On November 26, 1949, the Constituent Assembly submitted the draft Constitution. A day before the submission, B R Ambedkar, head of the Drafting Committee, expressed concern about “what would happen to her [India’s] democratic Constitution?” Decades later, Ambedkar’s fears seem to be coming true. The Constitution is under threat from the very same institutions — the legislature, executive and judiciary — that are expected to safeguard it. The Narendra Modi government started the practice of celebrating November 26 as Constitution Day. But the Sangh Parivar has emerged as the biggest threat to constitutional values.
The way legislation that negate the essence of the Constitution is introduced and passed, while ignoring deliberation, proves the mala fide intent of the government. Parliament is blatantly undermined and bypassed. If Parliament becomes redundant, democracy will be in peril. The passage of the anti-farmer farm bills and anti-worker labour codes is an example of how undemocratically legislation is pushed through.
It is tragic that the institutions of governance are flattening the Constitution in a calculated manner and in flagrant violation of equity and justice, which are central to the majesty of the rule of law. It was demonstrated in the most unfortunate way, when none other than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (SC) observed on two occasions that the apex court was discouraging petitions under Article 32 of the Constitution. That article described by Ambedkar as the heart and soul of the Constitution empowers a person to directly approach the SC to seek remedy for the violation of fundamental rights. During the debate on Article 32, Ambedkar had said: “If I was asked to name any particular Article in this Constitution as the most important — an Article without which this Constitution would be nullity — I could not refer to any other Article except this one. It is the very soul of the Constitution and the very heart of it”. If the Supreme Court discourages people taking recourse to the “the heart and soul” of the Constitution, then which institution would ensure and empower people to adhere to the Constitution and encourage them to imbibe constitutional values?
In the case of relief for migrant workers, the SC had initially observed that issues concerning migrant labourers fell within the domain of public policy and hence there was hardly any scope for judicial intervention. By the time the SC took up the matter, millions had suffered unimaginable hardships.
In Hathras, a young Dalit woman was raped and brutally assaulted by people belonging to high castes. Later, her dead body was cremated despite the plea of her family not to do so. The state machinery allegedly threatened the family of the victim, telling them not to speak to the media. A journalist who went to report the incident was arrested and charged with serious offences. He continues to languish in jail.
The outrageous manner in which the Constitution and constitutional morality are discarded by the powers that be is creating fertile conditions for a fascist dictatorship. If the executive, legislature and judiciary violate the spirit of the Constitution, then there would be utter lawlessness. It is, therefore, pertinent that these three organs of the government set worthy examples by upholding the Constitution and adhering to the principles of constitutional morality. Time has come to bring in the Directive Principles of the Constitution to empower the people and ensure justice — social, political and economic.
Against this backdrop of events, the workers and peasants — the urban and rural working people, in formal and informal sectors — are staging a nation-wide strike. Trade unions and organisations of peasants and rural poor are raising not only economic demands and rights, but they are on the streets also to save the Constitution and democracy itself. While the country observes the Constitution Day, the general strike is demonstrating the way forward. The working people who fought for the freedom of the country, are standing up today to save the Constitution and the Republic of India.
This article first appeared in the print edition on November 26, 2020 under the title ‘A strike for the Constitution’. The writer is general secretary, CPI
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