional Review Commission—the Venkatachaliah Commission—dubiously constituted by a fiat of the previous NDA government without even the sanction of the then elected Parliament.
In response to the first point of Pandya’s question, the government statement says ‘...The Commission submitted its report on 31st March 2002. Action on the recommendations made in the report lies with the various Ministries/Departments of the Government of India which are administratively concerned with the subject matter of the recommendations….’ The government reply further says that the copies of the report had been forwarded to these ministries/departments to examine and process the recommendations.
In reply to the other two points in the question, the government statement says, ‘Review of the Constitution of India, with a view to bring them in harmony with the current economic, social and political situation in the country, is a continuous process normally done by Central Ministries/Departments as part of their business.’
It’s the government of the day that derives its legitimacy in a democratic republic from the Constitution that the people of the country bring into being, rather than the other way round. It’s the government that is accountable to the Constitution and the people continuously, and not the other way round
The government’s callousness about the Constitution as a document enshrining the core of our democracy, republicanism and the collective sovereign will of the Indian people is reflected in its reply to the parliamentary question. It reduces the Constitution of India to a mere set of administrative procedures and rules that must be and are subject to constant review by administrative units and committees set up by the government of the day, rather than by the collective will of the people in exercise of their sovereignty and democratic rights. And mind you, it’s not talking about mere amendments that every Constitution of the world undergoes from time to time, but talking of a comprehensive constitutional review, a euphemism for a new Constitution.
It’s the government of the day that derives its legitimacy in a democratic republic from the Constitution that the people of the country bring into being, rather than the other way round. It’s the government that is accountable to the Constitution and the people continuously, and not the other way round. Circa 2017 should be the year when the people of this country should confront the government over its designs on India’s Constitution and democracy. Democracy is just not about getting a majority to rule and do as you like, irrespective of accountability to the core of democratic and republican values.