Cover Story The Hindu Images by benbenzhou

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									Cover Story                                                                                              FEBRUARY 26, 2010




The Republic
       At 60 the Indian Republic has come a
       long way, but it has to travel a greater
       distance to achieve the goals set in the
       Constitution. B Y G R A N V I L L E A U S T I N


The question is: Can India be a great
democracy, strong in itself and in the
eyes of the world, so long as so many
of its people are denied the promise
of the Preamble?
           ANY people that sets out to govern itself assumes
       a monumental task. Who are “we?” Are “we” a con-
       geries of groups, or something that might realistical-
       ly be called a nation? What do we want from
       self-governance – our form of political and adminis-
       trative organisation; our form of representation, the
       reach of suffrage; the kinds of laws and the in-
       stitution that should oversee their justness and effec-           with an Act that placed certain land reform laws
       tiveness – especially for the lower classes in society;           outside the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. In 1973,
       what should “our” goals be for the entirety of this new           the government, during Indira Gandhi’s prime min-
       thing that we are creative? Are we going to write this            istership, did its best to curb the court’s reach and,
       all down – and call it a “constitution”?                          indeed, to bring it closely under the influence of the
           The public figures gathered in New Delhi in 1946               executive branch. The relationship between the
       confronted all these and more issues. The Indian                  court and the government was soured several more
       Constituent Assembly declared three grand goals for               times during the 1970s and 1980s and the first few
       the founding document: They were protecting and                   years of the 1990s before stabilising since then.
       enhancing national unity and integrity, establishing                   In federations that may find themselves facing
       the institutions and spirit of democracy, and foster-             issues where Central government authority may be
       ing a social revolution (often called socialism) to               at odds with actions by the constituent units’ govern-
       better the lot of the mass of citizens. As essential as           ments (State legislative and executive actions) Su-
       were the goals, individually, the framers believed                preme Courts are typically called upon to settle the
       that none should be pursued at the expense of any of              disputes. Somewhat surprisingly, the court in Delhi
       the others. They were mutually dependent.                         seldom has been called upon to adjudicate these
           Of course, the institutions for government cre-               “federal” cases. It has been approached through po-
       ated in the Constitution also were mutually depen-                litical channel – the dominant party at the Centre
       dent whether or not their responsibilities put them               bringing its power to bear on the party dominant in
       at odds. The judiciary often struck down parlia-                  the Legislative Assembly in the State. When the
       mentary legislation as not in accordance with the                 Congress party was powerful, nationally, this was
       Constitution. Parliament responded, first in 1951,                 comparatively easy. As other political parties won

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in retrospect
                                                                                                                     ed, would have markedly improved the
                                                                                                                     situation.
                                                                                                                          None of this should startle us
                                                                                                                     greatly for the Constitution tips the
                                                                                                                     scales of power towards the Central
                                                                                                                     government. The mood among the
                                                                                                                     framers was anxiety about national
                                                                                                                     unity and integrity. Partition was only
                                                                                                                     months in the past; Kashmir’s status
                                                                                                                     was undecided; there were murmur-
                                                                                                                     ings of separatism among the Sikhs;
                                                                                                                     Telangana was in revolt; the north-
                                                                                                                     east was uneasy (as it since has contin-
                                                                                                                     ued to be); secularism versus commu-
                                                                                                                     nalism worried Jawaharlal Nehru and
                                                                                                                     other Congress leaders; economic
                                                                                                                     planning and development depended
                                                                                                                     upon national unity. Still, Centre-
                                                                                                                     State relations have worked. India now
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                                                                                                                     is a united nation, blemishes notwith-
                                                                                                                     standing. If Telangana does become a
                                                                                                                     State it is unlikely that its relations
                                                                                                                     with New Delhi will vary significantly
                                                                                                                     from those of other States. Most im-
                                                                                                                     portant was, and is, that the Constitu-
                                       the Constituent Assembly on January
JA WAH A R L A L N E H R U A D D RES S I N G                                                                         tion is two documents, a national
24, 1950. On that day the members of the Assembly appended their                                                     constitution and a constitution for the
signatures to the Constitution, which then came into force on January 26.                                            States – a situation that seems to have
                                                                                                                     had little effect on Centre-State rela-
power in the States, the task was far          Chief Ministers formed committees in                                  tions. The appearance of independent
more difficult. In the late 1960s and in        protest, offering recommendations for                                 political parties in States will reduce
the 1970s, with Indira Gandhi in office         measures, constitutional and less for-                                the ability of the Central government
as Prime Minister, she clipped the             mal, to restore greater balance in the                                and its constituent parties to meddle in
wings of the Congress in the States and        federal relationship. The Centre, for its                             State affairs. Violence by naxalites,
outmanoeuvred other State parties.             part, devised methods to bring the                                    however, persists as a dangerous mat-
This trend culminated in her well-             Ministries and the State governments                                  ter. But not more so than exploitation
known Emergency, in which her go-              together for problem solving. These ef-                               of peasants by alliances between poli-
vernment and Parliament, over which            forts, however, typically bore New Del-                               ticians and economic “developers”.
she had unchallenged influence, held            hi’s stamp and were unpopular with                                         From time to time during the past
authoritarian sway over the entire             the States, which continued to level                                  60 years, theorists have argued that
country.                                       charges against centralisation. The re-                               federal and parliamentary systems fit
    This degree of “centralisation”, to        port of the Commission on Centre-                                     ill together. In India’s situation I, per-
employ an inadequate euphemism,                State Relations, chaired by Justice R.S.                              sonally, think that little would be
had been seen in milder form for two           Sarkaria and published in 1983, pro-                                  gained from changing to a presidential
decades. State governments had been            posed alterations in constitutional                                   system. Beyond the vast subsidiary
complaining about New Delhi’s pol-             provisions and extra-constitutional                                   changes that would be entailed, States
icies to exert influence over them.             political practices that, if implement-                               would still be dependent on the Cen-

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                                                                                                             FEBRUARY 26, 2010




tre’s power and largesse. Related to        one – the tenant farmer, the agricultu-      es, castes and women in education,
this consideration is the often raised      ral labourer, the Dalit, the member of       legislative bodies, including pan-
query: “Does the Constitution need          the backward classes – to the person at      chayats, and the civil services have
significant change to make it work bet-      the top of society – as defined by eco-       brought previously unrepresented in-
ter?” Perhaps. I am not a student of the    nomic status or caste – who strives to       dividuals and groups into national life.
question. My reaction to the suggesti-      maintain the contacts in government          Great controversy accompanied such
ons I have heard is that they are prem-     that bring him money, who assures his        developments.
ised on the fantasy that a change in the    son a place in a university or a good            Recently, long-argued issues have
Constitution’s wording would reform         school (perhaps with a little gentle         re-emerged: the definition of “back-
human, political conduct. Yet improv-       bribery), to him who, no matter what         wardness – caste or class or poverty”;
ing human behaviour never has been          his caste or income, follows the scrip-      whether reservation is equalising
so easily achieved. Substitute the word     tural injunction to promote the well-        downward or upwards; whether reser-
“draftsman” for “doctor” and “Consti-       being of his family before that of his       vation/concession tends to become
tution” for “patient” and you have,         neighbour.                                   vested interests; whether reservation/
“The draftsman survived, but the Con-           The well-known social thinker            concession engenders a spirit of self-
stitution died.”                            R.C. Dutt has said that “the moral at-       denigration among the people. What is
    Thanks to the character, humanity       mosphere of the struggle for existence-      basically important here is that legisla-
and prescience of the founding fathers,     …has provided ample opportunities            tors, lawyers, and the courts are consi-
and mothers, the Constitution has           for corruption and for collective self-      dering these questions seriously. Faith
been “the cornerstone of the nation”.       aggrandisement at the expense of the         in the Constitution is widespread
Reduced to its barest essentials, it is a   poor”. P.N. Haksar, for some time sec-       among      the    wide      variety    of
template for national administration        retary to Indira Gandhi, has said that       constituencies.
(thanks in great part to the Parliament     members of “our civil services…are               In a speech given recently on Hu-
in London and its 1935 Government of        committed first of all to themselves          man Rights Day, the noted advocate
India Act) and a document meant to          and to their nuclear family…[and be-         Fali S. Nariman said: “It is not because
establish the nation’s social reform        yond this] to members of…his sub-            of our Constitution but despite its pro-
goals and to write down the constitu-       caste, caste, community, and region.”        visions that we have failed to achieve
tional mechanisms to be used to reach                                                    what were naively assumed [in the
them. These appear throughout the           HIMALAYAN BARRIER                            year 1950] to be achievable goals.” Na-
Constitution – in the Fundamental           These characteristics of Indian cul-         riman added: “The remedy to effec-
Rights and the Directive Principles of      ture, have constituted a himalayan           tively countering discrimination…is
State Policy, and in the provisions for     barrier to achieving the creed of the        not by law, but in attitudes… [which]
special treatment for various minor-        Preamble. Yet, the provisions of the         must change.” The noted political
ities and backward sections of society.     Constitution have chipped away at the        thinker Andre Beteille summed up this
As Vice-President S. Radhakrishnan          barrier with some success. Adult suf-        appraisal when he wrote that “a consti-
put it, India must have a “socio-eco-       frage has been its principal tool – even     tution may indicate the direction in
nomic revolution… [to achieve] the re-      though candidates elected may                which we are to move, but the social
al satisfaction of the fundamental          promptly ignore the promises they            structure will decide how far we are
needs of the common man… [and] a            have made to constituents. As inju-          able to move and at what pace”.
fundamental change in the structure         rious to the integrity of adult suffrage –
of Indian society.”                         and certainly to its reputation in India     A SUCCESS DESPITE FRAILTIES
    The Constitution’s Preamble says        and abroad and to Parliament and sev-        The Constitution and its seamless web
that it is to secure to all its citizens    eral State legislatures – has been politi-   of democracy, social revolution, and
    JUSTICE, social, economic, and          cal parties giving the ticket to known       national unity and integrity have met
political and                               criminals to contest elections. On the       India’s needs. It is fair to say that it has
    EQUALITY of status and opportu-         plus side, suffrage continues to spawn       been a success despite some frailties –
nity and                                    political parties and active politics and    which might, with political will, be eas-
    FRATERNITY assuring the digni-          an open process for vote seeking. The        ily remedied. Yet the Constitution has
ty of the individual.                       Fundamental Rights and the security          presented a paradox: the sturdiness of
    The nobility of these goals is ex-      measures put in place by the Election        the system it has provided has permit-
ceeded only by their ambition.              Commission have protected voters’            ted vast deviations from its system and
    For India is a “survival society” – a   rights. Social action legislation and        its spirit, by those who would ignore
society characterised by hierarchy and      group activity and the increasing ener-      them or distort them. The Constitu-
want. The “want” stretches from the         gy shown by panchayats have enliv-           tion has provided protective coloration
man who is striving for two chapatis        ened villagers’ political involvement.       much as an animal or a bird changes its
for himself and his family when he has      Reservation of seats for various class-      appearance without changing its be-

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FEBRUARY 26, 2010




ing. Praising its provisions has given     participation in democratic processes        the excuse of blaming the British if
licence to those who would ignore          – although caste-against-caste oppres-       anything goes wrong, Ambekdar told
them to do so. Democracy was sub-          sion still may be savage. To compare         the Assembly. We will have nobody to
verted by the First Amendment’s plac-      political conditions in, say, 1945 with      blame except ourselves.
ing of the land reform legislation         those in India today demonstrates how            Historians of constitutional devel-
beyond the Supreme Court’s jurisdic-       far representative government has            opments in India are unlikely to be
tion, by the executive branch’s many       come during the interim.                     without a job. There is too much going
attacks on the court’s independence,           India under the Constitution has         on, too much to puzzle over, to learn.
and by the imposition of the mon-          come a long, long way in 60 years – not      One matter, among the many others,
strous Emergency in 1975.                  to forget the distance it still has to go.   especially perplexes me. Can India be a
    The Preamble’s promise to seek         The critics who downplay its achieve-        great democracy, strong in itself and in
justice, social economic and political,    ments lack understanding and em-             the eyes of the world, so long as so
and equality of status and opportunity     pathy – particularly American critics,       many of its people are denied the
– and the vainglorious addition of the     whose democracy has serious difficul-         promise of the Preamble?
words “socialist” and “secular” to the     ties no matter where they look. Indeed,      Granville Austin began his study of
Preamble by the 42nd Amendment             not looking is one of their difficulties.     India and the Constitution in 1959.
left conditions for Dalits and other       Indian citizens have much to be proud        He has published two books on the
backward castes much as they long          of, but should avoid smugness. A rem-        subject: “The Indian Constitution –
have been. I must add here that adult      edy for it could be to ask themselves        Cornerstone of a Nation”, 1966, and
suffrage, and its accompanying effect      what the members of the Constituent          “Working a Democratic Constitution
of caste encouraging political mobil-      Assembly might think if, like Rip Van        – A History of the Indian Experience”,
isation for voting, and reservation pol-   Winkle, they awoke tomorrow.                 1999. He holds a D.Phil degree from
icies     have     increased     citizen       With Independence we have lost           Oxford University.




                                                      F R O N T L I N E   7
Cover Story                                                                                             FEBRUARY 26, 2010




Constitution today
            It is the people who alone can make it work. B Y A . G . N O O R A N I


Be it Parliament, Governors, the                                          “Constitutions are easily copied, temperaments
                                                                      are not; and if it should happen that the borrowed
Speaker or the Supreme Court,                                         constitution and the native temperament fail to cor-
                                                                      respond, the misfit may have serious results. It mat-
reform is practicable through                                         ters little what other gifts a people may possess if they
                                                                      are wanting in those which from this point of view
constitutional amendment provided                                     are of most importance. If, for example, they have no
                                                                      capacity for grading their loyalties as well as for
political parties realise it is in their                              being moved by them; if they have no natural in-
                                                                      clination to liberty and no natural respect for law; if
interest to remove the deformities                                    they lack good humour and tolerate foul play; if they
                                                                      know not how to compromise or when; if they have
that have crept into the Constitution.                                not that distrust of extreme conclusions which is




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C. R A J A G O PA L A C H A RI , V A LLA B H B H A I Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru was the Chairman of the Union
Constitution Committee and the Union Powers Committee. Vallabhbhai Patel was the Chairman of the Committee on
the Principles of a Model Provincial Constitution and the Advisory Committee on Minorities, Fundamental Rights, etc.

