Democracy Under Stresshttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/the-freedom-movements-ideal-of-nationalism-is-embattled-today-4491668/

Democracy Under Stress

The freedom movement’s ideal of nationalism is embattled today.

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Last year, the brutal violence inflicted on Dalits in Una in Gujarat, suspected of skinning a dead cow, by the members of a cow protection group shook our society.

In his last speech in the Constituent Assembly, B.R. Ambedkar pointed out the vast disparity between the constitutional ideal of political rights for all and the social and economic inequalities produced by the caste system and other institutions. “On January 26, 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics, we will be recognising the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life?… we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril,” Ambedkar said.

The gap described by Ambedkar in his last Constituent Assembly speech has endured, and in fact, widened 67 years since that seminal speech. The government’s neo-liberal policy that strengthens the corporate sector and market economy at the cost of legitimate interests of citizens has perpetuated the inequality that Ambedkar had warned of. The NDA government’s policies are in contravention of the Constitution’s principal architect’s vision. Dalits have become victims of caste violence. Last year, the brutal violence inflicted on Dalits in Una in Gujarat, suspected of skinning a dead cow, by the members of a cow protection group shook our society. It was a grim reminder that the most oppressed sections remain mired in the worst social and economic discrimination.

Income disparties exacerbate social and caste inequality and make people at the margins of society even more vulnerable. Demonetisation has further multiplied the problems of marginalised people. The policy aggravated the deprivations produced by jobless growth in the country. The NDA government is not interested in solving these problems; instead it is spending its energies in projecting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image. By doing so, it is strengthening the culture of hero-worship which Ambedkar decried in his last speech in the Constituent Assembly. “In politics, bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship,” he warned. This warning needs to be taken seriously at a time when Modi’s photographs have replaced Mahatma Gandhi’s in khadi board calendars.

Fascist tendencies are becoming glaring with deliberate attempts to weaken the country’s institutions. There has been a calculated attempt to undermine Parliament, the nation’s supreme representative body. The government has bypassed parliamentary committees on several important matters. All this spells serious danger to parliamentary democracy, a major factor uniting India and providing the framework for democratic governance. The manner in which Parliament is being sidelined smacks of a calculated design to undermine scrutiny of government policies. Other institutions are also being systematically targeted and their autonomy jeopardised. Former Supreme Court Chief Justice T.S. Thakur’s lament highlighted the attack on the judiciary.

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The RSS and other right wing organisations aligned with the BJP question the Constitution’s fundamental tenets to deny constitutional rights to socially-discriminated sections and the minorities. The society’s secular fabric and the Constitution is under severe strain.

Dangers to the culture and diversity of our society are increasing. Cultural nationalism, often invoked to suppress dissenting voices and curb criticism, spells danger to the nationalism carefully forged during the freedom struggle and used for framing the Constitution.

People who suffer from inequalities of all kinds are increasingly asserting their rights, on the one hand. On the other hand, state repression has been unleashed on them and forces like the RSS are trying to undermine the structures of political democracy. It is in such circumstances that the republic has to be salvaged by upholding constitutional morality which Ambedkar explained in the Constituent Assembly.

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