In 1919, the Rowlatt Act enacted by the British government took away the civil rights of Indians. Those who protested peacefully in Jallianwala Bagh faced merciless police firing on the orders of General R Dyer. That cold-blooded assault was described by Mahatma Gandhi as Dyerism. He employed the concept to denote practices of exclusion, including the ostracisation of the Dalits from all spheres of social life in 1919.
Gandhi also described the killing of Muslims in the name of cow as a manifestation of Dyerism. Sadly, today, we are witnessing calculated attempts to employ Dyerism against Dalits and minorities by the NDA regime.
The manner in which bills are framed by the government and passed in Parliament without following the due processes of deliberation and consultation clearly indicate the revival of full-blooded Dyerism. The government paid scant regard to the Opposition’s plea, in both houses of Parliament, that bills should be sent to committees for deliberation and consultation on a bipartisan basis. In doing so, it negated the message of Babasaheb Ambedkar that Parliament belongs to the Opposition. A variety of opinions needed to be taken into account before enacting legislation. By not doing so, the NDA invites the accusation that it’s worse than the British regime of 1917 and 1919.
The British rulers responded to Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha in Champaran by arresting him when he visited the place to consult the people there. However, he was released unconditionally and allowed to hold discussions with farmers and colonial planters who forced the former to plant indigo in their lands. As a result of the satyagraha, the colonial state framed the Champaran Agrarian Bill 1917, which stipulated the abolition of forcible plantation of indigo. When this Bill was introduced in the Bihar and Orissa Legislative Council, members demanded its reference to the House’s Select Committee. The colonial rulers agreed. It is instructive to note that the British government sent the Bill to Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders for scrutinising it and fine tuning its contents. The Bill became an Act after the changes suggested by Gandhi were incorporated. The national movement forced the colonial legislature to be accountable and the culture of accountability and scrutiny became the heart of parliamentary functioning in independent India. The Modi government is destroying this culture.
It’s worrying that the NIA, UAPA, RTI and several other bills, including the J&K re-organisation bill, were passed in Parliament’s monsoon session without extensive deliberation and consultation. The convention of sending contentious pieces of legislation to parliamentary standing committees wasn’t followed.
Majoritarianism based on numerical strength can never be a guiding norm for running Parliament and governing the country. In fact, what was done to Jammu and Kashmir is contrary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assurance in his last year’s Independence Day speech. He had talked about abjuring “gaali” and “goli” and winning over the Kashmiris by embracing them (“gale lagaane se”). But the clampdown on Kashmiris and reducing the area’s status to a union territory is nothing but Dyerism. The absence of dialogue, debate and informed scrutiny of government action in Parliament also endangers federalism.
A Constituent Assembly debate is worth referring to here. On December 13, 1946, the Constituent Assembly took up the Objectives Resolution for discussion. There were two important groups missing in the Assembly. A debate ensued on whether to move the amendments or stall constitution-making. Ambedkar issued a warning which assumes relevance in the context of what was done to Jammu and Kashmir. He said: “It may be that you have the right to do so. The question I am asking is this. Is it prudent for you to do so? Is it wise for you to do so? Power is one thing; wisdom is quite a different thing and I want this House to consider this matter from the point of view, not of what authority is vested in this Constituent Assembly, I want this House to consider the matter from another point of view, namely, whether it would be wise, whether it would be statesmanlike, whether it would be prudent to do so at this stage.”
Is the passage of J&K reorganisation bill without adequate scrutiny, the repeal of Article 35A and the withdrawal of Kashmir’s special status without the consent of the Kashmiri people wise, prudent or statesmanlike?
In using its brute majority to pass important bills, the government ostensibly seems to be acting on its credo of “minimum government and maximum governance”. But it has reduced Parliament to a “minimum Parliament”. If Parliament becomes redundant, democracy will die. Conditions will be created for presidential form of government, the rule of a so-called strong man or fascism. Political parties which believe in democracy and justice for all citizens must put up strong resistance before such a calamity hits the Indian nation.
This article first appeared in the print edition on September 18, 2019 under the title ‘Dyerism, then and now’. The writer is General Secretary, CPI.