In June 1947, a joint meeting of the Union and Provincial Constitution Committees
decided to adopt the British parliamentary system of Constitution.
                                                  8   F R O N T L I N E
                                                                                                                                    FEBRUARY 26, 2010




sometimes misdescribed as want of           clause conferring powers on the gover-                               nors “really should arise out of
logic; if corruption does not repel them;   nors was adopted. Patel retorted an-                                 conventions that grow from time to
and if their divisions tend to be either    grily: “It has been suggested that there                             time, and the President and the Gover-
too numerous or too profound, the suc-      is no guarantee that the Schedule will                               nors in their respective spheres will be
cessful working of British institutions     come. There is as much guarantee                                     guided by those conventions” (CAD;
may be difficult or impossible.              about it as a guarantee that the House                               Vol.X; pages 114-116. For the texts vide
     “It may be least possible where the    will meet tomorrow” (ibid., pages                                    B. Shiva Rao The Framing of India’s
acts of parliamentary persuasion and        648-649).                                                            Constitution: Select Documents on In-
the dexterities of party management             Two years later, on October 11,                                  dia’s Constitution; Vol. IV; pages 67-6
are brought to their highest perfections.   1949, at the fag end of the Assembly’s                               8. emphasis added, throught). Sixty
Let the political parties be reduced to     labours, the Schedules containing two                                years of the working of India’s Consti-
two (admittedly the most convenient         Instruments of Instructions, for the                                 tution have belied these expectations
number for Cabinet government), but         President and the Governors, were                                    which were unrealistic even in 1949.
let the chasm dividing them be so pro-      dropped; a little over a month before                                What Indian conventions did he ex-
found that a change of administration       the Constitution was adopted on No-                                  pect to “grow”?
would in fact be a revolution disguised     vember 26, 1949. The Instruments                                          It would be a gross exaggeration to
under a constitutional procedure”           codified a few of the conventions on                                  say that the perversions of the parlia-
(Walter Bagehot; The English Consti-        which the uncodified British parlia-                                  mentary system we have witnessed all
tution, The World’s Classics; Oxford        mentary system rests. T.T. Krishna-                                  these years, at the Centre and in the
University Press; 1867, Balfour’s In-       machari, a member of the Assembly’s                                  States, would not have occurred if only
troduction to the Second Edition,           Drafting Committee, explained un-                                    the conventions had been codified.
1928; pp. xxii-xxiii).                      convincingly: “It has now been felt that                             Even the letter of the supreme law, the
     THE framers of India’s Constitu-       the matter should be left entirely to                                text of the Constitution, has not been
tion decided, at the very outset, to        convention rather than be put into the                               spared abuse. But codification could
adopt the parliamentary system of go-       body of the Constitution.” The direc-                                have served as a significant check and,
vernment based on the British model.        tions to the President and the Gover-                                more, as a guide to the people by which
On this the two top leaders were                                                                                 they could judge the conduct of those
agreed. Jawaharlal Nehru was Chair-                                                                              they had voted to power.
man of the Union Constitution Com-                                                                                    Each of the major offices and in-
mittee as well as the Union Powers                                                                               stitutions that the Constitution set up
Committee. Vallabhbhai Patel was                                                                                 in 1950 bears a battered shape in 2010
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Chairman of the Committee on the                                                                                 – the President, Parliament, the Su-
Principles of A Model Provincial Con-                                                                            preme Court, Governors, State Assem-
stitution and the Advisory Committee                                                                             blies and the High Courts. The
on Minorities, Fundamental Rights,                                                                               generation that works the system it es-
etc.                                                                                                             tablished has a radically different out-
     As early as June 5, 1947, it was                                                                            look from that of those who enacted it
decided, at a joint meeting of the          T . T . K RI S H N AM ACHAR I , a member                             and worked it for some years thereaf-
Union and Provincial Constitution           of the Constituent Assembly’s                                        ter. As far back as 1962 Myron Weiner
committees, to emulate the British          Drafting Committee.                                                  wrote of “India’s two political cul-
model. Patel announced the decision                                                                              tures”, the culture in the districts and
in the Constituent Assembly on July         He explained the decision                                            “the second political culture [which]
15, 1947: “Both these committees met        to drop from the Draft                                               predominates in New Delhi”, an
and they came to the conclusion that it                                                                          “emerging mass political culture” and
would suit the conditions of this coun-
                                            Constitution the Schedules                                           an “elite political culture” (Political
try better to adopt the parliamentary       containing Instruments of                                            Change in South Asia; Firma K.L.
system of Constitution, the British         Instructions, for the                                                Mukhopadhyay; page 114).
type of Constitution with which we are      President and the                                                         This was, perhaps, a trifle simplis-
familiar” (Constituent Assembly De-                                                                              tic even in 1947 or 1962. By 2010 the
bates (CAD); Vol. 40; page 578).            Governors: The directions                                            divide has all but vanished. We have
     Two days later, Patel told the As-     to the President and the                                             had Prime Ministers like Charan
sembly that “a Schedule according           Governors “really should                                             Singh, Chandrashekhar, and H.D.
(sic.) to the traditions of responsible                                                                          Deve Gowda, who could have done lit-
government will be framed and put
                                            arise out of conventions                                             tle credit even to the office of the Chief
in”. Members demanded that the              that grow from time to                                               Minister. Parliament is as rowdy as
Schedule be put in first before the          time….”                                                              any State Assembly. It is more mea-

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FEBRUARY 26, 2010




                                                                                                                  broad issues of policy, rather than by
                                                                                                                  sectional interests; and finally the exis-
                                                                                                                  tence of a mobile body of public opi-
                                                                                                                  nion, owing no permanent allegiance
                                                                                                                  to any party and therefore able, by its
                                                                                                                  instinctive reaction against extrava-
                                                                                                                  gant movements on one side or the
                                                                                                                  other, to keep the vessel on an even
                                                                                                                  keel. In India none of these factors can
                                                                                                                  be said to exist today. There are no
                                                                                                                  parties, as we understand them, and
                                                                                                                  there is no considered body of political
                                                                                                                  opinion which can be described as mo-
                                                                                                                  bile” (Vol. 1 (Part 1) Session 1933-34;




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                                                                                                                  Her Majesty’s Stationery Office
                                                                                                                  (HMSO), London; 1934; page 210). It
                                                                                                                  was an illiberal document, but those
                                                                                                                  words sting. They are so true.
                                                                                                                      South Asia is unique among parlia-
                                                                                                                  mentary democracies in enacting laws
                           President of the Constituent Assembly, signs the
DR R A JEN D R A PR A S A D ,                                                                                     against defections by legislators. Such
Constitution of the Indian Republic.                                                                              a malaise cannot be cured by laws
                                                                                                                  alone. It reflects a state of political
ningful to talk of our constitutional       How many erudite, incisive commen-                                    morality and an outlook that rejects
culture. Dr B.R. Ambedkar, Chairman         taries on the Indian Constitution can                                 the system. The defector will readily
of the Constituent Assembly, was            one cite today? The discourse is de-                                  topple a newly elected government for
steeped not only in British and Amer-       based by political partisanship, craze                                personal gain and even wreck the sys-
ican constitutional history and consti-     for publicity, and an assertiveness that                              tem for political gain. To his niece
tutional law, but also in the history of    is not backed by learning. Constitu-                                  Blanche Dugdale, Balfour was more
Greece and Rome and in political sci-       tional illiteracy has spread. Informed                                forthright, in a conversation on April
ence. In this he was peerless among         critiques are few. Abuse receives cen-                                25, 1925: “I doubt if it is written in any
lawyers. His colleague, Sir Alladi          sure that is sporadic and seldom                                      book on the British Constitution that
Krishnaswami Ayyar, was an erudite          well-informed.                                                        the whole essence of British parlia-
conservative, while K.M. Munshi, alert           There is something lacking and                                   mentary government lies in the inten-
to political realities, spoke more than     that is the spirit of constitutionalism.                              tion to make the thing work. We take
once, unlike Sir Alladi, in defence of      Balfour’s caution is one of the many                                  that for granted. We have spent hun-
the citizens’ rights.                       that mocks us as we survey the sit-                                   dreds of years in elaborating a system
    Constitutional lawyers of the time      uation today. Gladstone held that the                                 that rests on that alone. It is so deep in
had drunk deep at the fount of British      British Constitution “presumes more                                   us that we have lost sight of it. But it is
constitutional lore. With H.M. Seer-        boldly than any other, the good faith of                              not so obvious to others. These peoples
vai’s death in 1996, the last of the con-   those who work it”. That good faith is                                – Indians, Egyptians, and so on – study
stitutional lawyers was gone. We have       none too conspicuous in our public                                    our learning. They read our history,
advocates of conspicuous ability ready      life.                                                                 our philosophy, and our politics. They
to argue on complex issues of constitu-          We resented British admonitions                                  learn about our parliamentary meth-
tional law or company law but bereft of     as excuses for denying India its right to                             ods of obstruction, but nobody ex-
the erudition and the insights that         govern itself. Especially these observa-                              plains to them that when it comes to
make a constitutional lawyer. They          tions in the Report of the Joint Com-                                 the point all our parliamentary parties
know little outside the law. If this        mittee on Indian Constitutional                                       are determined that the machinery
seems harsh, listen closely to the off-     Reform: “Parliamentary government,                                    shan’t stop. ‘The King’s government
the-cuff remarks they so readily dish       as it is understood in the United King-                               must go on,’ as the Duke of Wellington
out to anchors on television shows or       dom, works by the interaction of four                                 said. But their idea is that the function
editors at the drop of a hat, as it were.   essential factors; the principle of ma-                               of opposition is to stop the machine.”
    When did we last see a single judge     jority rule; the willingness of the mi-                                   The constitutional lawyer Ivor
of the Supreme Court who had earned         nority for the time being to accept the                               Jennings wrote in his famous work
a reputation as a constitutional lawyer     decisions of the majority; the existence                              Cabinet Government: “The function of
before his appointment to the court?        of great political parties divided by                                 parliament is not to govern but to crit-

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icise. Its criticism, too, is directed not                                                               strained censure of those very author-
so much towards a fundamental mod-                                                                       ities as to all their public acts
ification of the government’s policy as                                                                   combined too with a perfect confi-
towards the education of public opi-                                                                     dence in the bosom of every citizen,
nion… the government governs and                                                                         amidst the bitterness of party contest,
the Opposition criticises. Failure to                                                                    that the forms of the Constitution will
understand this simple principle is                                                                      not be less sacred in the eyes of his
one of the causes of the failure of so                                                                   opponents than in his own.”
many of the progeny of mother of par-                                                                         Such confidence was not overly
liaments and of the suppression of par-                                                                  abundant even in 1948. Sixty years lat-
liamentary           government         by                                                               er, it does not exist. Ambedkar was not
dictatorship” (page 16).                                                                                 unaware of its frail nature. “Constitu-
    The frailty of public morality of In-                                                                tional morality is not a natural senti-
dia’s political class was no secret even                                                                 ment. It has to be cultivated. We must




                                                                                        P.V. SIVAKUMAR
during the freedom movement. Moti-                                                                       realise that our people have yet to learn
lal Nehru wrote to his son Jawaharlal                                                                    it. Democracy in India is only a top
on December 2, 1926, about the tactics                                                                   dressing on an Indian soil which is
used “under the auspices” of men of                                                                      essentially undemocratic” (CAD; Vol.
stature like Madan Mohan Malaviya            B . R. A M B ED K A R , Chairman of the                     VII; page 38). The seth who converts
and Lajpat Rai in an election: “Com-         Drafting Committee.                                         his proprietary firm into a company
munal politics and heavy bribing of the                                                                  does not acquire the corporate culture.
voters was the Order of the day. I am        On constitutional morality,                                      On November 25, 1949, when he
thoroughly disgusted and am now se-                                                                      moved “That the Constitution as set-
riously thinking of retiring from public
                                             he said:“[It] is not a natural                              tled by the Assembly be passed”, Am-
life…. The Malaviya-Lala gang aided          sentiment. It has to be                                     bedkar said: “However good a
by Birlas’ money are making frantic          cultivated. We must realise                                 constitution may be, it is sure to turn
efforts to capture the Congress” (Jawa-      that our people have yet to                                 out bad because those who are called
harlal Nehru; A Bunch of Old Letters;                                                                    to work it happen to be a bad lot…. It is,
1958, page 50). The Governor of Ben-
                                             learn it. Democracy in India                                therefore, futile to pass any judgment
gal Lord Lytton complained to the Vi-        is only a top dressing on an                                upon the Constitution without refer-
ceroy about the practice of bribing          Indian soil which is                                        ence to the part which the people and
members of the Legislative Council in        essentially undemocratic.”                                  their parties are likely to play.” The
the early 1920s (Evolution of Parlia-                                                                    following day the President of the Con-
mentary Privileges in India till 1947;       minds of the framers of our Constitu-                       stituent Assembly, Rajendra Prasad,
Salil Kumar Nag; 1978; page 212).            tion, least of all from the most erudite                    pointed out that many things that can-
    The wise Rajaji saw it all and wrote     and discerning one among them, B. R.                        not be written in a constitution are
while in prison: “Elections and their        Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting                          done by conventions. “Let me hope
corruptions (sic.), injustice and life       Committee. He was far removed from                          that we shall show those capacities and
power and tyranny of wealth, and in-         the tribe of lawyers whose vision is                        develop those conventions.” (CAD;
efficiency of administration will make        limited to texts and precedents. Am-                        Vol. VII; page 38, and Vol. XII; pages
a hell of life as soon as freedom is given   bedkar was erudite, profound and                            975 and 993).
to us. Men will look regretfully back to     insightful.                                                      Indian politicians, the tallest in-
the old regime of comparative justice                                                                    cluded, betrayed the trust reposed in
and efficient, peaceful, more or less         CONSTITUTIONAL MORALITY                                     them. As far back as November 19,
honest administration.                       While moving for the adoption of the                        1954, the then Union Home Minister,
    “The only thing gained will be that      Draft Constitution in the Constituent                       Kailash Nath Katju, described the
as a race we will be saved from dishon-      Assembly on November 4, 1948, Am-                           practice in vogue in these picturesque
our and subordination. Hope lies only        bedkar quoted at some length Grote,                         terms in the Lok Sabha: “Offer some
in universal education by which right        the historian of Greece, on constitu-                       plums before them, give a laddu to
conduct, fear of God and love will be        tional morality. It meant “a paramount                      one, a rasagulla to another… members
developed among the citizens from            reverence for the forms of the Consti-                      from Independents will join and you
childhood. It is only if we succeed in       tution, enforcing obedience to author-                      will then be able to produce a majority.
this that Swaraj will mean happiness.        ity acting under and within these                           Now, this is an insult to the Constitu-
Otherwise it will mean grinding in-          forms yet combined with the habits of                       tion. This is a mockery of the Constitu-
justices and tyranny of wealth.”             the speech of action subject only to                        tion.”
    None of this was absent from the         defined legal control, and unre-                                  A Constitution rests on the founda-

