Neelabh Mishra - Modi Sarkar, beware of tampering with the Constitution / Soli Sorabjee: What we need to guard / Arun Shourie calls campaigning for Modi one of the "biggest mistakes" of his life: "What we are going towards is a pyramidal decentralised mafia state"

In the din of the recently concluded winter session of Parliament caused by the ill-advised demonetisation decision, a serpent more sinister for our republic lurked hidden from the public eye and media glare. 

In one of the brief interludes of business amidst the disrupted session, an insidious question was planted in the Rajya Sabha on December 2, 2016 - starred question No. 185 by BJP MP Dilipbhai Pandya of Gujarat, regarding ‘Review of the Constitution’. The question addressed to the Minister of Law and Justice had three points:

  • The status of the effort made so far to review the Constitution.
  • Whether the constant increase in the number of bills being moved to amend the Constitution indicates the need for such a review; and
  • Whether any person/group is studying this matter and advising the ministry and if so the details thereof?
 The answer of the government was ominous and necessitates eternal vigilance on the part of the citizens who value our hard-won liberty, democracy, pluralism and strong republican institutions as envisioned by our Constitution—a fruit of careful deliberation and debate by nation builders imbued with the ideals of our freedom movement and the best of human civilisational values.

The government’s reply to Pandya’s question was laid as a statement on the table of the House by Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Minister for Law and Justice, and Electronics and Information Technology. In its written reply tabled in the Parliament, the Government of India, ominously finds our Constitution inadequate and subject to continuous review not by any august Constituent Assembly duly and democratically constituted by the people of India, with whom collectively the sovereignty of this democratic republic reside, but by ministries and departments that derive their validity and existence from the very Constitution that they seek to review. And they claim to do so on the recommendations of a Constitutional Review Commission - the Venkatachaliah Commission - dubiously constituted by a fiat of the previous NDA government without even the sanction of the then elected Parliament.

In response to the first point of Pandya’s question, the government statement says ...The Commission submitted its report on 31st March 2002. Action on the recommendations made in the report lies with the various Ministries/Departments of the Government of India which are administratively concerned with the subject matter of the recommendations….’ The government reply further says that the copies of the report had been forwarded to these ministries/departments to examine and process the recommendations.

In reply to the other two points in the question, the government statement says, Review of the Constitution of India, with a view to bring them in harmony with the current economic, social and political situation in the country, is a continuous process normally done by Central Ministries/ Departments as part of their business.’

The government’s callousness about the Constitution as a document enshrining the core of our democracy, republicanism and the collective sovereign will of the Indian people is reflected in its reply to the parliamentary question. It reduces the Constitution of India to a mere set of administrative procedures and rules that must be and are subject to constant review by administrative units and committees set up by the government of the day, rather than by the collective will of the people in exercise of their sovereignty and democratic rights. And mind you, it’s not talking about mere amendments that every Constitution of the world undergoes from time to time, but talking of a comprehensive constitutional review, a euphemism for a new Constitution.

It’s the government of the day that derives its legitimacy in a democratic republic from the Constitution that the people of the country bring into being, rather than the other way round. It’s the government that is accountable to the Constitution and the people continuously, and not the other way round. Circa 2017 should be the year when the people of this country should confront the government over its designs on India’s Constitution and democracy. Democracy is just not about getting a majority to rule and do as you like, irrespective of accountability to the core of democratic and republican values.

Our freedom fighters and members of the Constituent Assembly who drafted free India’s Constitution attached great importance to fundamental rights. They did not subscribe to the fallacy that fundamental rights are a gift from the state to its citizens. They rightly believed that individuals possess basic human rights independently of any Constitution by reason of the fact that they are members of the human family. A Constitution does not “confer” fundamental rights. It confirms their existence and accords them protection. That is the rationale of fundamental rights…

Utmost judicial vigilance is necessary with regard to restraints on the fundamental right of freedom of expression and personal liberty, which are the favourite targets of attack by authoritarian regimes because their suppression enables the regime to neutralise the dissenter, jettison accountability and ensure its continuance… Serious violations of fundamental rights occur during emergencies. The usual facile excuse offered is that fundamental rights are required to be suspended temporarily in order that the nation may survive. Actual experience establishes that those to whom supreme authority has been conferred are reluctant to give it up. Temporary dictatorship often becomes permanent tyranny because when the safeguards of the Constitution are surrendered to the rulers the means of getting them back also get surrendered… Read more:
[On] Twitter, [it’s] not individuals speaking but organised forces. These are now armies and that shows the debasement of discourse in India. And, it vitiates the atmosphere of the country. … It’s part of a well thought out strategy. And, the country better wake up. It’s not a crazy person in the street. I remember a comment on Mussolini’s black shirts – they were nothing without the state but with the state they were everything. With the state backing them, they are everything. This applies to a large section of the media today...

A former supporter of the prime minister, Shourie calls campaigning for Modi one of the “biggest mistakes” of his life. Before this interview, Shourie, in another interview, had criticised PM Modi of running a one-man “Presidential government” and called his two years of governance “a great opportunity completely missed”. 

In the interview with Chaturvedi, he calls out Modi for the “Indirafication” of BJP and for espousing the values of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Here are some quotes from the released excerpts:

On the Narendra Modi government: It’s a decentralised emergency. What we are going towards is a pyramidal decentralised mafia state, where local goons will belabour anyone whom they think is doing something wrong. The central people will look the other way. The central people will provide a rationale for the goondas at the local level … It’s not love for the cow but just an instrument for domination.

Indira vs Modi: The one big difference is at that time Mrs [Indira] Gandhi still used the law. Now it is not the law. These people are acting outside the law. These people are acting outside the law. This is true fascism because you say what is the law? I am the law. All this action is being done outside the government, worse, things are being done inside the government to choke the existing laws

On Modi’s response to controversies spurred by BJP leaders: A statement is made, an incident is created. A campaign is launched. He remains silent. Everybody says, baba please speak, begs him to speak. No. When the campaign has been milked or that abuse has been milked for what it can yield, then at last, three months later, he makes some ambiguous statement. Like motherhood is good. We should all respect our mothers.

On Raghuram Rajan’s resignation: After the RBI governor has been thrown out, this gives very important signals. First, it’s a favour to those corporate houses. Second, it gives a very important [signal] that if you don’t do our bidding and are not seen to be doing our bidding, you are out. Third, it’s a signal that professionals are not welcome in this set up and then, the most important, that no institution will be autonomous. The so called Gujarat model is exactly this. One man, nobody else. One man going to any extreme. The man not even realising that drama is not achievement.

On RSS: Modi and Shah are every day espousing RSS values, these are their values. This is the RSS in power. It is foolish to put it on a pedestal. Look at the chaps who have been put in institutions. That’s the long-term consequence … All this talk over the country is only to justify this takeover. The takeover is also not of some great historic mission but to ensure government cars, to sit in government offices. This is the level of ambition of the deprived! The oppressed who has been cast out, his aspiration is to be like the oppressor… read more:
‘It’s a Decentralised Emergency… A Pyramidal Mafia State’: Arun Shourie on Modi Sarkar
and the Express summary:

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