The Indian Constitution is considered one of the best constitutional documents in the world, but it has gone through 105 amendments so far.
Despite so many amendments, any hint of censorship would spark outrage, especially among liberals, who fear it will lead to the weakening of Indian democracy and the breakdown of the parliamentary system. The anger was especially strong when the Hindu camp raised the issue of amendments.
Against this backdrop, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Council of Economic Advisers, Bibeck de Broy, suggested in a column last week that India needed a new constitution was a real stab at a hornet’s nest. Modi’s government, aware of the political damage it would do with elections just months away, was quick to distance itself from his claims.
De Broy’s claims have also been refuted by critics of the government. Some smelled conspiracy and drew attention to Hindu groups’ longstanding opposition to the current constitution. When the Constitution was adopted on January 26, 1950, Hindu organizations such as the Rakyat Volunteer Society (RSS) and the Hindu Compound claimed that the Constitution had no Indian soul because it borrowed verbatim from Western concepts.
I’m not a fan of De Broy. I also don’t subscribe to the ideology he professes. But I do think it is time for a critical assessment of the Constitution and, if necessary, amendments.
Independent India’s first law minister, Baba Saheb Bheem Rao Ambedkar, who is considered the architect of the constitution, is aware of the criticism of the newly drafted constitution and has tried to dispel some misgivings . But his most profound assessment was that “India must strive to be a social democracy, not just a political democracy.” By social democracy he meant “a way of life that recognizes liberty, equality, and fraternity as principles of life.” “.
As a rationalist, Ambedkar was not blinded by any form of faith. By 1953, he realized that the Constitution was inadequate in practice. I wouldn’t say he was disillusioned, but he certainly thought the Constitution could have done better. His quest was an intellectual one. He was not in favor of abolishing the constitution, but of perfection. He realized the imperfections and weaknesses of Indian society and adopted an ultra-modern constitution. He is like a genius who, after creating a masterpiece, finds that his creation has too many flaws.
But the same cannot be said for those in senior constitutional positions today, such as Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar and former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi of India, who question the basic structure of the Constitution and question existence of the constitution. There are good reasons to doubt their intentions.
It takes some serious brainstorming to understand why democracy in India has been circumvented to such an extent over the past few years. What must be understood is why and how a powerful leader with a fanatical following can turn the workings of democracy into a sham at the expense of ordinary citizens.
Why did an institution that once seemed so powerful suddenly buckle under administrative pressure? How did civil society, proud of its secular credentials and rich tradition of pluralism and diversity, become majoritarian and spout viciousness against other communities? How did civil society go from upholding civil rights, strictly enforcing the rule of law, and punishing hateful individuals and groups, to being complicit in abuses?
The framers of India’s constitution created a system of parliamentary governance with checks and balances. They adopted the concept of separation of powers with the understanding and experience that one person should not become so powerful that they should think they are above the law while other institutions serve their interests.
After 73 years of experience in parliamentary democracy, we can confidently say that whenever any leader begins to gain absolute control of their party and a supermajority in the House of Commons, they believe themselves above the Constitution and Parliament. First Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was an exception, but the same cannot be said for Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi.
Who is after Nehru? Who is after Indira? Who is after Modi? These absurd arguments reflect the impoverishment of thought on the political class and society as a whole. The truth is that a country as diverse as India is far more prosperous, economically and otherwise, when it is governed by a grand coalition representing all segments of society rather than burdened by one leader and one party, its vital organs Also healthier.
Under the coalition government and supposedly weak Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, India has managed to implement its strongest economic reforms, changing the direction of the country. Between 1991 and 2014, the economy enjoyed spectacular growth, at a time when no party had an absolute majority in parliament. So the idea that only a strong PM can lead a country like India is a myth created to fulfill personal ambitions.
If Manmohan Singh, who like Naseemha Rao is considered a weak prime minister, can strike a landmark nuclear deal, then why do we need a so-called strong prime minister?
It is time, I think, to think seriously about whether the prime ministership needs to be bound by a stronger constitution. They should not be allowed to think that they are supreme and that no one can question them. The framers of the constitution believed that the prime minister should be one of equals.
There is a need to discuss the reform of the party system. This is important because all but a few parties are family-run with no internal democracy. In order to prevent one leader from being dictatorial, why not make it mandatory that no one can serve as Prime Minister for more than two terms, and each term should not exceed four years?
The majority system also needs to be studied. Since 2014, the presence of minorities in the central cabinet and BJP-ruled state cabinets has been negligible. Why shouldn’t the rule that every social group has to be properly represented in the cabinet, no matter which party is in power or central, shouldn’t be amended?
The role of investigative agencies has attracted attention over the past few decades. Are they independent or have they succumbed to the interests of the ruling party? If democracy is to survive in this country, these institutions must be freed from government control. Either they should be directly accountable to parliament or the judiciary, or some other mechanism can be developed so that the executive branch is afraid to touch or abuse them. Any official found to be serving the interests of a political party, leader, individual, group or government should be punished. In addition, officials are not allowed to join any political party or accept any government office for at least five years after retirement. For judges, the same rules should be followed.
Now is the time to abolish the governorship. The governor has become a tool of the central government to suppress the state government. The term of office of state governments should be fixed. Constitutional provisions like Article 356 which have been abused by successive central governments should be abolished. Government terms can be shortened by one year, but early termination is inherently anti-democratic. In a parliamentary democracy, the government is elected by the people and only the people have the sovereignty to remove the government.
Finally, a way should be found to make India a social democracy. Ambedkar once said, “Without social democracy, India may become a dictatorship.”
We can be very proud that in a country full of deep-rooted inequalities due to the caste system, the Indian constitution guarantees equality to all citizens. But in the absence of brotherhood, the equality debate turns into a farce. The dominance of upper castes in all spheres of life is problematic and goes against the basic spirit of representative democracy. In the long run, this poses a greater threat to democracy and must be addressed as a priority.
There is no doubt that India has overcome many hurdles in the last 73 years and although at independence many predicted that India could not survive without Britain, this is an inspiring story for all democracies around the world. But like every institution and individual, it’s not perfect. As reality continues to change, there is always room for improvement.
I disagree with DeRoy’s arguments for a new constitution because I doubt his intentions, but if some amendments are needed to meet today’s challenges, deep thinking is certainly warranted.