                                                       1 2   F R O N T L I N E
FEBRUARY 26, 2010




tions of basic norms of political moral-     which high imperial Tory and revolu-                                    closed by the present regime of Mrs
ity as Katju correctly noted. The sit-       tionary Marxist could find common                                        Indira Gandhi. And just how may the
uation deteriorated further in 1967          enjoyment. Even your own leader                                         change ‘accord better with indigenous
when the Congress lost its hegemony.         (June 21) chose an odd time to point                                    habits’? Are habits never modified?
Defections became the norm. Now half         out the limitations of democracy under                                  Had not growing numbers of Indians
a century after Katju spoke, we have         Congress, for an incomplete democra-                                    begun to make the habits of liberal de-
lost not only vestiges of political mor-     cy is diminished further, not remedied                                  mocracy indigenous? Surely it is a
ality but also a national consensus on       by illiberation.                                                        ‘massive’ loss when damage is done to a
which a democracy can function. Dur-             “Nor can one easily detect any clear                                way of political life which in two dec-
ing 1969-1989 it was Indira Gandhi,          and consistent signs that the elite-                                    ades had already converted into citi-
and later Rajiv Gandhi, versus the rest.     mass gap which you deplore is being                                     zens so many who had been subjects
From 1990 to this day, it is the Bharati-                                                                            beyond the political pale…. Moreover,
ya Janata Party’s Hindutva versus the                                                                                the gains are doubly suspect. In origin
rest. We are a badly split polity justify-                                                                           they are at best uncertainly attribut-
ing Balfour’s fears.                                                                                                 able to Mrs. Gandhi’s dose of autoc-
     It is absurd to suggest that the                                                                                racy. In their effects they appear too
presidential system accorded better                                                                                  fragile to endure. Unitedly, Indian de-
with our national character such as it                                                                               mocracy had freely mobilised de-
is. The defector or bitter partisan who                                                                              mands and grievances; in its place is
topples a government in the parlia-                                                                                  put none of the usual alternatives.”
mentary system will bring the govern-                                                                                    The Constitution of India is very
ment itself to a grinding halt as Newt                                                                               much an Indian achievement and In-
Gingrich did in the United States. In                                                                                dian democracy, which it nurtures
India, it would pave the way for a legit-                                                                            and protects, has struck root in the
imised autocracy. It is, however, one                                                                                Indian soil. These achievements were
thing to lament the growing discon-                                                                                  predicted by some British statesmen.
nect between constitutional values                                                                                   By none more prophetically or elo-
and public morality and between the                                                                                  quently than Thomas Babington Ma-
text of the Constitution and the un-                                                                                 caulay who is decried for his
derlying conventions of the parlia-                                                                                  thoughtless Minute on Indian Educa-
                                                                                           THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY




mentary system on which the text is                                                                                  tion dated February 2, 1835. Over-
based. It is another to assert that the                                                                              looked is his majestic peroration in the
Constitution is unsuited to the Indian                                                                               House of Commons on July 10, 1833,
character and temperament and                                                                                        perhaps the very first prediction by
should be discarded in favour of a                                                                                   anyone, English or Indian, of India’s
shuddh (pure) swadeshi document, as                                                                                  eventual rise to self-government (“de-
the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh                                                                                      mand European Institutions”).
                                             K A I LA S H N A T H K A TJ U   with Nehru.
(RSS) holds.                                                                                                             The parliamentary system has
     This was the very argument which                                                                                struck root in the entire South Asia. Its
Indira Gandhi’s supporters in Britain
                                             In November 1954, as                                                    practice can be improved. There is no
patronisingly asserted during the            Union Home Minister                                                     cause for despair provided the causes
Emergency. They received their just          Katju had some harsh                                                    are accurately understood and the re-
deserts from Prof. W.H. Morris-Jones,        things to say in the Lok                                                medies effectively devised. Consider
Constitutional Adviser to the Viceroy                                                                                the office of the President. The first
in 1947 and a scholar of high repute:        Sabha about the Indian                                                  holder of the office, Rajendra Prasad,
Referring to Eldon Griffiths’ defence of      politician: “Offer some                                                 sought to undermine parliamentary
the Emergency, Prof. Morris-Jones            plums before them, give a                                               democracy. His successor, S. Radhak-
wrote to The Times (London) on June                                                                                  rishnan, bared his ambitions and ani-
25, 1976:
                                             laddu to one, a rasagulla to                                            mosities no sooner than he assumed
     “Mr Griffiths’ jibe about ‘exhibit A     another… members from                                                   office. Bar Zakir Hussain, we had since
of the Westminster model abroad’             Independents will join and                                              rubber stamps or intriguers. We owe it
misses the point that it had become a        you will then be able to                                                to Shankar Dayal Sharma and K.R.
specifically Indian achievement; it on-                                                                               Narayanan that in 2010 the office is
ly adds insult to the injury already suf-
                                             produce a majority…. This                                               just what the framers intended it to be
fered by Indian democrats. Such              is a mockery of the                                                     – a constitutional head of state in the
denigration has long been a sport in         Constitution.”                                                          parliamentary democracy. How did

                                                        F R O N T L I N E    1 3
                                                                                                            FEBRUARY 26, 2010




this come about? Because all the major        unless satisfied that the head of go-       1987, some carpetbaggers did. In June,
political parties realised that it was in     vernment has ceased to command the         Zail Singh was tempted but wiser
their interests to abide by the rules. A      confidence of the House. There follows      counsel prevailed. He would have
wayward President is a menace to all;         the crucial constraint – “in which case    come to grief.
to one party now, to the opposition           he shall summon the National Assemb-           India’s democracy has functioned
tomorrow.                                     ly and require the Prime Minister to       for 60 years, bar the interlude of the
                                              obtain a vote of confidence from the        Emergency. But the parliamentary
ELEVEN PRINCIPLES                             Assembly”. An identical expression is      system came into its own only since
The record from 1950-2010 establish-          used for Governors.                        1992.
es the following eleven principles. First         Eighthly, not only the opposition
and foremost, it is now firmly estab-          parties but Chief Ministers of States      SITUATION IN THE STATES
lished that the President is entitled, in     also invoke the President’s moral au-      But this is not so in the States. Discred-
exercise of his own judgment, to ques-        thority as “guardian of the Constitu-      ited Ministers are appointed Gover-
tion the government’s bills, appoint-         tion”; in their case, specifically to       nors (Shivraj Patil and H.R.
ments and policy proposals. Secondly,         safeguard its federal character.           Bhardwaj). So are civil servants whose
within limits, Presidents can comment             Ninthly, in 1977, the acting Presi-    shelf-life has expired. They act as the
on affairs of the state in public. Crit-      dent, B.D. Jatti, was extremely reluc-     Centre’s agents. The Chief Minister
icism of the government must be mut-          tant to sign the proclamation under        himself owes his office to the bounty of
ed, though it should be more in the           Article 356 imposing President’s Rule      the central high command of his or her
nature of sounding an alarm. In rare          in certain States. The government’s        party. He cannot select his own Minis-
cases, public expression of disquiet is       threat of resignation induced him to       ters, expand his Cabinet or sack a dis-
proper. Thirdly, the President is entit-      sign the documents. The Postal Bill is     sident without the high command’s
led to admonish and even censure the          of far less consequence. The fact re-      permission. This is a result of the prac-
Prime Minister in private. Fourthly,          mains that two successive Presidents,      tice of 1937-39 when Congress Minis-
the President’s right to know, embod-         Zail Singh and R. Venkataraman, de-        tries were responsible to the high
ied in Article 78, is not challenged.         clined to sign it. They returned it for    command rather than the elected leg-
Fifthly, the practice is now established      reconsideration in exercise of their       islature, a perversion that Prof. Regi-
of the President receiving leaders of         own individual judgment. It is well set-   nald Coupland criticised trenchantly.
opposition parties, singly or in a dele-      tled that assent cannot be withheld;           There is another flaw, even more
gation, to lodge a protest against the        only reconsideration can be sought. If     fundamental. The Member of Parlia-
government’s action. He offers no             re-enacted assent must follow.             ment or Member of the Legislative As-
comment but forwards the protest to               Tenthly, the question whether the      sembly acquires the party’s ticket to
the Prime Minister and speaks to him,         President can assert a right, under Ar-    contest the polls not from his party-
if he so decides. Sixthly, it is establish-   ticle 86, to address Parliament or to      men in the constituency but from his
ed that the President is not bound to         send messages to either of its Houses      party bosses. He serves as a bondman.
accept the Prime Minister’s request for       in his own discretion, is open. In 1950    Members of Parliament in Britain can
dissolution of the Lok Sabha but is           the Attorney-General opined against it     defy the party whip. The Indian legis-
entitled to exercise his judgment and         in the face of President Rajendra Pra-     lator lacks the capacity to revolt.
consider the alternatives before ac-          sad’s challenge on a host of issues. His
cepting it.                                   opinion on the point gave no reasons.      SPEAKER’S OFFICE
    Seventhly, the power of dismissal         At the least, the matter is open. It is    In 1937, the issue arose whether Pu-
of the government cannot be exercised         unthinkable that in an extreme case a      rushottam Das Tandon should resign
except on the extreme grounds men-            President would flinch from taking his      his party membership on election as
tioned in textbooks. There was uni-           case to Parliament.                        Speaker. Both Gandhi and Nehru held
versal criticism of Zail Singh’s                  Lastly, the President is entitled to   that he need not, unmindful of the
intentions in 1987 and again of his           insist, when appointing a Prime Min-       rights of non-Congress MLAs (Selected
admission of them in 1992. The best           ister, that he obtain a vote of confi-      Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, First Se-
course is to have an explicit provision       dence from Parliament within a             ries, Vol. 8; pages 351 and 376). Nehru
on the lines of Articles 91 (5) and 130       stipulated short period.                   deprecated following “blindly British
(5) of the Pakistan Constitution, re-             The existence of the President’s       practice and procedure”. Truth to tell,
spectively for the Prime Minister and         power of dismissal has not been seri-      Nehru’s outlook on constitutional is-
Chief Ministers of States. They say that      ously challenged. There is near una-       sues differed from Ambedkar’s. The
while the Prime Minister and the Chief        nimity on fears of its abuse. No           hoary Erskine May holds: “Confidence
Ministers hold office “during the plea-        responsible politician has sought such     in the impartiality of the Speaker is an
sure” of the respective heads of state,       an intervention by the President           indispensable condition for the suc-
the latter will not exercise their powers     against his political opponents. In        cessful working of the procedure, and

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FEBRUARY 26, 2010




                                                                                                                      police’s professional discretion to in-
                                                                                                                      vestigate into the conduct of, and to
                                                                                                                      prosecute, a judge, to order the legisla-
                                                                                                                      ture on how it should conduct its af-
                                                                                                                      fairs, and intrude on the executive and
                                                                                                                      legislative domain and to silence the



                                               THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY
                                                                                                                      citizen who asserts a right to censure
                                                                                                                      the judges. Constitutional learning
                                                                                                                      was not expended on any of these mat-
                                                                                                                      ters. Ipse dixit were used confidently
                                                                                                                      and lavishly.
                                                                                                                          Parliament had to step in to pro-
FOR M E R PR E S I D E N T S S H A N K A R   Dayal Sharma and K.R. Narayanan.                                         vide that truth is a defence to a charge
                                                                                                                      of contempt of court.
We owe it to them that in 2010 the President’s office is just                                                              But the Supreme Court is be-
what the framers intended it to be – a constitutional head                                                            numbed with excessive caution when
                                                                                                                      faced with issues the nation expects it
of state in the parliamentary democracy. All the major                                                                to answer. We know the havoc
political parties realised that it was in their interests to                                                          wreaked by Justice J.S. Verma’s pal-
abide by the rules. A wayward President is a menace to all.                                                           pably flawed judgment allowing cam-
                                                                                                                      paigns for Hindutva to pass muster in
many conventions exist which have as                                     the name of “parliamentary privilege”.       elections. On April 16, 1996, a three-
their object not only to ensure the im-                                      The anti-defection law calculated-       member Bench of the Supreme Court
partiality of the Speaker but also to                                    ly makes the Speaker judge and thus          noted the conflict in the court’s deci-
ensure that his impartiality is general-                                 further politicises an office politicised     sions (Verma had studiously ignored
ly recognised.” In India, this “indis-                                   already to a degree. But Parliament          ones that ran counter to his view).
pensable condition” does not exist and                                   itself is held to ransom. “We don’t want         The Bench directed the Registry to
has not existed for many years.                                          a debate for debate’s sake,” Atal Bihari     place the case before the Chief Justice
    One doctrine deserves speedy buri-                                   Vajpayee said on December 19, 1995,          “for constituting a larger Bench of five
al: the Speaker’s office is a gift in the                                 while the memorandum of the Left             judges, and, if possible, at an early date
hands of the ruling party. The Econo-                                    Front and the Janata Dal to the Presi-       so that all the questions arising in the
mist of November 19, 1994, wrote:                                        dent, on December 22, 1995, queried:         present appeal could be decided au-
“Over the grey men, the placemen and                                     “Can we remain supine spectators of          thoritatively and expeditiously” (Abhi-
the hired men who characterise the                                       parliamentary proceedings being re-          ram Singh vs C.D. Commachen &
present House of Commons, a star                                         duced to desiccating debates, partic-        Others (1996) 3 Supreme Court Cases
shines. Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker,                                    ularly when the government has, time         665, para 14; page 671).
dominates a difficult House to a degree                                   and again, cynically tried to sweep a            Chief Justices of India have come
that her immediate predecessors never                                    succession of scandals under the             and gone since, including J.S. Verma
attained.” She was elected in 1993 with                                  carpet?”                                     himself. Five general elections to the
the support of the Conservatives                                             The implication is plain. Since de-      Lok Sabha and umpteen to State As-
though she belonged to the Labour op-                                    bates do not yield the result desired by     semblies have followed. With charac-
position. “She won because 74 Tories                                     the Opposition, it will prevent Parlia-      teristic mendacity leaders of the Sangh
rightly rebelled at the thought of some-                                 ment from functioning. There is a cer-       Parivar tout the Verma ruling as the
one who had just left the Cabinet – the                                  tain contempt for debates per se, as if      last word, which it is not. The Supreme
government’s unofficial candidate, Pe-                                    they are an exercise in futility. Howev-     Court has refused to heed the plea to
ter Brooke – sitting in the Speaker’s                                    er, parliamentary debate has a direct        decide the matter at “an early date”. Its
chair and posing as a neutral arbiter of                                 impact on the minds of the public.           silence is deafening.
proceedings.”                                                                                                             So it is on the issue of parliamen-
    In India, such a revolt would be                                     SUPREME COURT                                tary privileges, which are abused ram-
unthinkable and the language The                                         The Supreme Court does not enjoy the         pantly. One has lost count of the
Economist used would be regarded as                                      esteem that apex courts enjoy in Bri-        petitions pending before the court.
breach of parliamentary privilege by                                     tain, Canada or Australia. It is not poli-   The latest was by The Hindu. On De-
Speakers, most of whom are no more                                       ticised unlike the U.S. Supreme Court.       cember 9, 2004, the Supreme Court
than instruments of the government’s                                     But it has exceeded its explicit consti-     referred the issue to a seven-judge
will. These are the very men who will                                    tutional limits to usurp the power to        Bench, though not before delivering
act as judges on issues of free speech in                                appoint judges to itself, to veto the        uncalled-for homilies to the press. Five

