• Associate Sponsor

Do we want to keep the Republic?

Creating it was an act of audacity. Maintaining it is proving to be a daunting task

Written by Suhas Palshikar | Updated: January 26, 2018 12:16 pm
republic day 2018, republic day, indian republic, indian constitution, b r ambedkar, jat agitation, communal clashes, caste clashes, indian express There has been a grievous mismatch between the ambitions of the founding fathers and the will of members of the new republic.

Benjamin Franklin is said to have made this observation on the American constitution: “A republic if you can keep it”. It was as much a comment on ability as it was on intent. Republics are easy to form; they are difficult to sustain. Republics can be sustained in a formal manner more easily than they can be sustained in their content. A majority of the countries claim to be republics but republicanism eludes many of them.

Follow Republic Day 2018 LIVE Updates

Like every year, the Republic Day this year too would be full of a display of India’s cultural heritage and military might. Cities and states will compete with each other to raise the mast higher to hoist the flag. But the Franklin poser could still not be easily avoided. Our founding fathers gave us a republican constitution but all they could hope was that a civic virtue, necessary for republicanism to strike roots, would be cultivated by the recipients of the benefits of the republic.

Dr Ambedkar warned that “however good a constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, are a bad lot”. He did not refer merely to elected representatives or the “rulers”, but to the incomplete project of transforming people into citizens. Therefore, Republic Day, just as it brings celebrations and pronouncements of pride in the might of the state, exhorts us to introspect on the fragile republican culture that would undercut the formal edifice of the republic. At least four core challenges to the idea of republic can be identified.

The first concerns the distortions of democracy. Among the more glaring, we can list majoritarianism, rise of vigilantism and institutional corrosion. As democracy gets converted into shows of numerical strength, the capacity to negotiate and deliberate drowns under the noise of numbers. This trait gives way to an anarchic articulation of vigilantism by protectors of various causes, rejecting the idea of rule of law. Both a cause and an effect of this is the all-round corrosion of institutions. It would be tough to identify institutions that continue to enjoy and consolidate confidence in their institutional practices and in their capacity to deliver. There is an inter-institution competition to display their flair for failure. From media to military and from administration to adjudication, we seem to be witnessing non-performance, transgressions, disconnects or betrayals. The republic is besieged with misplaced cultural priorities, bragging generals and brawling judges. The republic crumbles when statesmanship stops at showmanship, politics breeds fear and institutions fail to strengthen norms and procedures.

The second challenge pertains to citizenship itself. As Ambedkar presciently warned, caste and community intervene in the shaping of citizenship. Seven decades down the line, the fortresses of community have become more impenetrable. In today’s India, nobody can criticise, comment or censure the practices of “another” community of which she is not part. On the other hand, insiders can only uphold and celebrate the practices and symbols of the community. Communities are beyond debate and criticism; they exist as sacred and protected enclaves where outsiders are barred from entry (save for glorification) and members are imprisoned inside.

Relations among communities are also marked by mutual suspicion. This is not confined only to Hindu-Muslim relations; even among castes, relations are, more often than not, competitive. The violence a few years ago between the Gurjjars and Meenas or the violence during the Jat agitation in Haryana are cases in point. Religious minorities are vulnerable to riots and pogroms, Adivasis face repression from expanding capitalism and Dalits continue to be subjects of humiliation and violence from upper and middle castes. As a result, individuals are unable to transcend their group identity or link their group identity to their identity as citizens. Caste-community based separation, suspicion and violence ensure that the idea of citizenship becomes a chimera. Rather than pursuing the agenda of social justice, caste action often culminates in consolidating identities, constructing symbols and creating boundaries made from cultural universes.

In this situation, it is near impossible that any idea of common or public good would emerge and sustain. So, the third challenge emerges from the absence of a shared vision of what constitutes public good. Communities are so clearly separated that each entertains a separate notion of what constitutes the “public” and therefore, what public good is. Given the fragmentation of the public and impossibility of common good, all politics and policymaking takes the form of a cynical exercise of balancing competing expectations. But the more serious casualty in this process is the loss of the idea of commonwealth which is at the core of a republic.

Finally, our republic suffers from the inability to evolve public reason. Legislatures fail to debate; television debates have become notorious for their decibel capacity rather than deliberative power; nothing debatable can be presented in textbooks; academic seminars are monitored for who the participants will be; attacking meetings of rival viewpoints is a common political act; banning works of art, literature, and academic value is the national passion across the political spectrum. Demands by almost every social section often lack in legitimacy. If communities could be imagined as persons, we might equate ourselves to the Hobbesian situation of being utterly limited in our view of self-interest. So, the problem is not merely the inability to evolve procedures and terms of debate, it is about foreclosing the possibility of debate because we are unwilling to accept that the nation is the common property of all citizens.

