Herald View: The road to freedom

Did we manage to pull back from the brink? On the eve of Judgement Day, there is reason to hope the people of India might have done just enough to reverse the country's slide into a majoritarian abyss

People at a polling station during the 4th phase of Lok Sabha elections, Kanpur, 13 May 2024
People at a polling station during the 4th phase of Lok Sabha elections, Kanpur, 13 May 2024

Herald View

Did we manage to pull back from the brink? We’ll find out soon enough, but on the eve of Judgement Day (4 June), there is reason to hope that ‘We, the people of India’, might have done just enough to reverse India’s slide into a majoritarian abyss.

Before the waves of relief or grief overwhelm us, let’s try and remember why these last 45 or so days have been the most agonisingly long 45 days in living memory.

Indians who remember and cherish the idea of India articulated in the Preamble to the Constitution have had their hearts in their mouths, fearing the worst but also hoping that the INDIA bloc Opposition will somehow pull off a miracle and snatch victory from the jaws of a ruling party bent on rewriting those sacred Constitutional covenants—our pledge as citizens to give ourselves a ‘democratic’ republic committed to ‘JUSTICE, social, economic and political’; to ‘LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship’; to ‘EQUALITY of status and of opportunity’; to ‘FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual’.

It seems the idea that our Constitution is in danger—and with it, the protections it guarantees minorities, the scheduled castes and tribes—rang out in the heat and dust of this election. The wise men who forecast elections did not think much of the Congress decision to include this in the party manifesto.

Some were openly derisive when Rahul Gandhi started talking about the Constitution in election rallies. Sanjay Kumar of CSDS-Lokniti confessed in a recent TV discussion that he laughed when Rahul Gandhi and the INDIA bloc leaders spoke of the threat to our democracy and the Constitution.

He laughed because he was convinced that an imperiled Constitution was no kind of issue to try to rouse the masses. But Kumar conceded in the same discussion that he’d been wrong about this earlier.

In the 14 April edition of Herald View, titled ‘A blueprint to repair India’s soul, its democracy’, we wrote: "The [Congress] manifesto articulates the ways in which our democracy has been hollowed out, taking grim note of the attacks on institutions designed to counteract overreaching ambition in any arm of the State. It takes on board the evisceration of autonomous institutions like the Election Commission of India (ECI), the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

"It calls out the excesses of government surveillance of citizens and talks about the desperate need to review our criminal laws. It outlines the need and means to restrain elected representatives from playing fast and loose with their mandate. It even invokes a new ideal for the reconstitution of our Judiciary.

"A section titled ‘Saving Democracy, Removing Fear, Restoring Freedom’ notes that ‘India’s democracy has been reduced to an empty shell’. And so, on restoring citizen freedoms, it promises, first of all, ‘freedom from fear’, but also ‘to restore freedom of speech and expression, including full freedom of the media’; ‘to remove provisions that restrict freedom of speech and expression and violate the right to privacy’; ‘to uphold people’s right to assemble peacefully and to form associations’; ‘to not interfere with personal choices of food and dress, to love and marry…’; ‘to repeal all laws that interfere unreasonably with personal freedoms’.

"For anyone who has ever cared about our constitutional values and has lived in India over the past 10 years, the retreat of these freedoms from the lives of Indian citizens during this time is a truism."


Considered as a whole, this manifesto is a blueprint to repair India’s soul, its democracy, it’s an attempt to reconnect with India’s civilisational genius, and to guide the country towards becoming a fuller expression of the will of its very diverse people.’

This is not to say that people can live on the ‘love and fresh air’ of democracy and citizen freedoms. The everyday concerns of citizens do matter. But it is wrong to assume that all that matters, or should matter 75 years after Independence, is the baseline of roti, kapda aur makaan.

Beyond secure lives and livelihoods, beyond equality, which we must guarantee first, all citizens should have a right to better life opportunities, to social mobility. It will take an enlightened government, even if it falters sometimes and falls short despite sincere effort, to commit itself to that egalitarian path.

Let’s hope 4 June brings in such a government.

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