                                                                                   F R O N T L I N E   1 5
                                                                                                                                         FEBRUARY 26, 2010




years have rolled by. The Bench is yet                                                                                    It is the people who alone can make
to be constituted. The abuses continue                                                                                the Constitution work. As John Stuart
apace to the court’s knowledge, of                                                                                    Mill noted: “If we ask ourselves on
course.                                                                                                               what causes and conditions good go-
                                                                                                                      vernment in all its senses, from the
NEED FOR REFORM                                                                                                       humblest to the most exalted, depends,




                                                                                            THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY
On each of these matters – Parliament,                                                                                we find that the principal of them, the
Governors, the Speaker’s office and the                                                                                one which transcends all others, is the
Supreme Court – reform is feasible and                                                                                qualities of the human beings compos-
practicable through constitutional                                                                                    ing the society over which the govern-
amendment provided that the major                                                                                     ment is exercised. Of what avail is the
political parties realise that, as in the                                                                             most broadly popular representative
case of the office of the President, it is in                                                                          system if the electors do not care to
                                               T H E S U P REM E C OUR T   of India.
their interest to abide by the Constitu-                                                                              choose the best member of Parliament,
tion and remove the deformities that           The Supreme Court does                                                 but choose him who will spend most
have crept in.                                                                                                        money to be elected? How can a repre-
    We consciously adopted, in Patel’s         not enjoy the esteem that                                              sentative assembly work for good if its
words, “the British type of Constitu-          apex courts enjoy in Britain,                                          members can be bought, or if their ex-
tion” and froze our parliamentary priv-        Canada or Australia.                                                   citability of temperament, uncorrected
ileges to the state they were in Britain                                                                              by public discipline or private self-con-
on January 26, 1950. But our political         fication with political parties.”                                       trol, makes them incapable of calm de-
class wilfully ignores developments in              The mass political party is dying on                              liberation, and they resort to manual
the U.K. thereafter. Fifty years later, a      its feet. “It is hardly surprising, then,                              violence on the floor of the House, or
committee of both Houses of Parlia-            that the constitutional reform pro-                                    shoot at one another with rifles? How,
ment recommended codification of                gramme has made so little impact                                       again, can government, or any joint
the privileges and abolition of the pow-       upon political disenchantment, for it                                  concern, be carried on in a tolerable
er to imprison for contempt. In Bri-           has done little to open up a political                                 manner by people so envious that if one
tain, it noted, “members do not divide         system dominated by political parties,                                 among them seems likely to succeed in
on party lines” on issues of privilege. In     whose roots are no longer as deep as                                   anything those who ought to cooperate
India they do. The British model itself        they once were, whose relationship to                                  with him form a tacit combination to
has evolved significantly. One of the           social interests is far less intimate than                             make him fail? Whenever the general
most eminent authorities, Prof. Ver-           it was in the past, and which are not                                  disposition of the people is such that
non Bogdanor, Professor of Govern-             able ideologically to penetrate British                                each individual regards those only of
ment at Oxford, has written an erudite         society. Parties are no longer the pre-                                his interests which are selfish, and does
work entitled The New British Consti-          eminent mechanism for the expres-                                      not dwell on, or concern himself for, his
tution (Hart Publishing; pages 392,            sion of political opinion in Britain.                                  share of the general interest, in such a
£17.95). He traces the radical changes         They have become primarily a means                                     state of things good government is im-
introduced by the Human Rights Act,            by which the voter can choose between                                  possible” (Considerations on Repre-
the devolution of power to Scotland            competing teams of rulers. The consti-                                 sentative Government, Everyman’s
and Wales by referenda, etc. Partic-           tutional reforms do little to touch this                               Library, page 192).
ularly relevant to India is the chapter        condition; they do little to meet pop-                                     To read such old truths of 1861 is to
on “Hung Parliaments; Governing                ular aspirations in a post-socialist and                               realise how far we have gone. It is an
without a Majority”, a fate all too com-       individualist age. They do little, there-                              accurate description of the state of our
mon here.                                      fore, to meet real popular grievances….                                legislatures, Central and State, and of
                                                    “The real achievement of constitu-                                our politics in 2010. On this our own
MASS DISENCHANTMENT                            tional reform is to have redistributed                                 Dr Ambedkar’s words are even more
However, far more relevant are his re-         power, but it has redistributed power                                  striking: “I feel that it [the Constitu-
marks on the state of politics despite         between elites, not between elites and                                 tion] is workable, it is flexible and it is
the reforms. It describes our lot as           the people. …. The next stage of consti-                               strong enough to hold the country to-
well: “Constitutional reform seems to          tutional reform, therefore, and a far                                  gether both in peace time and in war
have done little to combat disenchant-         more difficult stage, must be a redistri-                               time. Indeed, if I may say so, if things
ment with politics. That disenchant-           bution of power, not from one part of                                  go wrong under the new Constitution,
ment has been marked by a fall in              the elite to another, amongst those                                    the reason will not be that we had a bad
turnout in general elections, a decline        professionally involved in politics and                                Constitution. What we will have to say
in the membership of political parties,        the law, but from politicians to the                                   is that Man was Vile” (CAD; Vol.VII;
and by a weakening in popular identi-          people.”                                                               page 44).

                                                         1 6   F R O N T L I N E
FEBRUARY 26, 2010
                                                                                                Cover Story


Compromising
sovereignty
           In a predominantly agrarian society, the choice is between effective sovereignty
           of the people and alignment with imperialism. B Y A I J A Z A H M A D


The Nehruvian period’s failure                                         when India ceases to be a colony but, in the same
                                                                       process, also loses roughly a quarter of the pop-
to carry out revolutionary                                             ulation and the territory that the freedom movement
                                                                       had sought to liberate. The promulgation of the
transformation of the countryside                                      Constitution signified the rising out of that past and
                                                                       achieving a new kind of wholeness in what we now
meant that full assimilation into                                      had become. The two moments are complementary,
                                                                       just as the movements towards Independence and
the imperialist system could not be                                    towards constitutional governance had overlapped
                                                                       for roughly a quarter century prior to that.
stopped. The onset of neoliberalism                                        The idea of a Constitution for India kept gather-
                                                                       ing force throughout the 1920s as the national move-
was a logical result of that failure.                                  ment increasingly became a mass movement over a
                                                                       decade after the end of the First World War. By 1928
                THE coming of freedom in India can be concep-          an All Parties Conference had appointed a commit-
           tualised as consisting of not a single moment – or          tee, under Motilal Nehru, for preparing a draft. The
           decisive event – but of two. The first was of course the     Nehru report that came out of this exercise that same
           midnight hour of August 14, 1947, when a formal             year included many of the ideas that eventually went
           transfer of power took place from the colonial go-          into Part III, on Fundamental Rights, of the 1950
           vernment to the first government of independent              Constitution. Interestingly, that same report also
           India. The moment had its own ambiguity, however.           included the suggestion that the provinces should be
           As he took charge as India’s first Prime Minster,            reorganised on “a linguistic basis”. By 1933, Jawa-
           Jawaharlal Nehru spoke in sonorous cadence in Par-          harlal Nehru was advocating the idea of electing a
           liament: “Long years ago we made a tryst with desti-        constituent assembly for this purpose, on the basis of
           ny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem             universal suffrage.
           that pledge….” Elsewhere, Mahatma Gandhi, the
           undisputed leader of the entire freedom movement,           POSITIONS ON ASSEMBLY
           was stricken with grief over Partition and the great        The idea of a constituent assembly remained a part
           killings that raged in large parts of the country. He       of the Congress platform in subsequent years, even
           ignored the Independence celebrations and busied            after the promulgation of the 1935 Government of
           himself, instead, with putting out the fires as much as      India Act, the 1937 elections, the formation of Con-
           he could.                                                   gress Ministries, etc.; indeed, the Congress-led pro-
                The second moment, far less ambiguous, in              vincial governments passed a resolution demanding
           which the long march from colonial subjection to full       the repeal of that Act and its replacement by a consti-
           democratic citizenship was concluded with the com-          tution drafted by such a constituent assembly. The
           ing of universal suffrage, the promulgation of Fun-         demand was eventually accepted by the British Cabi-
           damental Rights and the declaration of Directive            net Mission, which nevertheless rejected the idea of
           Principles, was achieved two and a half years later         election by adult franchise as impractical at that
           with the adoption of the Constitution on January 26,        stage and put forth a complicated plan centred on
           1950. Conceptually, 1947 is something of a negation:        two main mechanisms: that members of the existing

                                                  F R O N T L I N E   1 7
                                                                                                                                    FEBRUARY 26, 2010




Provincial Assemblies would elect
members of the constituent assembly,
and that Muslim and Sikh legislators
were to elect their quota on the basis of
the share of their co-religionists in the
population.
     Nehru’s position had all along been
that the British should first agree to
Indian independence and a constitu-
ent assembly would then be elected
through universal suffrage. Gandhi on
the other hand had said that a constit-
uent assembly may well come before
                                            THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY




any agreement on independence. In
the event, the Congress registered its




                                                                                                                                                            JIM WATSON/AFP
unhappiness with the proposal put
forward by the Cabinet Mission but
decided to work through this mecha-
nism. In short, Gandhi’s idea of start-
ing the work of a constituent assembly                                I N N O V EM B E R 1973, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with the visiting
with or without universal suffrage and                                Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in New Delhi. (Right) In November 2008,
while colonial authority was still very                               Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with U.S. President George Bush in the
much in place prevailed. The Muslim                                   White House in Washington, DC.
League, with its 73 members, raised a
series of objections and never partici-                               It was not a product of universal suf-      ful comprise. This had become the ac-
pated in the working of the Constitu-                                 frage, not even indirectly. Its members     cepted, internalised ethos, whether or
ent Assembly.                                                         from British India were elected by          not Gandhi intervened in particular
     The Congress decided to carry on                                 members of Provincial Assemblies,           proceedings. Thus, the Directive Prin-
the work of drafting a Constitution for                               who themselves had been elected in a        ciples, representing an authoritative
India without the League, so that the                                 system that gave the right to vote to       but minority position in the Assembly,
Constituent Assembly that launched                                    about 15 per cent of the population on      were included but made non-justicia-
itself on this task on December 9, 1946,                              various criteria of property, education,    ble; they were the spiritual essence of
well before Independence or even the                                  etc. These restrictions meant that no       the Constitution but had no legal sta-
Partition Plan, was composed predo-                                   one from other class backgrounds and        tus. Fundamental Rights, on which
minantly of Congress legislators. The                                 political persuasions could be elected.     liberal/reformist consensus could be
Objectives Resolution, Nehru’s princi-                                                                            obtained, were to be the real founda-
pal contribution to the document, was                                 ONE-PARTY ASSEMBLY                          tions of law.
passed in January 1947. Historians                                    With the League boycotting it, the As-
who represent the Congress viewpoint                                  sembly was essentially a one-party As-      A RANGE OF TRADITIONS
jubilantly recall that day, December 9,                               sembly, and differences of opinion          The Assembly was studded with legal
1946, as the day when the chronicle of                                within it were really differences be-       luminaries, starting with Nehru and
independent India truly begins. The                                   tween the Congress Left and the Con-        Ambedkar who exercised the largest
fact that Muslims in that quota-ridden                                gress Right. The Congress Left was          influence, but also many others, in-
Assembly were represented by four                                     numerically small, though it had much       cluding Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who
members of the Congress but not by                                    prestige and influence because of Neh-       oversaw the making of the constitu-
the 73 members of the League seems to                                 ru, which was reflected in Part IV of        tional and legal frameworks for incor-
suggest that the chronicle of Partition                               the Constitution, the Directive Princi-     porating the princely states; not to
also begins with that very day.                                       ples of State Policy. The predominant       speak of Gandhi, the barrister, in the
     This historical background is im-                                position was that of liberal conserva-      background, whose masterly workings
portant. That Constituent Assembly                                    tism as modified by Gandhi’s and Am-         of British law from all sides, pretty
was then to become, concurrently, the                                 bedkar’s profound social concerns           much as a cool cat plays with a bunch
first legislature of independent India.                                with caste and analogous social depri-      of mice, have never been as fully and
Its very structure had been determined                                vations; all that got incorporated in the   ably studied as they deserve to be.
by the Cabinet Mission Plan and it had                                much lengthier Part III.                        The result is that the Indian Con-
functioned for the first eight months of                                   The whole history of the Congress       stitution draws upon a whole range of
its existence under colonial authority.                               under Gandhi was a history of master-       constitutional traditions, from the

