On November 26, 1949, the Constituent Assembly adopted the Constitution of India. In 2015, the BJP government decided to commemorate this day as Constitution Day. This year, the combined Opposition stayed away from the formal function to celebrate this day. There has been a heated debate whether this was the right thing to do or not.
Typically, the BJP accused the Opposition of insulting the Constitution. It conflated the boycott with disrespect to the Constitution. The fact of the matter is that Republic Day on January 26 is the long-consecrated day to celebrate the promulgation of the Constitution. This new celebration on November 26 was a recent BJP innovation. It does not enjoy the established sanctity of Republic Day. For the Opposition to boycott November 26 is not to insult the Constitution but a means of conveying to the BJP that you cannot pay lip service to the country’s foundational document and indulge in all kinds of tokenism to commemorate it, while simultaneously dismantling it bit by bit in your actions.
The nation has witnessed the manner in which the government has trampled upon the letter and spirit of the Constitution. The Constitution categorically says that, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of states”. In this one sentence is enshrined the principle of federalism, wherein the duties and rights of both the Centre and the states are defined as part of a federal polity. But, under the BJP, the Centre has infringed the rights of the states with impunity. Federal agencies, like the CBI, ED, IT, NCB, et al, have been co-opted and made handmaidens of the ruthless designs of the ruling party.
State subjects have been legislated upon through ordinances, as for instance, in the infamous three farm laws, where the Centre was very well aware that agriculture is a state subject, and no law in this domain can be passed without due consultation and concurrence of the states. State share of GST revenues has long been held up. And, new encroachments on state rights have become par for the course.
In October this year the government made an amendment to the 2014 notification on the powers and jurisdiction of the BSF thereby making it a highly intrusive presence in a large swathe of border states like West Bengal and Punjab. The chief ministers of both these states strongly protested the unilateral decision, but to no avail. Law and order is a state subject. The state police are well equipped to handle such a responsibility. The concurrence of the states was not obtained. It is interesting that in 2012, the then chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, had opposed a central government move to expand the BSF jurisdiction. He had said that this would weaken the federal structure and was an attempt to create a state within a state.
However, the transit from Gujarat to New Delhi, has made the PM forget his own stated position.
Other instances, where the Constitution has been made a devalued instrument of the central government’s imperial whim, abound. The Citizen Amendment Act, which for the first time links citizenship with religion against the express provisions of the Constitution, was rammed through. Article 370 was repealed unilaterally, even though the Constitution explicitly states that this can only be done with the express concurrence of the state government.
The manner in which the BJP “passed” the three farm laws in the Rajya Sabha is a blot on our Constitution. A law of this sensitivity and far-reaching implications, involving the farmers, the largest community in India, was not referred to a Select Committee as should have been done, but hustled through in one hour without necessary debate and discussion and passed through a voice vote. That day constitutes one of the darkest days of our constitutional history.
The Constitution lays down a vision of India as a plural and inclusive nation, a secular republic. But, the attempt by BJP leaders to divide society, and add to the party’s electoral vote bank through this process, has been one of the highlights of its seven-year rule, thereby making a mockery of the Constitution. The Constitution also stands for the rule of law. Yet, we have seen lumpen mobs, who claim allegiance to the BJP and its affiliated organisations, attacking Muslims, ransacking film studios, threatening fashion designers, and in general repeatedly taking the law in their own hands with hardly a demur from the BJP’s leadership. Equally, the manner in which the ruling party has invoked the Sedition Act against those opposing it or its views, has reached scandalous levels. The blatant misuse of the UAPA is also there for the world to see. Individual liberty and rights, and freedom of expression, are guaranteed by the fundamental rights in the Constitution, but are today under severe threat. Civil society groups have borne the worst of the government’s impatience with anything except the prevalence of its own writ.
The democratic Opposition in our country has raised its voice against this misuse of power on all occasions, but to no avail. The BJP’s attempt now to project its fidelity to the Constitution is hollow. For the Opposition to join in Constitution Day that was instituted by the BJP would be to provide legitimacy to the BJP’s unconstitutional excesses. In fact, by staying away from the function, the Opposition demonstrated its loyalty to the true principles of the Constitution, which it would like to be salvaged.
The BJP has become adept in celebrating the tokenism and eroding the substance. Its celebration of Constitution Day, after all it has done to weaken the Constitution, reminds me of an Urdu couplet: Khatawar samjhe ki duniya tujhe, bas itni bhi ziyada safaai ne de: The world will come to know that you are guilty, if you give so many excuses to show that you are not.