Secular democracy in danger: Concerned citizens call for reclaiming the republic
A group of concerned citizens call for liberating all democratic institutions from the clutches of authoritarian regime to ensure justice, liberty and equality as envisioned by Constitution of India
Expressing grave concern over the Narendra Modi government’s blatant attempt to usurp and misuse all major constitutional bodies, a group of concerned citizens comprising academics, lawyers, journalists, writers, former administrators and social activists on March 25 released a 19-point ‘manifesto’ for reclaiming the secular democratic republic.
The group of concerned citizens headed by Justice A P Shah suggested a range of reforms needed to repair the damages inflicted by the NDA government so that the rule of law becomes operational, judiciary and anti-corruption institutions are free from interference, the integrity and fairness of administrative structures is restored and the media regains its vigorous energy to report national events with freedom, accuracy and responsibility.
“The Republic of India was founded on our Constitution’s resolve to secure justice, liberty, equality and fraternity for all its citizens. While over the last seven decades, we cannot claim to have succeeded in redeeming this pledge, we were strengthened by the conviction that the foundations for the realisation of these goals were being laid. There could be and there were, wrong steps, false moves, stumbles. But there was, nonetheless, a sense of our country moving, broadly, on a path shown by it by its founders,” the manifesto noted.
“Over the last five years, however, we have witnessed and indeed have felt in our experience of public life and in our personal preoccupations, an onslaught at full throttle on these foundational and core principles of citizenship. We have seen clearly and unmistakably, the institutional pillars of the Republic being dismantled,” the group observed.
“We have seen the rise of something that was practically unknown in India – lynch mobs, caste violence and hate-mongering enjoying what seems like immunity from the law of a kind that only come from state patronage. Just when we seemed to have acquired the resources to address endemic poverty and inequalities, we have been subjected to an accentuation of cronyism and monopolistic control over resources with a resultant weakening of people’s livelihoods. And overarching all this, we have regressed to a condition of induced collective insecurity and jingoism, contrary to the spirit of universalism which was never removed from Indian nationalism,” it noted with concern.
“The roots of some these challenges go back to the earlier times. We require reconstruction and substantial measures to ensure that similar damage cannot be done in the future. Unless we reignite the spirit of the Constitutional resolve to secure justice, liberty, equality and fraternity and carry out programmes in that direction, we cannot hope to involve a majority of Indians in this national duty,” the group stated in its 19-point charter on ‘Reclaiming the Republic.’
The charter called for scrapping of ‘antiquated and draconian laws’ that have been widely misused to curtail personal liberties and intimidate political activists. These laws include Section 124 A (sedition) and Section 499 (criminal defamation) of the Indian Penal Code, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, National Security Act, Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, besides the existing laws on blasphemy and criminal contempt of legislature and judiciary.
To curb the gross use of black money in election, the charter demanded withdrawal of the Electoral Bond scheme and setting up of a National Election Fund.
With a view to making media freer, diverse and accountable, the ‘Reclaiming the Republic’ charter suggests setting up of an independent regulator and introduction of media freedom bill along the lines of the First Amendment in the US that guarantees freedom of expression and removes all arbitrary restrictions such as pre censorship broadcast of news on radio and arbitrary Internet shut down. It also wanted the setting up of independent statutory licensing and regulatory authority, statutory complaints authority and making Prasar Bharati a truly independent public service broadcaster.
On the severe crisis of livelihood, particularly that confronting farmers, village artisans, and the underprivileged oppressed class of people, the charter wants universal basic services and social security for all citizens, good quality social services including education, health, maternal care and early childhood care, access to food, universal pension for the aged and employment generation through public works.
Addressing the plight of farmers, the charter wants assured income, freedom from indebtedness and sustainable farm practices. For this, it wants statutory assurance of remunerative prices, at least 50 per cent more on the cost of cultivation, one-time comprehensive loan-waiver, a national debt relief commission, removal of all legal and vigilante-imposed restrictions on cattle trade and extension of all benefits meant for farmers to tenant farmers, sharecroppers, women farmers, adivasi farmers and landless cultivators and livestock rearers.
The charter wants the government to prioritize spending on education, both school and higher education, greater autonomy to institution of higher and technical education, strengthening of government healthcare institutions and promotion of generic medicines.
The ‘Reclaiming the Republic’ charter was presented to all recognized political parties contesting the coming Lok Sabha elections with an appeal to them to include these in their respective manifestos.