                                                                                1 8   F R O N T L I N E
FEBRUARY 26, 2010




American to the Irish, with the range         over, India was to have its first non-       matter – are inspiring and disappoint-
and juristic ecumenism so broad that          Nehruvian government, with Morarji          ing, all at once. The three terms go-
the constitutional provisions that            Desai, historically a stalwart of the       verning these clauses – Liberty,
made Indira Gandhi’s Emergency pos-           Congress Right and an enemy of that         Equality, and Fraternity – are of course
sible and have always facilitated the         ‘socialism’, as its Prime Minister; the     a familiar phrase from the Enlighten-
actions of the armed forces in Kashmir        Jana Sangh, enemy of socialism as well      ment political philosophy and the
and the northeastern region have so-          as secularism, provided the largest of      French Revolution. Yet, the real mean-
metimes been traced to the jurispru-          the contingents to the party and go-        ing of each term is diluted in its defini-
dence of the Third Reich. Meanwhile,          vernment over which Morarji presi-          tion. The most disappointing is the
the 1935 Act of the colonial govern-          ded. To the word ‘Sovereign’ we shall       definition of “Equality” as “of status
ment was to be the primary basis for          return, below.                              and of opportunity”. What happens,
bulk of the nitty-gritty of the Constitu-         In the clauses following that open-     one wonders, to Rousseau’s formid-
tion that came to be drafted first in the      ing, two things are worth noting. The       able injunction, already in the late 18th
twilight year of the empire and then in       word “Justice” is taken from the Amer-      century, that those who are not equal
its immediate aftermath. Yet, it needs        ican Preamble but sought to be given        in their access to material goods can
to be said that the Constitution also         much more punch. There is, first, the        never be equal in their access to the
identified itself in its Preamble as           word “social” which points to many          law, which Marxist theory extended to
much with the Preamble to the Amer-           justiciable clauses of Fundamental          mean that those who are not equal in
ican Constitution as with Enlighten-          Rights and in turn facilitates the con-     their access to material goods cannot
ment thought.                                 stitutionally guaranteed right to re-       be equal in their access to “opportuni-
     So, even as we celebrate our Con-        dress for historically structured           ty”?
stitution as probably the finest that any      oppressions, coming down the centu-             Equally disheartening is the defini-
bourgeois polity has ever devised for         ries, pertaining to the oppressed           tion of “Fraternity” simply as “dignity
itself, which is of course true, it is best   castes, women as well as minorities of      of the individual and unity of the na-
also to recognise that it is also a prod-     various kinds. The word, “political”, at-   tion” (replaced with “unity and integri-
uct of its own time and context, and of       tached to “Justice” seems to point,         ty of the nation” by later amendment).
those who made it. More importantly,          most clearly, to the enormous expan-        In its original Enlightenment formula-
a constitution is only as good as not         sion of suffrage: from some 15 per cent     tion, ‘Fraternity’ had meant, first of all,
only those who frame it but, much             towards the end of British rule to im-      fraternity among people of different
more crucially, only as good as those         mediate expansion, with the advent of       religious denominations in a Europe
who work it subsequently – the judici-        independence, to all citizens.              that had been riven by religious wars
ary, the legislators, the executive itself,       We, who are the products of that        between Catholics and Protestants.
and the elite among the lawyers since         historic moment, rarely recognise the       The more radical interpretations were
then.                                         magnitude and magisterial scope of          to suggest that “fraternity” among peo-
     In the present consideration, I          that victory for the people of India. No    ple was incompatible with acute class
shall be preoccupied mainly with the          Western country ever gave voting            conflicts as well.
main features of the Preamble, the            rights to women at the very advent of           “Fraternity”, in other words, pres-
Fundamental Rights and the Directive          its democracy. Our Constituent As-          umed that “unity of the nation” could
Principles, and I shall ignore the bulk       sembly, flawed as it was, did. The           not be obtained if religio-communal
of the Constitution.                          phrase “We the People” in the Amer-         divisions were not overcome and class
                                              ican Preamble is fraudulent; that Con-      antagonisms were not bridged. Not to
THE PREAMBLE                                  stitution did not even abolish slavery of   have picked up that meaning of “fra-
In the Preamble, the original wording         African-Americans. By contrast, the         ternity” in a country that had itself
of the Constitution described India as        Indian Constitution not only abol-          come into being so recently as a result
a “Sovereign Democratic Republic”.            ished untouchability but also provides      not only of independence from coloni-
This was expanded to “Sovereign So-           specifically for social inclusion and        alism but also of a religiously based
cialist Secular Democratic Republic”          progress of the oppressed castes.           Partition is at least very strange. Re-
with an amendment in 1976. The tim-               And then, still attached to the word    ducing “Fraternity” to “dignity of the
ing of this belated revision was some-        “Justice”, is the word “economic”. Well,    individual” evades questions of reli-
what ironic. That was precisely the           Fundamental Rights have rather little       gious strife, caste conflict and class po-
moment when the “democratic” char-            to say about it, though the unjusti-        larisation. We can only surmise that
acter of the republic was under siege.        ciable Directive Principles are co-         the framers of this clause were self-
Whatever “socialist” character the            piously eloquent on the subject. We         divided, between the Enlightenment
Nehruvian state under Nehru and In-           shall return to this.                       radicalism of the continental kind, to-
dira had had was soon to be dissolved.            The next three clauses of this brief    wards which they were gesturing, and
And, as soon as the Emergency was             Preamble – the operative heart of the       the Anglo-Saxon traditions of individ-

                                                        F R O N T L I N E   1 9
                                                                                                             FEBRUARY 26, 2010




ualism, of which they themselves were        but also build bridges toward the            ity in global affairs or equidistance
the product.                                 West. So, he retained Mountbatten as         from the two Great Powers of the time.
    Finally, we might as well return to      Governor-General, took India into the        Between Israel and Palestine, or be-
the very first line of the Preamble and       British Commonwealth and sought              tween the progressive and the mon-
think a little more of the word Sover-       good relations with the United States        archical regimes of West Asia, choices
eign. That the country had so recently       as a desirable source of technology and      were clear-cut. India did not open up
arisen out of colonial subjection ex-        finance. It was in fact the U.S. that         its markets to curry favour with the
plains why it is the Republic that is said   spurned him and, in effect, pushed           West but cultivated close and exten-
to be sovereign. But where does this         him far closer to the Soviet Union than      sive relations with the Soviet Union to
sovereignty actually reside in the long      he had desired.                              secure its own technological advance,
run, and who exercises it?                        Gripped by McCarthyist hysteria         growth of its industries in the public
                                             at home, dominated by the Dulles             sector, building up a reasonable degree
PEOPLE’S SOVEREIGNTY                         brothers in its foreign policy, intoxicat-   of military strength and generally an
In India, the Republic arose out of an       ed by its monopoly of the atom bomb,         economy that was largely immune to
anti-colonial mass movement, if not          the U.S. was busily launching the Cold       undue imperialist pressure.
exactly a revolution. The fact that it       War and an interlocking global system            During this whole period, the U.S.
was a mass movement that overthrew           of military alliances (the North Atlan-      did remain a pole of attraction. The
colonial autocracy and replaced it with      tic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the          Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 was used
universal suffrage clearly indicates         Baghdad Pact, the Southeast Asia             as an alibi to make an opening towards
that sovereignty must reside with the        Treaty Organisation (SEATO), etc.)           the U.S. in the military field. During
people themselves, who then provi-           with a view to rolling back commu-           the crisis years of the mid-1960s Indira
sionally delegate the effective exercise     nism and opening up the entire world         Gandhi’s government did succumb to
of it to one or another combination of       for penetration by U.S. capital. In this     U.S. pressure for devaluation of the
legislators for a definite period of time.    context, Nehru’s independent eco-            rupee. The Green Revolution in India
     The fundamental aspect of that          nomic policies were viewed with much         did provide U.S. government agencies
mass movement, nevertheless, was             suspicion and his friendly overtures         and agro-corporations the chance to
that it was anti-colonial. So, in this       were rejected.                               penetrate Indian agriculture and to in-
case, sovereignty was not only a matter           It was much to his credit that Neh-     fluence the formulation of economic
of republican self-definition but also,       ru responded by expanding his com-           policies. Much of the elite Indian intel-
crucially, defence of that hard won in-      mitment to Non-Alignment and by              ligentsia was punctually trained in An-
dependence in the nation’s external re-      turning to the Soviet Union as an al-        glo-American institutions of higher
lations. Indian freedom had come at a        ternative source of technology and fi-        learning, thus spreading correspond-
historical juncture when the colonial        nance, even while he moved vigorously        ing mindsets and policy inclinations
system was getting dissolved across          against communists at home, from Te-         among the techno-managerial strata
Asia and Africa, and imperialism was         langana to Kerala. Assumption of a           at the apex of Indian society and econ-
entering a new phase of a global em-         leading role in the Non-Aligned Move-        omy. On balance, however, undue
pire of capital, led now by the United       ment was in a sense India’s assertion of     Western pressure was resisted and
States, but one that functioned with-        its sovereignty in foreign policy. Dur-      more than two-thirds of the Indian
out colonies. This imperialism was, of       ing that whole period, India played a        economy remained closed to Western
course, challenged on its margins by a       constructive independent role in a va-       capital and commodities, just as In-
variety of national liberation move-         riety of armed conflicts from Korea to        dia’s military strategies remained free
ments and, more frontally, by the bloc       Vietnam; supported South Africa’s            of any wish to integrate the country
of socialist countries even though           African National Congress (ANC)              into the West’s strategic designs.
those countries were economically,           against the apartheid regime in South            Could this stance in defence of In-
technologically and militarily much          Africa as well as the Palestinian cause      dian sovereignty in foreign affairs be
weaker than the advanced capitalist          against Israel, much to the West’s cha-      maintained without fundamentally
West. What was India’s place in this         grin. India maintained close relations       transforming domestic structures?
contradictory world system?                  with independent-minded leaders              During that whole period, India made
                                             such as Gamal Abdel Nasser, Soekar-          tremendous strides in technological
INDIA AND THE WORLD                          no, Patrice Lumumba, Makarios and            research and scientific education at the
Nehru’s initial response was to support      Marshal Tito; welcomed the Cuban             upper levels, but only at the apex, on
the national liberation movements,           revolution; and aligned itself with pro-     top of mass illiteracy and lamentable
stay away from multilateral military         gressive forces across the Arab world.       levels of primary and secondary educa-
alliances, adopt protectionist policies           Non-Alignment thus had a posi-          tion. Brisk industrialisation and the
and what came to be called “a social-        tive, progressive content. Staying out       elite farmer strategy in agriculture led
istic pattern” in domestic economy,          of military blocs did not imply neutral-     to great capital formation and gener-

                                                       2 0   F R O N T L I N E
FEBRUARY 26, 2010




                                                                                         racy and independence of the judiciary
                                                                                         notwithstanding? With respect to the
                                                                                         Constitution one can only offer the
                                                                                         melancholy judgement that the Sover-
                                                                                         eign Democratic Republic of India has
                                                                                         done reasonably well in terms of im-
                                                                                         plementing the Fundamental Rights
                                                                                         but has also, in the same sweep, jetti-
                                                                                         soned the Directive Principles by and
                                                                                         large to the dustbin of history. We do
                                                                                         preoccupy ourselves with the liberal-
                                                                                         reformist aspects of the Constitution
                                                                                         while suppressing its radical promise.
                                                                                         No wonder that the present-day liberal
                                                                                         intelligentsia, which is both a product
                                                                                         and also a beneficiary of this double
                                                                                         movement, attaches itself to what are
                                                                                         called social movements but not to
                                                                                         class politics.
                                                                                             In any predominantly agrarian
                                                                                         Third World society, the essential
                                                                                         choice is between effective sovereignty
                                                                                         of the people – the vast majority of
                                                                                         whom are the peasantry and the work-
                                                                                         ing poor – and alignment with imperi-
                                                                                         alism. The fundamental failure of the
                                                                                         period that we call Nehruvian was its
                                                                                         refusal to carry out revolutionary
                                                                                         transformation of the countryside and
                                                                                         substantive empowerment of the
                                                                                         working classes, which could have
                                                                                         been the only possible basis for pop-
                                                                                         ular sovereignty. That refusal, or fail-
                                                                                         ure, meant that full assimilation into
                                                                                         the imperialist system could be post-
                                                                                         poned but not warded off permanent-
                                                                                         ly. The onset of neoliberalism in the
                                                                                         last decade of the 20th century was a
                                                                                         logical result of that earlier failure.
                                                                                         That slow-motion economic integra-
                                                                                         tion into the global capitalist economy
                                                                                         then paved the way for far-reaching
                                                                                         reorientation of foreign policy as a
                                                                                         whole, leading eventually to growing
                                                                                         military integration as well. We have
                                                                                         now reached a point where there ap-
ation of wealth, which provided the         side the poorest countries of Sub-Sah-       pears to be an India-U.S.-Israel axis on
class basis for the eventual turn to neo-   aran Africa and very much in the             one side of Asia and a developing In-
liberal policies and massive privatisa-     company of Pakistan and Bangladesh.          dia-U.S.-Japan-Australia axis on the
tion, but during that period of             Almost half the population is still illit-   eastern side.
protectionism as much as in the more        erate, and more than half the world’s            As these more recent orientations
recent period of high rates of gross        blind people reside in today’s India.        and axes take shape, it is now difficult
domestic product (GDP) growth, In-              A question therefore arises: can a       to even remember what India once was
dia – the great “rising” and “shining”      starving and illiterate people be in any     and potentially could have been. The
power – has remained at the bottom of       substantive sense sovereign, the proce-      Directive Principles in any case make
the world development index, along-         dural aspects of parliamentary democ-        now for a sad and nostalgic reading.

