How serious is the commitment to the Constitution?

Lip service cannot gloss over ‘governance by jhatka’. By weakening, discrediting and disempowering the citizens and civil society, the Government has already deviated from the Constitution

How serious is the commitment to the Constitution?

Uttam Sengupta

The Union cabinet, which by all accounts learnt of the decision to repeal the farm laws on television like everybody else, approved this week the Bill to repeal them. The Prime Minister’s unilateral, and as usual sudden, announcement to repeal the laws brought equally suddenly last year, is part of his now familiar ‘governance by jhatka’. Had he followed Constitutional values, he would have taken the cabinet and Parliament into confidence first. It is the Parliament’s prerogative to make and approve laws. But just as the Modi Government did not allow any meaningful deliberation on the Bills in Parliament, after promulgating them through ordinances, in all likelihood there will again be no discussion in Parliament on the farm laws, farmers’ protests and their demand for MSP as a legal right when the Parliament meets on Monday. The Government’s disregard for Parliament is not a secret. Indeed, the Parliamentary system of governance has been turned into a Presidential system in all but name.

The PM’s announcement of the repeal of farm laws and ordinances to extend the tenure of a few blue-eyed bureaucrats also came days before the Parliament’s winter session. But ironies never fail to surprise. The Government is observing this week the Constitution Day on November 26, the day in 1949 when the Constituent Assembly adopted the Indian Constitution. The observance of this day, it is worth recalling, was first notified in 2015. While it was certainly prompted by an innate desire for one-upmanship, it was also ostensibly meant to instil in citizens ‘Constitutional values’. At a time when the Union Government displays scant respect for ‘Constitutionl values’, the Constitution Day is just a reminder of how far the Republic has come from fulfilling the dreams and aspirations of the founders of the Indian Constitution; and how far it has moved away from the Constitution. While the founders of the Republic sought to transfer power to the citizens and ensure for them liberty, equality and fraternity, this Government in particular has determinedly pursued its goal of empowering the state and weakening citizens and democratic institutions.

The Preamble to the Constitution was read out by ordinary citizens protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act. While people had rejoiced in wonder at the liberating goals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, it will not be the same when the President, the Prime Minister and other dignitaries read out the Preamble this week. Will they pause to reflect on what they have done to the Constitution? Unlikely that they would do so. But there is no harm in reminding them that they have even failed to elect a Deputy Speaker in the Lok Sabha for the past two years. Divisive laws on conversion, criminalising divorce for a section of the citizens, sectarian laws to discriminate on the ground of religion are not what the Constituent Assembly had bargained for.

The Republic had erred in allowing laws of sedition to remain on the statute books but this Government has now distorted the definition of sedition to an extent that citizens are being booked for sedition for having literature and pamphlets that the regime does not approve of. When the National Security Advisor, who enjoys a cabinet minister rank, declares that civil society is the new enemy or when the Chief of Defence Staff, a four star general, publicly approves of people lynching alleged terrorists, one is left to wonder why the Government should continue with this farce of observing the Constitution Day.

Views are personal

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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Published: 26 Nov 2021, 10:51 AM