How serious is threat to constitution?lets’ analyze
On the Republic Day, this year a march organised by Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar was held in the financial capital Mumbai to highlight the looming threats to the Constitution of the country. Majority of non-NDA parties participated in the march named as “Save Constitution”.
An apprehension in some section of civil society along with the opposition parties has been growing that country’s Constitution is under threat. Newly elected Congress president Rahul Gandhi drew attention to these fears on party’s 133th Foundation Day saying that the Constitution, “foundation of our country is under threat”. Many opposition leaders including CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury have also made their apprehensions public.
Fear was further reinforced when Union Minister Anantkumar Hegde recently said that the ruling BJP will soon “change the Constitution” which mentions word “secular”.
“Some people say the Constitution says secular and you must accept it. We will respect the Constitution but the Constitution has been changed several times and it will change in the future too. We are here to change the Constitution and we will change it”, the Minister said.
While the Minister later apologised for his statement and the government disowned the Minister’s statement, yet the opposition continues to stress that the Constitution indeed was endangered.
Whether these fears are unfounded or have some grain of truth? Or the opposition is only stoking popular fears to malign the BJP-led NDA government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi? These questions need a close look to reach to a conclusion.
Since the coming to power in May 2014, the Modi government has been undermining the spirit of the Constitution. In one of its first major step to regulate judicial appointments, the government enacted the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC).
After the Supreme Court struck down the NJAC Act, confrontation between the government and judiciary has been growing. The government has been adopting different means to influence the judiciary. Failing to control the judiciary directly, the government has resorted to divide the judiciary by fair and foul means thus hitting at the one of the basic features of the Constitution that established division of power between executive, legislature and judiciary. Differences came into open when four senior most judges of the apex court addressing media said that democracy was in danger in the country.
Second instance was the government’s decision to bypass the upper house of parliament for enacting various legislations. The Modi government, lacking majority in the Rajya Sabha, was facing serious hurdles in getting its legislation passed because the opposition was refusing to approve bill passed by the Lok Sabha, where the ruling party has the majority, in hurry without much scrutiny. The government began to declare all bills as finance bills that do not require to be cleared by the upper house.
While there are many instances of the actions of the BJP government that violated the Constitution directly or indirectly but its use of the controversial article of 356 to dismiss elected governments in few states was a clear evidence of flouting the basic tenets.
Efforts to control both audio-visual as well as print media are yet another example of the BJP’s allergy to the constitutional schemes of things.
It is not surprising to those who have followed the growth of the RSS and its political protégé the BJP. In fact, the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) has expressed its displeasure at the Constitution many times since it came into operation on 26 January 1950.
It has found objection to several aspects of the document that was prepared after extensive debate, discussions and deliberations in the Constituent Assembly. The RSS, for years, did not hoist the national tricolor at its buildings. It expressed its opposition to the national anthem.
It was but natural that the BJP like its earlier Bharatiya Jan Sangh, political arms of the RSS, has an inherent grudge against the Constitution though its representatives took oath swearing in the name of the Constitution.
The BJP from time to time has been saying on record that it is going to change the covenant; The BJP-led NDA government of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had set up a committee to suggest changes in the Constitution. Realizing that it is not easy to overhaul the Constitution since it requires two third majority in both houses of parliament apart from having approval of the changes by two third of the states of the Indian Union, the Vajpayee government had abandoned the idea.
After getting huge majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and having the party governments in 14 states, the BJP leaders have begun to feel emboldened. They are no hesitant or shy and express their suppressed desire openly to change a book that has guaranteed equality to all its citizens irrespective of their faith and belief.
Notwithstanding the BJP’s cherished goal and long pursued desire to undermine the Constitution that comes in their way to establish a majoritarian Hindu state, it is not going to be an easy task.
Electoral results of Gujarat assembly elections reflected that the BJP’s popularity has begun to wane though it is becoming increasing by desperate to hold to power by all possible means. Social tensions are growing. Tensions between the majority and minority communities are rising. Eight states are going to polls this year. Victories in these elections will definitely embolden the BJP to continue with its anti-Constitution agenda but defeats will restrain it.
Latest poll surveys are indicating that the BJP may not be able to get the huge majority in 2019 Lok Sabha polls that it was able to get in 2014. People are the biggest hurdle and the best guarantors of the Constitution.>
Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.