                                                      F R O N T L I N E   2 1
Cover Story                                                                                               FEBRUARY 26, 2010




Democratic
disconnect
        People continue to enjoy the vote and
        exercise it but they no longer act as a
        collective on issues affecting their
        material life. B Y P R A B H A T P A T N A I K


The destruction of collective praxis is
the expression of an immanent
tendency of neoliberal capitalism,
which has been abetted by the state                                     exists, nonetheless, is remarkable for a society whose
                                                                        caste stratification makes even the institutionalisa-
and its organs, with the backing of                                     tion of juridical equality nothing short of a revolu-
                                                                        tionary achievement. The fact that the poor and the
beneficiary classes and groups of the                                    oppressed and marginalised groups have been vigor-
                                                                        ous in exercising their franchise, far more so than the
new bourgeois order.                                                    well-to-do urban middle classes, is testimony to the
            THE fact that India has managed to sustain a                sense of empowerment that, in their perception, the
        multiparty parliamentary democracy for six decades,             democratic practices have brought them.
        which has guaranteed to every citizen a certain mini-               And yet, there is an important sense in which
        mum level of civil liberties and individual rights, is          democracy has been attenuated in the country dur-
        regarded quite rightly as one of its major achieve-             ing the last few years. This relates to the virtual
        ments. The brief episode of the Emergency that in-              elimination of collective praxis, which is such a cru-
        terfered with these liberties taught such a lesson to           cial ingredient of any meaningful democracy. The
        those who introduced it that none has dared to re-              people continue to enjoy the vote and exercise it, but
        peat it since then. And the BJP-led government’s                they no longer act together as a collectivity on issues
        attempt at “revising” the Constitution, which would             affecting their material life. Collective interventions,
        have altered existing democratic institutions, had to           from the mere holding of a demonstration to partici-
        be given up even before it had taken off. A certain             pating in strikes and peasant struggles, have become
        basic democratic arrangement has thus come to stay,             a rarity. People do act together on issues involving
        and the people have taken to it with a gusto that               “identity politics”, occasionally even when such poli-
        brings to grief anyone trying to upset it.                      tics takes the extreme and dangerous form of com-
            True, there are regions in the country where                munal fascism; they act together for instance in
        these liberties exist only on paper. There are also             demolishing a masjid or demanding a separate state
        segments of the population, notably the tribal peo-             or demanding or opposing “reservation”. But they do
        ple, whose oppression is not just despite these demo-           not act together as a collective that transcends eth-
        cratic institutions, but is even carried out through            nic, caste, religious, regional or communal bounda-
        their instrumentality. And, of course, the massive              ries.
        economic and social disparities that characterise In-               This is striking since such collective praxis had
        dian society not only remain but are widening at a              for long been a part of our political life. Indeed, the
        terrifying speed. The democratic structure that still           anti-colonial struggle of this country, of which the

                                                  2 2    F R O N T L I N E
FEBRUARY 26, 2010




                                                                       now, housewives had come out on to          as all-powerful, “free” agents. The
                                                                       the streets in large numbers under the      bourgeois order, while formally
                                                                       leadership of stalwarts like Mrinal         upholding democracy, reduces it to a
                                                                       Gore and Ahilya Rangnekar, beating          routinised affair involving empirical
                                                                       their utensils (thalis) in dramatic pro-    atomised individuals whose political
                                                                       test demonstrations. In the early 1970s     choice is increasingly between parties
                                                                       when inflation had made deep inroads         that differ little from one another in
                                                                       into the living standards of the work-      their programmes. What we have in
                                                                       ing class, there were impressive strike     the neoliberal era, therefore, is a con-
                                                                       actions, including the Locomen’s            solidation of bourgeois democracy in
                                                                       strike, culminating in the famous rail-     the country, which represents at the
                                                                       way strike. The raging inflation of the      same time a retreat from the vigorous
                                                                       early 1970s was controlled by the Indi-     democracy marked by collective praxis
                                                                       an state through the expedient, inter       of the earlier period. We are thus ad-
                                                                       alia, of turning the terms of trade         vancing to bourgeois democracy by at-
                                                                       against the peasantry, especially after     tenuating the democratic content of
                                                                       the mid-1970s; but this, in turn,           democracy.
                                                                       brought forth the massive kisan rallies
                                                                       on the lawns of Delhi’s Boat Club. Col-     BUILDING CONSENSUS ON
                                             THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY




                                                                       lective actions in short were a feature     NEOLIBERALISM
                                                                       of Indian democracy, indeed its             Indeed the elimination of the residual
                                                                       life-blood.                                 differences between the programmes
                                                                                                                   of political parties is explicitly present-
                                                                       ABSENCE OF MASS ACTION                      ed as an ideal in the neoliberal era. A
                                                                       Starting from the 1990s, however,           veritable chorus of voices, for example,
SOC IAL IS T I C O N J A YA P RA K A S H                               such mass actions have been conspic-        from the Prime Minister downwards,
Narayan addressing a rally in                                          uous by their absence. As many as           advocates that “development must be
New Delhi in February 1975. Four                                       1,84,000 peasants reportedly commit-        kept above politics”. Since the very def-
months later, Indira Gandhi declared                                   ted suicide because of the agrarian cri-    inition of what constitutes “develop-
the Emergency and it lasted for                                        sis inflicted upon them by the               ment” is an area of contestation, and
21 months.                                                             neoliberal policies pursued in the era      hence must involve political conflict, to
                                                                       of globalisation, but there were no sig-    suggest that “development” must be
democratic structure we have now is a                                  nificant peasant struggles or even ki-       kept above politics is tantamount to
legacy, was marked by an outburst of                                   san rallies against such policies. Leave    getting a consensus around one partic-
collective praxis, even though the trag-                               aside the Telangana or Tebhaga peas-        ular notion of development, namely
ic denouement of the partition of the                                  ant struggles, there were no struggles      that entailed by the neoliberal paradi-
country represented a negation of it.                                  or demonstrations reminiscent even of       gm. It is to obtain universal acceptance
Collective interventions, however,                                     a Mahendra Singh Tikait, let alone of       for the neoliberal paradigm, to obliter-
continued into the decades after In-                                   Swami Sahajananda Saraswati or              ate differences between the pro-
dependence and gave Indian democ-                                      Maulana Bhashani of the pre-Inde-           grammes of different parties, and
racy a vim and a vigour that                                           pendence period. And what is striking       hence to reduce politics to a vapid
unfortunately it has lost since then.                                  about the current period is the quie-       choice, little different from a choice
    A few examples will illustrate the                                 tude of the people even in the face of      between two alternative brands of de-
point. In Kolkata, in the early 1950s                                  perhaps the most severe inflation that       tergents. Instead of letting the people
when tram fares were raised by one                                     has hit the country for a long time,        have the freedom to choose between
paisa, there was a remarkable popular                                  especially in food articles. Nothing ex-    alternative agendas that affect their
struggle against it, led by the then unit-                             presses the decline in collective praxis    lives, it is to impose upon them one
ed Communist Party, which succeeded                                    as clearly as this quietude.                particular agenda around which a con-
in reversing the increase. Likewise,                                       This “rolling back” of collective       sensus has to be manufactured among
Kolkata had seen in the late 1950s the                                 praxis is indeed a characteristic feature   all political parties. It is in short to
famous food movement, for which no-                                    of “bourgeois democracy”, which,            attenuate democracy.
table figures like Satyajit Ray had ex-                                 while upholding and defending the               Of course, if such an agenda
pressed public support. In Mumbai in                                   rights of individuals, “individualises”     brought benefits to all, then the elim-
the late 1960s, when there was an up-                                  all collectivities and thereby disem-       ination of choice before the people
surge in prices, not necessarily on a                                  powers people, including of course the      could, perhaps at a stretch, be over-
scale larger than what is happening                                    very individuals who are apotheosised       looked; but the fact is that it does not,

                                                                                 F R O N T L I N E   2 3
                                                                                                           FEBRUARY 26, 2010




                                                                                                                                    THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY
P R IM E M I N I S T E R I N D I RA Gandhi outside her residence in New Delhi in February 1977, some days after she
announced the holding of Lok Sabha elections in March and relaxed the state of emergency. Her Congress party was
routed and she herself lost her seat in the elections.

which is attested to by all, including       feebling democracy, by shutting out        But this trend of judicial overreach re-
the government itself. Getting a con-        collective praxis, “individualising” the   ceived a setback when the former Lok
sensus around “development”, there-          collective, and at best allowing some      Sabha Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee,
fore, is a plea for an endorsement of        space to charitably motivated non-go-      questioned the Supreme Court’s juris-
neoliberal capitalism, which brings          vernmental organisations as the sole       diction in the matter of the expulsion
palpable distress to peasants, petty         spokesmen of the people, has been in-      of some Members of Parliament over
producers and the workers.                   creasingly pushed through by the jud-      the “cash-for-questions” scam. No
    The rolling back of collective praxis    iciary. This agenda has the                matter what future awaits such jud-
does not typically involve, to any sig-      enthusiastic backing of significant sec-    icial overreach, the rolling back of col-
nificant extent, the use of the legisla-      tions of the urban middle class, who       lective praxis continues nonetheless.
tive organ of the state, which,              have been the beneficiaries of the neo-
notwithstanding all talk about keeping       liberal dispensation, and who, accord-     INVISIBLE OPPRESSOR
“development above politics”, has still      ingly, look upon the judiciary as a sort   Of course, why the people allow such a
not insulated itself from the people, as     of “saviour”.                              rolling back is a moot point. The fact
it has to face them in periodic elec-            The decline of collective praxis,      that capital, especially, finance, is mo-
tions. It is the other organs of the state   therefore, has also been accompanied       bile across national borders in the cur-
that take a lead in such rolling back.       by a rise in the relative importance of    rent epoch of globalisation, means an
The Emergency was a period when the          the judiciary compared to the legisla-     enfeebling of working class resistance,
executive took such a lead, but the sal-     ture, to which the media has contrib-      which is necessarily confined to partic-
utary lesson learned from that episode       uted through its demonisation of           ular nations: any such resistance
has kept the executive subsequently on       “politicians” of all hues.                 would drive capital away, causing a
a leash. Of late, it is the judiciary that       The implicit assumption underly-       financial crisis in the short-run and an
has taken the lead in rolling back col-      ing such judicial activism was artic-      investment-cut in the long run, both of
lective praxis through its pronounce-        ulated by the former Chief Justice of      which will only worsen the plight of
ments against bandhs, strikes and            India, Justice R.C. Lahoti, who had        workers. Likewise, agrarian distress
demonstrations. The agenda of the            suggested that the judiciary stood         that arises not because of the activities
consolidating bourgeois order of en-         above the other two organs of the state.   of a physically visible oppressor, such

                                                       2 4   F R O N T L I N E
FEBRUARY 26, 2010




as a zamindar or a jotedar, but because       ing such conflicts back to the centre        it has given rise to a triumphalism
of the impersonal working of a distant        stage.                                      among these classes and groups about
market, scarcely allows easy collective           In fact, the problem of Islamist ter-   this process of disempowerment of the
mobilisation, since even the cause of         rorism that the world currently faces is    people. This triumphalism, however, is
the distress itself remains opaque for        the outcome of the collapse of radical      misplaced, since the destruction of col-
the most part. In short, the neoliberal       class-based collective mobilisations.       lective praxis here will also create our
era has an in-built tendency towards          The very countries that today are the       own Frankenstein’s monsters, not just
rolling back collective praxis. Such          breeding ground for such terrorism          in the form of religious terrorism, but
praxis can be revived no doubt through        had earlier been characterised by mil-      in other forms as well.
appropriate intervention by political         itant, class-based mobilisations. The
parties, but the task becomes difficult.       collapse of such mobilisations has          BIG POWER AMBITIONS
    Many, of course, would shed no            brought Islamist terrorism to the fore.     There is a further strong reason for
tears over this decline in collective             This collapse, ironically, was in       this. Finance capital is always associat-
praxis, which they would see, much            most cases engineered by imperialist        ed with “big power” ambitions. The
like the judiciary does, as “anarchy”, as     intervention, notably by the U.S.,          successful implanting of neoliberal
“holding the country to ransom” or as         which, therefore, has created the Fran-     capitalism in India, in a milieu where
“coming in the way of our high growth         kenstein’s monster that confronts it to-    finance is the leading element of cap-
rate”; and there is no denying that           day. Whether it is Iraq or Iran or          ital, is bringing in its train “big power”
strikes and bandhs cause inconve-             Sudan or Indonesia or Afghanistan, all      ambitions among our own bourgeoi-
nience to others. Indeed, they are            these countries had vigorous Left           sie.
meant to cause inconvenience, which           movements championing a progres-                 The frequent references to “the
is why they are resorted to at all, so that   sive nationalism around which they          race with China”, which even the Su-
the plight of those engaging in such          mobilised large masses of the people.       preme Court has internalised now, and
actions is brought home to all.               Coup d’etats backed by the U.S. de-         to India’s role as an “emerging global
    There is also no gainsaying that          stroyed the progressive forces in every     power”, are symptomatic of this. These
they are often resorted to in situations      single one of these countries and today     “big power” ambitions can be realised
where they patently lack justification.        they are hotbeds for the nurturing of       only through some sort of “adjust-
But this is a price that has to be paid for   religious terrorism.                        ments” with the U.S. and other leading
democracy, and for collective praxis                                                      capitalist countries. But this also
that is an integral part of democracy.
This price must be minimised; but this        Islamist                                    means making common cause with
                                                                                          them in their struggles, and hence
should happen only through collective
praxis itself, as society learns to weed      terrorism is the                            making their enemies into our
                                                                                          enemies.
out frivolous, divisive and patently un-
justified protests, not through judicial       outcome of the                                   Besides, all “big power” ambition is
                                                                                          anti-democratic. As Karl Marx put it:
fiats or executive orders, which, in the
process of preserving “peace and or-          collapse of                                 “A nation that oppresses another can-
                                                                                          not be free.” And since the quest for
der”, end up attenuating democracy
itself.                                       radical class-                              freedom is the essence of all demo-
                                                                                          cratic practice, such a nation must ipso

OTHER CONFLICTS                               based collective                            facto be abridging its democracy as
                                                                                          well. It is no accident that the leading
There is, however, another, far greater,
danger associated with the collapse of        mobilisations.                              capitalist powers that embarked on the
                                                                                          Iraq war did so despite the fact that the
collective praxis. It tends to get re-                                                    majority of the people in their coun-
placed by praxis of a different kind that         The destruction of collective praxis    tries were, in most cases, opposed to it.
revolves around exclusive identities,         in India has not been brought about by      India on its current political-economic
which can be divisive and potentially         the intervention of imperialism. It has     trajectory is heading in the same direc-
dangerous. Class mobilisations that           emerged as the expression of an imma-       tion, of emerging as “a leading capital-
cut across ethnic, religious, linguistic      nent tendency of contemporary neo-          ist power”, and becoming a member of
and communal groupings and collec-            liberal capitalism, which has, of           the club of “leading capitalist powers”.
tive praxis based on such mobilisations       course, been aided and abetted by the       But emerging as a “leading capitalist
(which is the sense in which the term         state and its organs, with the backing      power” hegemonising other countries
has been used here), also keep down           of classes and groups that are the bene-    entails a reversal, not only of the vision
ethnic, linguistic, communal and reli-        ficiaries of the consolidating new bour-     of our freedom struggle but also of the
gious conflicts. Retreat from such             geois order. While it has been robbing      vigour of our democracy that the free-
praxis has the opposite effect, of bring-     Indian democracy of its earlier vigour,     dom struggle had bequeathed to us.

