Unlike many well-meaning people, I am not enamoured of our founding fathers who deliberately squandered the opportunity of constituting the post-colonial state as it was laid out for the people in the Preamble to the Constitution:
We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens justice, social, economic and political; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation; in our constituent assembly this 26th day of November, 1949, do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this constitution. [The original preamble of the Constitution of India]
In 1976, the 42nd Amendment added two words to this, “secular” and “socialist”, so as to define a “Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic”.
I would not add anything further — if the Indian state had internalised its vision; if the Indian state worked honestly for the realisation of this vision. This is the problem: the Indian state is the exact antithesis of this vision.
It is not just a question of implementation. It is the duplicity, the doublespeak of India’s traditional ruling classes. When the colonial rulers left, handing over the reins of power to these native ruling classes, their “subdued traits” for over one millennium rose to the surface as they constructed the state. While their rhetoric spoke of the peoples’ interests, their actions were systematically against the people.
The post-colonial state, notwithstanding the high praise for India’s constitution, is essentially the continuation of the colonial state. It adopted the entire colonial structure of governance. The constitution was written by a constituent assembly that represented barely 18 percent of Indians. Three-fourths of the constitution was the same as the existing colonial constitution, the India Act, 1935. The same bureaucratic structure, with the IAS and IPS down to the village level, persisted. It was the same army, the same courts, the same IPC and CrPC, the same governor and viceroy (called president) with their Raj Bhavans and Presidential palaces. Almost everything remained the same as they were in the colonial period. How then could the state be different? How could it turn into a sovereign democratic republic? The colonial governance schema was, if anything, exacerbated by the addition of native Brahminic cunning. The ruling classes skilfully avoided the task of making India secular; they consecrated castes into the Constitution and drove their policies to shape India as the Indian big bourgeoisie desired.
India traversed this path of deceit until 1990. Thereafter, India openly adopted the neoliberal package perfected by the imperialist block. Neoliberalism, with its social Darwinist ethos, is ideologically anti-people; it denounces them as uncompetitive. Over the last three decades, it has completely marginalised left-liberal discourse and promoted right wing forces. In India, the right wing comes with its homegrown fascist ideology called Hindutva. Its phenomenal rise during these decades can be attributed, as in other countries, directly or indirectly, to a neoliberal policy regime.
The leader of this right wing is Narendra Modi, a demagogue with inimitable theatrical skills. In his long twelve-year rule in Gujarat, he convinced global capital that he would serve its interests better than anyone. During the last five years Modi has also provided a prototype of Hindu Rashtra — a euphemism for a mix of European fascism and Indian Brahminism. The Hindutva forces are aware that the contradictions between their accelerated neoliberalism and Hindutva may nullify their gains if their goal is not reached quickly. This need for speed drives their desperate, unscrupulous moves which are dismantling whatever little remains of a democratic India. A victory in the next elections would bring them to their goal — transforming India into a Hindu Rashtra.
At such a juncture, how do we imagine the kind of India we would like to have?
The foremost task is to save India in the 2019 elections. All democratic forces should set aside their differences and focus their energies on this single task. They should work towards bringing the self-centred opposition parties together so as to take on the BJP in the elections as an united opposition.
The India I would like to see is already spelt out in the Preamble of the Constitution — if it is honestly internalised. The noble ideals of the Preamble may not be realised in the short term. But they may be translated into certain basics that people need for their empowerment: education, healthcare, livelihood security, secure fundamental rights, rule of law and cultural diversity. Let me elaborate on each.
Education Our multi-layered education system, from the nursery to the highest level, excludes the lower strata from education of any consequence. Higher education is increasingly provided on the market principle. The government’s offer to WTO under GATS, means opening up the largest higher education market to global capital, without any social justice considerations (reservations, fee concessions, etc.) which are supposed to cause market inefficiencies. Free school education, supposedly provided by the government under the so called Right to Education, is hogwash. The government is already closing down schools on the pretext of rationalisation and handing them over to private players such as NGOs. This should stop. The state should provide education up to the age of 18 years – the universal definition of the child — under a common school system through free neighbourhood schools. Higher education too should be provided by the state or by institutions that can be regulated by the state.
Healthcare India’s healthcare system ranks among the most privatised systems in the world today. And this in a country where over 80 per cent of the population barely subsists off their meagre earnings. Any minor illness pushes people into the debt trap; and these illnesses are frequent in an environment degraded by the lifestyles of the rich. Under Modi, budget allocations for health have gone down drastically. His health insurance scheme does not stand the test of basic arithmetic, and can be dismissed, like most of his other schemes, as propagandist. A credible system of free healthcare should be evolved for all needy people.
Livelihood security Providing means of livelihood could be translated into providing land to people who want to cultivate it, and helping in efficient farming, possibly in the cooperative mode. India is one of the most unequal countries in terms of land distribution, despite the trumpeting of land reforms in the early years after independence. 9.5 percent of households own up 56.4 percent of cultivable land. If household land is excluded, 41 percent of households are landless. Measures will also have to be devised to provide non-farm work in villages. In urban areas, this means providing jobs. Unemployment has grown to alarming proportions during the last five years. This has eroded the much-flaunted demographic dividend and turned it into a curse. I would like to see this problem solved on topmost priority.
Democratic Rights India’s constitution provides democratic rights to all individuals. But they are increasingly circumscribed by social inequalities as well as the draconian laws that have only multiplied with successive governments. The recent attack on rights activists and intellectuals, including me, have once again brought this reality to the fore. There is no place for such laws in a democracy; I would like to see them summarily annulled. No individual should be rendered defenceless before the state. The police cannot be given discretionary powers without accountability. There is no crime that cannot be dealt with by the ordinary law.
Rule of Law The Indian constitution assumes equality before law. But it is never realised in practice for several reasons, such as the intrinsic inequality in society and the expensive process of the law. The caste and community nexus, combined with access to money, can easily subvert constitutional equality: this is what Dalits experience day in and day out. Rule of law is the soul of democracy; hence I would like to see India striving in its direction.
Cultural Diversity Cultural diversity is the unique feature of India, and it has an intimate relationship with democracy. This is why we need to guard it zealously. But under Modi, this basic character of India has been damaged in many ways. Diversity is India, and the Hindutva forces, with their jingoist rhetoric and homogenisation drive, have been injuring it. No amount of GDP growth or developmental gains can compensate India’s loss of her very nature.
There are other obvious things, such as annihilating caste and attaining socialism and true secularism that I would like to see in India. At the present juncture, they may not be realisable, and so may need to be relegated beyond more immediate concerns. At the present juncture, this is what is paramount. I would not like to see India again under BJP rule. It has poisoned the population with its lethal venom of nationalism and religion. It has deintellectualised the country. It has pushed it into the dark alleys of obscurantism, corroded institutions with its saffronisation, undermined the democratic ethos and criminalised dissent.