No Republic Day since 1950, when we adopted our Constitution and declared ourselves a republic, has had a strange feeling as this one does. The country has had many a tryst with bad times and with public dissatisfaction. In the end, the people showed resilience and won. This was because when people protested official policies, governments eventually moderated their stance. This is more than what we can say for the present.
On the 71st anniversary of the founding of the modern republic, there is a palpable sense of confusion and despair. This is principally on account of the fact that the government refuses to give any evidence that it even knows that a serious crisis is at hand, and that there is turmoil in the country — not only on the economic level but on the political and, more worryingly, social plane too.
There has been a concerted effort of late to all but declare that we have become a land for the country’s principal religious community while at the same time marking out the largest minority religious group as the other. This has been done not so subtly by amending the citizenship law to consciously drain from it the spirit of the Constitution. Our basic law decreed that the State in India had no favoured religion. It is this which is being sought to be stood on its head by our democratically elected government.
It is noteworthy that the nationwide protests, in which tens of thousands of Indians of every religious denomination and every class and caste have participated, is not on bread and butter issues although the economy is practically in lockdown mode. The spectacular mobilisations have been on the single point platform of protecting the Constitution, whose Preamble is being read out aloud every single day for the past 40 days at gatherings in every major city of the country.
Just as spectacularly, the government is defiantly unheeding. Instead of attempts at dialogue, taunts and threats are being issued to protesters from the highest levels in government, day in and day out. This is the way of totalitarianism. An altogether different kind of response might be in order from a democratically elected dispensation.
Alas, President Ram Nath Kovind has hesitated from pointing this out to the Narendra Modi government in his address to the nation. He has only urged “those fighting for a cause, particularly the youth” not to forsake the path of ahimsa that Mahatma Gandhi espoused. The protests raging nationwide have been peaceful by and large. Why then the Rashtrapati’s caution to citizens but no word of advice to those whose public actions appear to be that of a ruling elite rather than merely an elected political majority?
Striking a very different note, President Kovind’s predecessor, Pranab Mukherjee, has recently opined that the young of India peacefully rising in protest, a copy of the Constitution in hand, is proof of democracy striking deeper roots. Which way the elephant turns when the people have become acutely conscious of democracy but the government acts in violation of the constitutional ethos, is hard to predict. This Republic Day, we are on a slippery path....