                                                        F R O N T L I N E   2 5
Cover Story                                                                                          FEBRUARY 26, 2010




Short on secularism
       The impact of growing religiosity and the inadequacy of secular practices demand
       close attention in assessing the state of secularism in India. B Y K . N . P A N I K K A R


Secularism is not communal                                          uation it is a red herring. What is important in India
                                                                    is not church-state dynamics but state-society rela-
harmony; communal harmony is                                        tionship and, more specifically, being a multireli-
                                                                    gious society, relations within society.
the outcome of secularism. It is,                                        The Indian notion of secularism, based on uni-
                                                                    form respect for all religions by the state and divorce
therefore, imperative to explore                                    of religion from public institutional practices, was
                                                                    evolved in the context of this Indian social reality.
what constitutes secularism as an                                   The obsession with the European experience over-
                                                                    looks the historicity of the Indian phenomenon. The
ideology beyond harmony.                                            process of secularisation is not necessarily similar in
                                                                    all societies. But all societies, including India, have
            SECULAR India has undergone several convul-             undergone the process of secularisation at the onset
       sions during the past 60 years, so much so that              of modernity. The European experience is impor-
       doubts about its survival were entertained by many.          tant, as it was the earliest manifestation, but it does
       Some of them tend to relate these convulsions to the         not connote that what happened in other societies is
       nature of Indian society, to which they attribute            its mirror image.
       centrality to religion in both personal and public                When this process began in India would be diffi-
       affairs. In such a society, it has been argued, sec-         cult to locate with certainty, but the historical ante-
       ularism can only have a perilous existence, that too         cedents in which the process is rooted can be traced
       by compromising some of its basic tenets. This view          to fairly early times, possibly to the period of the
       has received academic respectability and political           Buddha. Let it not be misunderstood that what is
       support: the former from those who had no faith in           suggested is that secularism existed at the time of the
       the ability of Indian society for institution building       Buddha, but that Buddhism and the Bhakti move-
       and the latter from those who were inimical to sec-          ment and other churnings within different religions,
       ularism as a political creed.                                being critiques of the then existing religious practic-
            The scepticism about secularism has only in-            es, created the space for secularism to emerge at a
       creased in recent times. The defenders of secularism         later time. Its modern form, however, found artic-
       are shrinking and some of them are exploring condi-          ulation and momentum during the course of the 19th
       tions beyond secularism. The weaknesses of secular           century when humanism, rationalism and religious
       practices add fuel to the fire: they confirm the doubts        universalism provided the intellectual base for a sec-
       about the relevance of secularism in Indian condi-           ular discourse. The Indian Constitution internalised
       tions. At the same time, the unprecedented popular-          the logic of this discourse to shape it as secular in
       ity that religiosity has gained has pushed secularism        practice, although the concept of secularism was
       to the backyard. In assessing the state of secularism        neither included nor elaborated in the Constitution
       today, the impact of growing religiosity as well as the      until a later date. What imparted this character to
       inadequacy of secular practices demand close                 the Constitution was, at least partly, the historical
       attention.                                                   experience of Indian society.
                                                                         Whether this concept – popularly described as
       CONCEPT OF SECULARISM                                        sarva dharma samabhava – was adequate to ensure
       All debates about secularism in India occur in the           a secular state has been a subject of considerable
       context of the European experience. The church-              debate. The equal attitude towards all religions does
       state relationship, which was central to the devel-          not make the state secular; on the other hand it
       opment of secularism in Europe, is the starting point        might implicate the state in religious matters. This
       of all discussions, both by supporters and by critics of     fear is not misplaced, as during the past 60 years, in
       secularism. For the consideration of the Indian sit-         the name of impartiality, the state had to associate

                                               2 6   F R O N T L I N E
FEBRUARY 26, 2010




                                                                                                                        AFP/FILES




G ANDH IJ I A T D E L H I ’ S Purana Qila where Muslim refugees prepare to depart for Pakistan, on September 22, 1947.
His assassination by a Hindu fanatic was a setback to secularism.

itself with almost all religions. The      Somnath temple, to the great chagrin       in society became progressively small-
consequence was not the equidistance       of the Prime Minister. Nehru’s legacy      er, which was eventually colonised by
of the state from all religions, but the   was also not owned by his successors,      communalism.
involvement of the state in the con-       who in their quest for electoral support
cerns of all religions. Moreover, the      compromised the state with the de-         IMPACT OF COMMUNALISM
state succumbed to the pressures of all    mands of religious leaders. The worst      What affected the secular character of
religions. Therefore, instead of being     phase was the period of the Ram Jan-       Indian society most decisively was the
secular the state and its apparatuses      mabhoomi dispute when the Prime            intervention of Hindu communalism,
were mired in religious matters. Jawa-     Minister appeared to bend over back-       which has a long history dating to the
harlal Nehru tried to resist this devia-   wards to appease religious leaders.        18th century even though riots became
tion and kept aloof from participating     Unless the state remains secular, so-      frequent only during colonial rule. By
in religious ceremonies. The then          ciety can never preserve its secular       the 20th century, communalism had
President, Rajendra Prasad, did not        character. With the decline in the com-    made inroads among both Hindus and
uphold that principle and attended the     mitment of the state to secularism dur-    Muslims, considerably undermining
consecration of the newly constructed      ing the post-Nehru era, secular space      the secular ethos in society and, finally,

                                                     F R O N T L I N E   2 7
                                                                                                             FEBRUARY 26, 2010




leading to Partition. The assassination      tributing to the maintenance of each         participated. Religion is now out in the
of Mahatma Gandhij by a Hindu fa-            other’s shrines is a fairly widespread       open, with religious celebrations being
natic was a severe setback to secula-        phenomenon. In a village in Marath-          conducted in public places and reli-
rism. After this Hindu communal              wada where there are no Muslims, the         gious processions of all communities
organisations were rather dormant,           Dargah of a Sufi saint is maintained by       crowding the roads with music and
which, however, did not mean they            Hindus. At Bababudangiri in Karnata-         fanfare. The improvement in technol-
were inactive. The Gandhi assassina-         ka, both Hindus and Muslims wor-             ogy has facilitated pilgrimages, and a
tion did not dampen their spirits, and       shipped the same saint under different       secular enterprise like tourism has
under the leadership of the Rashtriya        names. The now-popular Hindu                 come to be linked with places of reli-
Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) they soon            shrine of Sabarimala in Kerala has a         gious worship. The resulting commod-
regrouped and reinvigorated their cul-       Muslim ‘deity’ whom all devotees of          ification of religion is a spectacular
tural work and physical training.            the Hindu god invariably worship. Al-        change, which has led to the growth of
     The communal organisations were         though Hindus have now appropriat-           pilgrimage tourism as an industry. As a
aware that communalism could thrive          ed the Sai Baba of Shirdi, nobody is         result, the popular aphorism that In-
only by undermining secular con-             sure whether he was a Hindu or a Mus-        dia is a religious country does not need
sciousness. As a result, the main thrust     lim. This mutual relationship is based       much convincing, particularly with the
of the communal agenda was to elim-          not on tolerance but on respect for and      proliferation of meditation centres
inate the fairly powerful secular he-        belief in each other’s faith. Such prac-     and godmen. The places of worship
gemony present in most domains. The          tices and perspectives were shared by        have not lagged behind; in fact, the
communal attack on secularism was,           the high and the low – from the rulers       increase in their number is phenome-
therefore, intended to delegitimise it,      to the peasants in the villages.             nal. The most saleable commodity in
accusing it of being an alien ideology           Communal harmony, however, is            India today is religion.
without roots in Indian soil. Moreover,      not secularism; communal harmony                 It is arguable that belief in religion
secular activists were physically intim-     can only be an outcome of secularism,        is not antithetical to secularism, if the
idated and secular artists and intellec-     which is a condition in which religion,      character of secularism in a multireli-
tuals were defamed. The purpose was          like any other faith, is a purely personal   gious society is essentially communal
to ensure that the public prestige and       affair of the individual. It should not      harmony. It is a common argument
acceptability that secularism enjoyed        intervene in interpersonal relation-         that all true believers are secular in
was tarnished so that communalism            ships or institutional functioning. If       outlook and hence do not entertain
could occupy the secular space. The          secularism is to be a reality, therefore,    animosity towards the followers of
campaign was not without any impact.         it is not sufficient to have a secular        other religions. This may as well be
In the face of communal aggression,          state, there must also be a secular so-      true. But secularism is not communal
secularism considerably lost out politi-     ciety. If the society is not secular the     harmony; communal harmony is the
cally in the 1990s. Martha Nusbawm,          state is likely to depart from secular       outcome of secularism. It is, therefore,
an American scholar, observed that           principles, as happened on several oc-       imperative to explore what constitutes
during this period India slipped into        casions during the past 60 years.            secularism as an ideology beyond har-
religious terrorism but managed to               The greatest success of communal-        mony.
slip out of it. This ‘escape’ from the       ism has been to vitiate human inter-             The real foundation of secularism
possible continued communal subjec-          personal relations in society into a         is poised on a triad consisting of hu-
tion was mainly, though not exclusive-       religious relationship, which affected       manism, rationality and universalism.
ly, because of the strength of its secular   the secular ethos adversely. Social rela-    Most religions propound humanism
tradition.                                   tions thus came to be guided not by          and universalism, but rationality is
                                             secular considerations but by religious      alien to religion because the essential
SECULARISM AND COMMUNAL                      identity. The 60 years of experience         features of religion are based on faith.
HARMONY                                      indicates that the secular character of      Moreover, rituals and superstition de-
Secularism in India is used as a syn-        the Indian state and society has de-         rive their legitimacy from religion, and
onym for communal harmony and re-            clined steadily.                             division between religions is marked
ligious togetherness. For long, Indian                                                    by religiosity. As a result, religiosity
society had a reputation for collabora-      RELIGIONISATION AND                          acts as an impediment to secular prac-
tion and accommodation. The history          SECULARISM                                   tice.
of India bears testimony to this social      A major and discernible change during            A weakness of Indian secularism is
condition in which Indians lived for         the past 60 years has been the rapid         that its goal is limited to communal
centuries.                                   religionisation of society. Traditional-     harmony. Even Gandhiji, perhaps the
    They not only shared material re-        ly, religious rituals were confined to        most committed exponent of harmo-
sources, but often worshipped the            temples, where devotees congregated,         ny, could not succeed in his life mis-
same deity. Hindus and Muslims con-          or to homes, in which family members         sion of Hindu-Muslim unity because

                                                       2 8   F R O N T L I N E
FEBRUARY 26, 2010




his passionate efforts were not backed      them, through communal politics,            forces were worsted in them. But sec-
by a secular foundation in society. Giv-    hate campaigns, falsification of history     ularism does not come to stay because
en this historical experience, secula-      and instigation of communal riots. Vi-      of successes in an election or two. It
rism had to be reinvented in                olence is the chief instrument of com-      has to be assiduously constructed
post-Independence India. The possi-         munalism, which spreads hatred, fear,       through sustained work; continuity is
ble prescription was a creative combi-      ghettoisation, and so on, and commu-        the key to the creation of social con-
nation of the Nehruvian notion of a         nal violence is not an end in itself but    sciousness. The secular forces hardly
secular state and the Gandhian idea of      the beginning of further rift between       realise this fundamental factor, but be-
social togetherness. Unfortunately,         communities, undermining thereby            lieve that secularism can be fought and
the state increasingly lost its secular     the existing secular relations.             won in the political arena.
character and community relationship                                                        One of the main reasons for the
slipped steadily into religious antago-
nism, the sad consequences of which         The secular                                 success of Hindu communalism has
                                                                                        been the failure of secularism to in-
were witnessed in Gujarat and Orissa.
                                            space has to be                             tervene effectively in the social and
                                                                                        cultural domains, in which commu-
DEVIATIONS FROM SECULARISM
Despite limitations and departures,         reclaimed if                                nalism is ever active. But secularism is
                                                                                        as much a cultural and social pheno-
the post-Independence Indian state
maintained a modicum of secular             India is to                                 menon as a political one. The secular
                                                                                        forces have not evolved an agenda
character, although for electoral rea-
sons the state made several deviations      remain a                                    based on such an understanding. At
                                                                                        the same time, anti-secular forces at-
from the ideal, particularly during the
rule of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gand-       democratic                                  tribute great importance to the non-
                                                                                        political sector.
hi. The secular character of the state
suffered most grievously during the six     society.                                        The agenda of secular forces has
                                                                                        neither been innovative nor culturally
years when the Bhartiya Janata Party                                                    sensitive to evolve an idiom to com-
had control over the state apparatuses.         During the past 60 years, the activ-    municate with the masses. Much of the
The interventions of the state, partic-     ities of communal organisations have        secular activity does not go beyond
ularly in education, culture and police     been such that Indian society has been      press statements by intellectuals and
administration, were palpably anti-         ideologically and socially communal-        seminars in which committed secula-
secular. Under its administration the       ised. Moreover, communalism has             rists alone participate. There is hardly
Indian state assumed a distinctly Hin-      made society brutal; brutality of the       any attempt from secular intellectuals
du communal character and used the          kind perpetrated in Gujarat and Orissa      to reclaim popular cultural conscious-
opportunity to undo the secular tradi-      was unknown in the past despite com-        ness. The accusation that the secular
tions of Indian society.                    munal riots occurring rather regularly.     intellectuals and cultural activists cir-
     The unfortunate fact is that the           The communal advance witnessed          culate alien ideas among themselves
‘secular’ rule that followed has not        during the past 60 years is at the ex-      appears to stick, even if it is not entirely
been able to erase this scar. Moreover,     pense of secular space. That space has      true.
in many of its actions the state contin-    to be reclaimed if India is to remain a         If secularism is to be a force in
ues to carry the anti-secular baggage.      democratic society. Being a multireli-      society, it has to reinvent itself in cultu-
Is it not because of that that a Bill for   gious and multicultural society, de-        ral and social terms. Then and then
the prevention of communal riots has        mocracy cannot survive in India             alone it will be a part of the ideology of
not been passed? Is it not for the same     without secularism. Are there efforts       the masses. The Hindu and Muslim
reason that the recommendations of          afoot, both by the state and by civil       villagers in Uttar Pradesh and Rajas-
the Sachar Committee have been kept         society, to further the process of          than who greet each other with Ram
in cold storage? Or that no action has      secularisation?                             Ram have their own notion of secular
been taken so far against those who             After the defeat of communal forc-      interpersonal relations, despite being
have been indicted by the Liberhan          es in the general elections of 2004,        believers of different religions. Secula-
Commission for the Babri Masjid’s           secularism appears to have been put         rism has to internalise the culture of
demolition after 16 years of its labour?    on the back burner both by the secular      this social relation if it aims to be a
     The more abiding impact of Hindu       parties and by civil society organisa-      hegemonic force in society.
communal activities has been on un-         tions. Understandably because there         K.N. Panikkar is former professor of
dermining the harmonious social rela-       was a sense of relief that the threat had   Modern Indian History at JNU and
tions that existed among different          been warded off. The general elections      currently Vice-Chairman of the Kerala
communities. This was attempted             of 2009 gave enough reason for fur-         State Higher Education Council. E-
through a variety of ways, among            ther complacency because communal           mail: knpanikkar@gmail.com

