Of late, we are witnessing this new phenomenon, which we are told as the political awakening of the hitherto apoliltical urban middle class. Though I am not very sure whether the group that supported Mr Anna Hazare’s Movement entirely consisted of the so called ‘apolitical urban middle class’, there is no doubt that a large chunk conforms to the described class. Anyway, for the purpose of this discussion, let us merely address them as the Group.
This extremely vocal Group is rejoicing their new found role to the hilt, with active support from the electronic media to which this group is the biggest market. As a result, some fundamental questions which were limited to the academic circles till now, are being raised in the public debate. Some of this questions strike at the very basic of our Constitution and therefore cannot be neglected.
The supposed victory of Mr Anna Hazare’s Movement has allowed this Group to taste blood against their long-time enemies, the Political class. The war cries for similar movements to tackle various problems being faced by the country can be heard now. In the normal course, there should not have been any complaints against such an awakening. However, some of the the very basic premises for the Group are disturbing, to say the least.
Who is Supreme?
Having brought the political class to their knees in the battle for Jan Lokpal Bill (don’t ask me how; that is what is being told to us by the wise men of the TV channels!), the group is raising the question of supremacy. They are not willing to accept anymore that the Parliament is supreme (it is altogether another matter that Indian Parliament was never supreme; even their law making powers being restricted by the Constitutional framework!). Instead, they proclaim from all the available stages that People are supreme.
Is the Group right in believing that the people are supreme? Prima facie, it would seem logical and reasonable! However, in India, fortunately or unfortunately the people are not supreme. Supremacy in India is safely and strongly vested in the Constitution itself. All others including ‘the people’ are expected and bound to function within the ambit of the Constitution.
The Preamble to the Constitution of India begins with the words “WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC”. Having so resolved, we the people have given up our rights to be anything otherwise, but to adhere to the provisions of the Constitution.
Can People change the Constitution?
Indian Constitution has stipulated specific procedure for carrying out any amendments to its own provisions. All other laws legislated in India must also conform to the provisions of the Constitution. The power to amend Constitution is limited. Mrs Indira Gandhi did try to make substantial changes to the Indian Constitution possible, by making validity of such changes beyond the purview of judicial scrutiny. However, she could not succeed as those very provisions were struck down by the Supreme Court on the ground that they were not falling within the ambit of basic features of the Constitution. If it was otherwise, by now lot of our freedoms, now taken for granted, would not have been available to us!
So, the peoples’ power to change Indian Constitution so as to affect its basic features, whether exercised indirectly through their elected representatives or directly through mass movements, would be invalid and illegal. For example, even if entire Indian population vote for an amendment making Judiciary subservient to the Executive, it would still be unconstitutional as ultra virus of the basic feature of Independence of Judiciary.
Why is it important?
Indian Constitution is flexible enough to undergo changes to meet the needs of the time. At the same time, it is rigid enough to protect its basic features from the shenanigans of politicians and other interested groups. This balance between flexibility and rigidity is what makes the Indian Constitution one of the best in the world.
If we hold that the people are supreme, that would mean people can change the laws and make any decisions. That takes us to next level; what does the term people mean? Is it the entire population of the country? Is it the entire voting population? Is it the majority of those who voted? Is it the majority of population? Is it the majority by religion? Is it the majority by language? Is it the majority by region?
These days we find every politician and every activist who makes any demand claiming that he is speaking on behalf of ‘millions of Indians’ or even ‘whole of India’. I am surprised on such claims because I cannot understand how these people can measure as to what is in the minds of those millions or whole of Indians.
If these claimants are allowed to have their say, they will enforce changes that they consider as in their interest or in the interest of Nation. Merely because a large group consider it to be so, it need not be correct. In India, we have number of leaders with enough money and muscle power to organise and manufacture public opinions, whether they use politics, language, regionalism or religion as their tool.
If majority has the ultimate say in decision making, who will protect the interests of the minority? The essence of democracy is balancing the majority decision making, with the need to protect the interests of minority.
Majority supported Narendra Modi after the Gujarat riots; does that absolve him from the (yet to be established) criminal and/or moral responsibility for the riots? If majority demands independence in Kashmir or any other part of the country, should we keep allowing secession? Merely because majority Hindus demand certain religious custom to be imposed on the country, should we allow that? Merely because majority in the form of Khap Panchayat ordered honour killing, should we legalise it? If the entire population of Tamilnadu fall prey to the politicisation of execution of Rajiv Gandhi (and 16 others with him) killers and demand their release, should our legal system allow it? This list can go on and on.
Once we open the floodgates, stopping it may not be in our control. It is better to be conscious of the potential dangers before adopting measures that can have serious and long-term implications!
I am happy to note that a large chunk of the population (both influential and educated) of our country has finally shown some real interest in the affairs of our country, by actively supporting the anti-corruption movement. However, if such awakening is not accompanied by discretion as to what is legal, constitutional and in the long-term interest of the country, then it would serve no productive purpose. Since this Group is directly accessible by internet and media, the chances of they being brainwashed and misused by unscrupulous elements out to weaken India is very high, unless the groups become conscious of what is in the interest of the Nation.
Any awakening, to bring positive results, must be based on reality. Political awakening cannot be achieved by discarding political parties and political ideologies, in a representative system of democracy. The awakened Group must learn to distinguish between aberrations and norms, individuals and governments, government and the State. If our like or dislike for the aberrations, individuals or governments are allowed to control our visions for the State, then the result would be anything but nation building.
We have agreed to adhere to certain conditions under which we constituted ourselves into a nation. Unless we confirm to those conditions and use constitutional methods in our struggles, India will also soon end up as yet another banana republic.