India turns 70 as a Republic this week. Although the Indian Republic is still nascent and is a work in progress, it has rarely faced such serious and sustained threats that it has had to stand up to in the last five years. All republican institutions have come under attack. The Parliament has been ignored and the Prime Minister has chosen to address political rallies rather than attend Parliament and reply to charges of corruption. Budgets were passed without discussion. Parliamentary scrutiny of bills has been stonewalled. And the government’s strategy has been to use Parliament not for deliberations but somehow manipulate the forum to push its agenda. Not just Parliament, the PM has shown scant regard for the cabinet system or collective responsibility.
Even a major decision like Demonetisation was presented to the cabinet as a fait accompli and the PM unilaterally took the decision that economists universally agree was a Himalayan blunder. Concentration of power in the PMO and reducing ministers to the status of assistants have promoted a presidential system not envisaged in the Constitution. These remain major concerns for the nation on this Republic Day because never before has any government in independent India treated democratic institutions with such contempt for so long.
The government has also browbeaten independent media, making it abundantly clear that its patronage would be bestowed only to the pliable ones. Its whopping publicity spend of over Rs 5700 crore helped fatten select media houses and secured their silence or support on crucial issues. The judiciary has also been treated with disdain, so much so that four Supreme Court judges were forced to address a press meet to say that democracy itself was under threat. The whimsical abolition of the Planning Commission and the arbitrary decision to set up the Niti Aayog to replace it defied reason and has not yet been fully explained.
The dramatic developments in the RBI, the CBI, the ED, etc. are playing out in public, reducing public confidence in them even as they are made to function like rubber stamps. What is worrying is that the nature of politics itself has been turned toxic. The attack on the Constitution has intensified. Attempts to pave the way for a Hindu Rashtra are in full swing, something that the founding fathers had unequivocally rejected. Their idea of India as an inclusive, secular and liberal democracy is under attack, breeding social unrest. When slaughter of cows invites the draconian provisions of the National Security Act but killings of human beings, notably a police inspector in Bulandshahr, do not, it is time to worry. The general election will provide an opportunity at course correction and people hopefully will rise to defend the Republic.