                                                      F R O N T L I N E   2 9
Cover Story                                                                                       FEBRUARY 26, 2010




Myth of
socialism
       The Indian economy is best
       characterised as capitalist with a
       significant presence of pre-capitalist
       relations with no whiff of ‘socialism’.
       BY VENKATESH ATHREYA



Since the 1980s, economic policies
have moved in a sharply neoliberal                                years immediately following the end of the Second
                                                                  World War, there were three very significant devel-
direction and signalled a jettisoning                             opments. First, all the traditional imperial powers of
                                                                  Europe – “winners” such as Britain and France as
of even the limited welfare measures                              well as “losers” such as Germany and Italy – had
                                                                  become greatly weakened, ceding the dominance of
that used to be considered a part of                              the capitalist world to the United States. Second, the
                                                                  socialist system had received a great boost, with
the duty of the state.                                            several East European nations, China, North Viet-
           THE term “socialist” was added to the definition        nam and North Korea declaring their allegiance to
       of the republic in the Indian Constitution during the      socialism. Third, with the powerful impetus provid-
       infamous period of “internal emergency” through            ed by these developments, the ongoing national lib-
       the highly controversial 42nd Amendment, which             eration movements all over the world against the
       came into effect on January 3, 1977. However, the          traditional imperial powers succeeded, one after the
       terms socialist and its awkward variant “socialistic”      other, in ending colonial rule and attaining political
       were part of the rhetoric of Indian politics from the      independence. These three developments – the wea-
       days of the freedom struggle, and especially in the        kening of the traditional imperial powers, the
       immediate post-Independence period when the Go-            strengthening of the socialist camp, and the massive
       vernment of India launched Five-Year Plans and             wave of decolonisation – provided the international
       made large investments in industry and infrastruc-         context for the strategy of development adopted in
       ture in the public sector. The Indian National Con-        India at the time of Independence.
       gress declared its commitment to building a                    The national context was characterised by a pal-
       ‘socialistic pattern’ of society in India.                 pable increase in the militancy of the movements of
           The building of the public sector and the launch-      workers and peasants, especially in the period be-
       ing of the Five-Year Plans were presented as ele-          tween 1945 and 1950. There was the tribal land
       ments of socialism, and were so perceived by large         struggle of Warli in present-day Maharashtra led by
       sections of participants in public discourse and pol-      the legendary Parulekars, Godavari and Shamrao;
       icy debates, including some sections of the political      the Tebhaga movement for increased shares of pro-
       Left, even though the “model” of the economy being         duce for the sharecroppers in Bengal; the revolt of
       implemented through these measures had little to do        agricultural labourers and poor peasants in the Ma-
       with the classical conceptions of socialism.               dras Presidency (primarily but not exclusively in
           When independent India began its development           what is now Kerala and incipiently in the eastern
       journey, the world was changing dramatically. In the       parts of the then undivided Thanjavur district in

                                             3 0   F R O N T L I N E
FEBRUARY 26, 2010




                                                                                                                 ogy and trade and supporting fascist
                                                                                                                 Germany, subtly and otherwise, as a
                                                                                                                 bulwark against the perceived “Bol-
                                                                                                                 shevik menace”.
                                                                                                                    This, clearly, impressed the stal-
                                                                                                                 warts of the freedom movement, in-
                                                                                                                 cluding    captains   of    industry,
                                                                                                                 notwithstanding the reservations they
                                                                                                                 may have had about the social costs of
                                                                                                                 Soviet development.

                                                                                                                 KEY ROLE OF STATE
                                                                                                                 Thus, both national economic plan-
                                                                                                                 ning and the key role of the state in
                                                                                                                 economic development were part of
                                                                                                                 the national consensus at Indepen-
                                                                                                                 dence. Under the circumstances, it was




                                                                                       THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY
                                                                                                                 no great surprise that the policies of
                                                                                                                 public investment and import substi-
                                                                                                                 tution were relied upon by the state to
                                                                                                                 deliver economic growth in the dec-
                                                                                                                 ades following Independence.
                                                                                                                      However, the political rhetoric
AVA DI, J A N UA R Y 19,1955: C. Rajagopalachari addresses a subject                                             notwithstanding, all this had little to
committee meeting at the 60th annual session of the Congress party. It was                                       do with socialism, but were really part
at this session that the Congress made the establishment of a socialist                                          of a politically feasible strategy of cap-
pattern of society, where “the principal means of production are under social                                    italist development with a leading role
ownership or control”, its goal.                                                                                 for the “developmentalist” state. The
                                                                                                                 strategy did result in impressive eco-
present-day Tamil Nadu), highlighted        course very much part of the national-                               nomic growth and some degree of eco-
especially by the martyrdom of several      ist consensus, although the emphasis                                 nomic modernisation in comparison
militants in Punnapra Vayalar; and          on the relative roles of industry and                                with the stagnation of colonial rule.
the armed resistance of peasants in the     agriculture or of mass-scale, modern                                 Over the period 1950 to 1980, the com-
Telangana region of present-day And-        production systems versus small and                                  pound annual rate of growth of gross
hra Pradesh. These were among the           cottage industry, and so on, varied                                  domestic product (GDP) was 3 to 3.5
important instances of rural militancy,     within this consensus.                                               per cent. Agriculture also grew at
but there were struggles of the peas-            The Congress had constituted a                                  roughly the same rate, enabling, in
antry in Assam, Punjab and Bihar as         National Planning Committee in 1938                                  particular, foodgrains output to grow
well. The strikes of railway workers        with Jawaharlal Nehru as the chair-                                  at a rate higher than that of the pop-
and Central government employees            person in the wake of the party win-                                 ulation, resulting in a rising per capita
stood out as instances of urban work-       ning several Provincial Assembly                                     availability of foodgrains. However,
ing class militancy. Then, there was        elections held in 1937 under the Go-                                 this growth process hardly constituted
the historic mutiny of the ranks of the     vernment of India Act of 1935, an in-                                ‘socialist’ advance.
Royal Indian Navy.                          dication of the importance assigned to                                    In a major compromise that the
    Both the favourable international       national economic planning during                                    captains of industry made with the
context and the highly restive national     the freedom movement.                                                landed gentry, the Indian state pro-
context played key roles in making               One must recall, too, the remarka-                              ceeded with extreme caution on land
necessary and possible a process of rel-    ble successes in industrialisation                                   reforms and breaking up of the mo-
atively autonomous development in           achieved by the Union of Soviet Social-                              nopoly of landed property. While some
which, given the limited development        ist Republics (USSR) under a regime                                  degree of abolition of zamindari and
of the domestic business classes, the       of state ownership of means of produc-                               absentee landlordism took place and
state was bound to play a major role        tion and central planning in the face of                             there was, likewise, limited tenancy re-
not just as regulator but as participant.   the hostility of the world’s major cap-                              form, the basic structural inequality in
    The idea of economic planning for       italist powers, which did everything to                              the distribution of productive assets in
national development and of public in-      thwart Soviet development, including                                 rural India, especially land, remained
vestment for this purpose was of            denying the USSR access to technol-                                  intact.

                                                      F R O N T L I N E   3 1
Cover Story                                                                                                   FEBRUARY 26, 2010




     With the shift, from the                the basic needs of food, clothing, shel-     myth promoted assiduously in sec-
mid-1960s, to a new agricultural strat-      ter, education and health of the major-      tions of the media and the academe
egy that laid emphasis on a technocrat-      ity of the population.                       that India followed socialist policies
ic approach to enhancing productivity             Since the early 1980s, and more         before 1991 and then moved over to
in agriculture, land reform was put on       rapidly since 1991, economic policies        capitalist policies – euphemistically re-
the back burner, and rural asset in-         have moved in a sharply neoliberal di-       ferred to as “market-friendly” policies
equality increased further even as agri-     rection, limiting the role of the state to   – realising the folly of such policies is
cultural productivity increased. The         that of meeting the demands of private       exactly that and not at all a reasonable
countryside witnessed an increasing          investors and signalling a jettisoning       description of the evolution of Indian
incidence of wage labour and a large         of even the limited welfare measures         economic policies since Indepen-
increase in the share of petty produc-       that used to be considered a part of the     dence.
ers on the one hand and concentration        duty of the state.                               While the state remains an impor-
of productive assets in the hands of a            The political rhetoric has also         tant player in the economy today, both
few on the other.                            shifted ground, from an emphasis on          in terms of the presence of large public
     The urban inequality story was no       limiting the concentration of econom-        sector enterprises and in terms of the
different. The main aim of economic          ic power in the hands of a few – sig-        role of governments at all levels taken
policy was to achieve industrial and         nalled, for instance, by the Monopoly        together as spenders and implemen-
economic growth based on the drive           and Restrictive Trade Practices              ters of various schemes, it is beyond
for profit on the part of private capital     (MRTP) Act of 1969 as well as the            any doubt that the Indian economy is
while the state provided the necessary       nationalisation of major commercial          best characterised as a capitalist econ-
infrastructural and other inputs. Thus,      banks in the same year – to an un-           omy with significant presence of pre-
the state provided to domestic indus-        abashed celebration of the power of          capitalist relations, especially in the
try a considerable degree of protection      private profit and an economic policy         agrarian economy, with no whiff of any
from external competition, at least up       regime based primarily on attracting         kind of “socialism”.
until the economic reforms of the            private investment as the engine of              While the dramatic changes in the
1990s. It built the necessary financial       growth by offering tax and other con-        world economy and polity since the
and industrial as well as human re-          cessions and promoting policies of           end of the 1970s, in particular the rise
source infrastructure, financing these        globalisation and liberalisation.            of international finance capital and the
efforts by predominant reliance on in-                                                    collapse of the USSR and the former
direct taxes and on borrowing, even as       FOREIGN CAPITAL                              East European socialist systems, have
it offered a variety of tax concessions to   The past two decades have also seen a        played an important part in the transi-
the rich in the hope of encouraging          reversal of land reforms of the type         tion to neoliberal policies, the logic of a
investment. The political inability and      that seek to reduce the degree of con-       path of capitalist modernisation with-
unwillingness of the state to tax the        centration of land ownership and op-         out comprehensive land reforms inevi-
rural and urban rich to finance public        eration in an effort to promote              tably        renders        autonomous
investment on an adequate scale made         corporatisation of agriculture. Foreign      development exceedingly difficult. The
this path increasingly unsustainable         capital, primarily foreign finance that       result is what we have in India, namely
by the late 1960s, especially with the       seeks to make quick profits through           socialism in the Constitution and neo-
failure to carry out comprehensive           playing the stock markets rather than        liberal capitalism with agrarian crisis
land reforms limiting the growth po-         be here for the long haul by setting up      and massive deprivation, unemploy-
tential of agriculture and rural trans-      manufacturing and other productive           ment and underemployment on the
formation.                                   activities, has become highly influen-        ground.
                                             tial in shaping economic policy. Policy          An economy in which government
HIGH RATE OF GROWTH                          is now focussed primarily on retaining       accounts for about one-fourth of na-
The Indian economy grew, in terms of         the confidence of the foreign investor        tional output and most of the produc-
GDP, even faster after 1980, at about 5      rather than on responding to the needs       tive assets are in private hands hardly
per cent per annum in the first half of       of the electorate.                           qualifies as a socialist economy or so-
the 1980s and at 6 per cent per annum             The policies of deregulation, priv-     ciety. The enormous inequality in the
in the second half. Its rate of growth       atisation and globalisation have run         distribution of assets and incomes and
over the last decade of the 20th centu-      counter to the professed goal of build-      the persistence of mass poverty and
ry and the first decade of the 21st has       ing a socialist India. But the point         deprivation confirm that the term so-
been on an average over 6 per cent per       needs to be stressed that the pre-liber-     cialist in the Constitution remains at
annum compound.                              alisation strategy of development of         best a wish. Such a wish will not be
    However, this has not meant any          the 1950s to the 1970s was also about        realised as long as the dominance of
reduction in inequality or any resolu-       building a modern, capitalist econo-         private capital, domestic and foreign,
tion of the challenge of meeting even        my, not a socialist one. The popular         continues.

                                                       3 2   F R O N T L I N E

								
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