Obviously, republics are not made in heaven nor do they always grow out of readymade social homogeneity. The creation of India’s republic was indeed an audacious attempt because of the many social schisms. But the audacity shown by the founding fathers in creating the republic needed to be matched by the sustained collective audacity to “keep the republic”.

There has been a grievous mismatch between the ambitions of the founding fathers and the will of members of the new republic. The social structure was an impediment in the republican project, as Ambedkar pointed out, but the skills of the political process and the willingness of the collective must have been wanting too. So, on each Republic Day, the nagging question would be this: The constituent assembly gave us the republic, but do we really want to keep it?

The writer taught political science at Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune, and is co-director of Lokniti programme, CSDS, and chief editor of ‘Studies in Indian Politics’

For all the latest Opinion News, download Indian Express App

More From Suhas Palshikar
  1. Theethan Theethan
    Jan 27, 2018 at 4:30 pm
    Please Mr.Freak Jesus,don't omit the thousands of Hindu mutts like Kanchi mutt which are the protected places of Rapes,murders and Money laundering,Black money dings etc .The hindutva medias wouldn't work as the American press which led to making of Blockbuster movie'The Spotlight'.If that happens,the Hindutva mutts,Christian churches in India will have millions of skeletons in their cupboards.Jaibhim,Jaibharat.
    (0)(0)
    Reply
    1. Theethan Theethan
      Jan 27, 2018 at 4:17 pm
      Well written timely introspective advice to the 126 crores Indians.
      (0)(0)
      Reply
      1. Freak Jesus
        Jan 27, 2018 at 4:20 am
        I bet Indian media will not bring these news as media is controlled by terrorist muslims and rapist christians. VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis on Thursday acknowledged the Catholic Christian Church was "a bit late" in realizing the damage done by christian priests who rape and molest children on a daily basis in the church and in convents, and said that the decades-long practice of moving peedophiles around rather than sanctioning them was to blame. What he was admitting is that most Christian padre/priests are rapists and they are moved to various churches so that they can continue to rape children forever and parents cannot complain.
        (1)(2)
        Reply
        1. Freak Jesus
          Jan 27, 2018 at 4:17 am
          Ggay Christian Pope Francis admits Catholic Church realized sesx abuse rape of children in christian church problem "a bit late". Everyone knows he is lying. He himself is ggay and a child rapist and rose through the ranks of catholic church mob by converting poor people with lies and then raping their children all in the name of Jesus.
          (1)(2)
          Reply
          1. Freak Jesus
            Jan 27, 2018 at 4:11 am
            In 2002, Mathew N. Schmalz noted that Catholic Church and christian convent sesxual abuse rape cases in India are generally not spoken about openly, stating "you would have gossip and rumors, but it never reaches the level of formal charges or controversies and christian leaders hush hush it when they rape innocent poor brown children in the name of Jesus in India by giving them some food or free education in convent." In 2014, Raju Kokkan, the christian priest vicar of the Saint Paul's Christian Church in Thaikkattussery, Thrissur, Kerala, was arrested on charges of raping a nine-year-old girl. That was one out of lacs of cases where Christian padre has raped Indian children but gotten away from law. According to Kerala Police, Kokkan had raped the child on several different occasions, including at least thrice in his church office during the month of April. Kokkan promised to gift the child expensive vestments for her Holy Communion Bible ceremony before sesxually assaulting her.
            (1)(1)
            Reply
            1. Freak Jesus
              Jan 27, 2018 at 4:14 am
              Between February and April 2014, three other Christian priests were arrested in the state of Kerala on charges of raping children. This is like a needle in a hay stack when the entire hay is full of rape cases by the Christian Priests in Convents and Christian Churches. In 2016, the Catholic Church reappointed a convicted and jailed priest in the Ootacamund Diocese Church in Tamil Nadu, with little regard for victims rights and children's safety. This is how the Christian Church work. Since most of the Christian Padre priests are ggay or child rapists they ignore the facts and keep the priest in churches and if the child complain then they move the priest to another church or country where the priest continues to rape while his replacement christian priest rapes more children. This is how they continue to rape for centuries.
              (1)(1)
              Reply
            2. Load More Comments