Country facing grave challenges as key institutions no longer free: Ashok Gehlot

During the past five years, we have seen how the autonomy of the Election Commission, the Enforcement Directorate, the CBI and the Reserve Bank of India has been undermined owing to undue interference

Country facing grave challenges as key institutions no longer free: Ashok Gehlot

Ashok Gehlot

The country is facing grave challenges to its democracy today. It has never faced such challenges since independence. We paid a heavy price to get independence from the British Raj. Under the leadership of Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi, our country got freedom on the basis of our strength of Non-violence and Satyagrah. We attained freedom through the great sacrifices made by the Congress leaders and also the struggle they had carried out.

After independence, the Congress leaders fought a pitched battle against the challenges like Naxalism, Terrorism and Separatism. Smt. Indira Gandhi, Shri Rajiv Gandhi and Sardar Beant Singh laid down their lives for the sake of the unity and integrity of the nation.

Today, the forces of fascism are assuming dominance which in turn is endangering our democracy. Smt. Indira Gandhi led the country as Prime Minister during the 1971 Indo-Pak war to defeat Pakistan with surrender of its General and 92,000 soldiers. She changed the geography of the world by carving out Bangladesh as a new country. There is no parallel to this in history.

Leaders like Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad made exemplary contributions to take Indian democracy to new heights. The strong democracy of today is their legacy to us.

Ever since independence, the leaders of Congress party have contributed to nation building and strengthening the roots of democracy. As a result of it, in the past 70 years since independence, the democratic system and institutions remained intact despite the different political ideologies occupying the seat of power. In a democratic set up, a huge poll mandate results in new responsibilities for public representatives and the people in power. Humility and decency are expected from the leaders of the ruling party.

On the contrary, we are witnessing a false sense of arrogance assuming prominence. This is not in tune with the spirit of democracy. Heavy mandate doesn’t mean a blind endorsement to every policy and decision of the ruling dispensation. The key challenge before our democracy today is that the ruling party mistakenly assumes that all its decisions bear the stamp of public approval.

Several decisions are being taken without taking the public opinion into account. Demonetisation is the biggest example of it, which devastated the economy of the country. These days, the PM Shri Narendra Modi never mentions demonetisation in his speeches as it has become the biggest monument of his economic failure.

According to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data, demonetisation resulted in the highest rate of unemployment in the country in the past 45 years. Just before the general elections the NSSO was barred from publishing correct data, resulting in the resignation of two top officials. Soon after the elections, the government admitted that the rate of unemployment was as high as 6.1 percent. This fact was concealed from the public and there is no such precedence in history.

When our country got independence, the policy makers emphasised on autonomy of the Constitutional institutions. Makers of our Constitution conceptualised a powerful legislature, an autonomous judiciary, a strong Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) and an independent Election Commission. Congress-led governments strengthened the autonomy of these institutions and never allowed to compromise with their dignity.

With the BJP assuming power in year 2014, the autonomy of these institutions is in peril and questions are being raised about the credibility of these institutions. During the past five years, we have seen how the autonomy of the institutions like the Election Commission, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the CBI and the Reserve Bank has been undermined and trampled upon owing to undue interference.

Even the independent and fearless media appears to have become weak. BJP has left no stone unturned in polarising the media. Several senior journalists pursuing honest journalism are being forced to work under pressure. The situation has become so bad that either you eulogise the government or get ready to be a victim of the propaganda unleashed by the trolls on social media.

There is a long list of journalists who lost their jobs for being on the side of truth. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, under the guidance of Smt. Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister, ushered in an era of rights based legislations in the country. The Congress gave the world’s biggest employment programme named MNNAREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and other laws like the Right to Education, the Right to Food and the Right to Information to the country. Now, the present dispensation has weakened the real spirit of the historic Right to Information Act.

In an unprecedented turn of events in the history of independent India, in January 2018, four judges of the Supreme Court of India shared their agony with the media. Justice J. Chelameswar told the media: “The four of us are convinced that unless this institution is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, democracy will not survive in this country.”

Though this statement was made in the context of the division of work in the Supreme Court, but it highlighted the visible threat to democracy.

Our Constitution gives us the guarantee of freedom of expression under the Article 19(1). This is amongst the most important Fundamental Rights provided in the Constitution. No state can deprive a citizen of this right, except in some special circumstances. Banning the freedom of expression by way of legal intimidation is certainly a gross violation of the right provided in the Constitution. Now, the Ministry of Finance has restricted its officials from meeting the journalists without a prior appointment.

Liberty, equality, justice and fraternity are the pillars of our Constitution. But are these pillars visible today? In the past five years, incidents of mob lynching have increased manifold in various parts of our country. In May 2019, Shri Narendra Modi took oath as the Prime Minister for the second time. Nevertheless, the intensity of intolerance and hate doesn’t seem to be declining.

To control the incidents of violence by the mob on innocent people, the government of Rajasthan is going to enact a law namely, the Rajasthan Protection from Mob Lynching Bill, 2019. Similarly, a strict legislation, named The Rajasthan Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances in the Name of Honour and Tradition Bill, 2019 has been proposed to stop incidents of honour killing.

Intolerance is on the rise in the country and the incidents of silencing the voice of dissent are regularly hogging headlines. Persons having a view different from the government are being branded as traitors and their voices are being stifled. Killing of journalist and social activist Gauri Lankesh and writer M.M. Kalburgi are some of the recent examples of the voice of dissent being crushed.

For political gains, the BJP has created an environment of hatred all over the country. Those occupying responsible positions have forgotten their duties. Poison of hate is being spread in the lust of power. People of a particular community are being targeted in the name of National Register of Citizens (NRC). This is certainly a big threat to the constitutional system and communal harmony.

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    Published: 15 Aug 2019, 1:30 PM