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Saving the Constitution a Key Electoral Issue

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Saving the Constitution a Key Electoral Issue (1)
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It is quite heartening and extraordinary that for the first time in the electoral history of India, saving the Constitution from the onslaught of BJP- RSS combined and the Modi regime has become as much an election issue as a core agenda of people to preserve, protect and defend it.   The opening words of the Preamble, “We the People of India,” transmit unequivocally the idea that they are united, regardless of their religions, languages, caste categories, or any other factor determining their identities, in giving the Constitution for our country.  They resolved through the instrumentality of the Constitution to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure Justice, Liberty, equality, and fraternity to all its citizens. 

When several BJP nominees contesting elections for the Lok Sabha repeatedly stated that their party’s target of winning 400 plus seats out of 545 is aimed at changing the Constitution or replacing it with a new one, people across the country were outraged. Specifically, Dalits and those victims of discrimination and injustice caused by the caste system representing graded social inequality apprehended that altering the Constitution would mean, among others, obliterating the reservation and affirmative action for their upliftment. Muslims also got deeply anguished by such statements, which they felt would dismantle the architecture of equality, liberty, and fraternity enshrined in the Constitution. Those statements attacked “We the People,” who firmly formed a Republic on 26th January 1950 and defined its secular, democratic, socialist, and sovereign attributes. 

When that resolve of people was authentically expressed and India, for the first time, was governed by a people’s Constitution drafted by the drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly headed by Babasaheb Ambedkar, RSS scathingly opposed it in the editorial of its mouthpiece Organiser on 30th November 1949, four days after the Constituent Assembly adopted the Constitution.

It wrote, “The worst about the new Constitution of Bharat is that there is nothing Bhartiya about it. The drafters of the constitution have incorporated elements of British, American, Canadian, Swiss, and sundry other Constitutions. But there is no trace of ancient Bhartiya constitutional laws, institutions, nomenclature, and phraseology in our Constitution; there is no mention of the unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat. Manu’s Laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day, his laws enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the world's admiration and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits, that means nothing.”

       So, the present stress on changing the Constitution to win 400 plus seats of Lok Sabha is nothing but a reiteration of the RSS's venomous outpourings against the Constitution right after it was adopted in 1949. 

From time to time, that venom is spewed, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime manifested it in 1999 when it was proposed that the Constitution would be reviewed.  Many sections of society, including Dalits, opposed it, and then President of India, K R Narayanan, sharply asked, “Let us examine if the Constitution has failed us or we have failed the Constitution.”  He said so in his historic speech delivered on the occasion of the golden jubilee of our Republic in 2000. Those stirring words moved the whole nation. Vajpayee was forced to abandon the decision to review the Constitution and instead appointed a Commission to review the workings of the Constitution.  That was how President Narayanan saved it.

After Modi became Prime Minister, he described the Constitution as a holy book. Yet in 2017, one of his Ministers, Ananta Kumar Hegde, made a bizarre statement that progressive and secular people never had identity-based on caste or religion and that the Constitution drafted by Ambedkar should be changed. He later apologised for his remarks. Tragically, last month, he again said that the Modi regime, on coming back to the office after winning 400 plus seats, would change the Constitution. 

Even before this, last year,  the Vice President of India Jagdeep Dhankar repeatedly questioned the basic structure of the Constitution, held by the Supreme Court to be beyond the amending power of the Parliament, and stated that the so-called and much revered Basic Structure is non-existent. On Independence Day last year, even the Chairman of the Economic Advisory Council, Bibek Debroy, mischievously interpreted the Chicago Law School study, which stated that the “mean life span” of written constitutions worldwide since 1789 is 17 years.  He wanted our Constitution to be replaced by a new one. He gave the preposterous reasonings, one of which was that the words in the Preamble—socialist, secular, democratic, justice, equality—have changed and “We should...start from first principles, asking what this means now.  So, he is finding the core ideals of the preamble troublesome and wants the Constitution to be replaced with a new one.  Such assaults on the Constitution were meant to take India to the dark ages. 

Against this backdrop, we need to see the recent statements by BJP leaders like Ananta Hegde, Arun Govil, Lallu Singh, and Jyoti Mirdha to alter the Constitution. In the face of such threats to the Constitution, people in UP, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Haryana, and several other States have come forward to make the issue of saving the Constitution an electoral issue.  It means that people are now at the forefront of defending the Constitution. This is truly refreshing when we see an earlier example of President K R Narayanan at the highest level of the Republic defending the Constitution from BJP’s assault and now the INDIA alliance coming together to salvage our democracy and constitution from the lethal attack of the Modi regime.  In the face of such people’s resentment against the Modi regime for its assault on the Constitution, the Prime Minister’s statement that even if Ambedkar comes now, he cannot alter the Constitution sounds so egoistic and hollow.  Even the Home Minister expressed his newfound love for secularism when he said that the BJP would never change the Constitution and even the word secularism would not be removed from the Preamble. 

People’s mounting anger against BJP leaders expressing their desire to change the Constitution was so intense in Maharashtra that even Union Minister Nitin Gadkari was forced to make a statement that BJP would never alter it.  Now that “We the People” are in the head and front of the movement for saving the Constitution, the BJP and leadership that assails the Constitution must be defeated in the elections and removed from the power structure that they use ruthlessly to finish it.  

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