NOVEMBER 26, 1949 was a red-letter day for the Republic of India as it was on this day that the Constituent Assembly, tasked with framing the Constitution to guide the newly-independent country, adopted the Constitution.
It is a bulky and very detailed document – an evidence of how much hard work must has gone into drafting and debating each and every Article.
Writing the Preamble to the Constitution, which basically lays down the principles that were to guide our rulers and other Constitutional functionaries in their effort to ensure rule of law, seems to have been much easier.
Among other things, the Preamble, in just 73 words, lays down the roadmap of how our Constitution makers wanted the country to be taken forward. It talks of India being a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic, one where everyone, irrespective of religion, caste, colour or creed or status in the society would be assured of equality before law, justice, liberty and, lastly, dignity.
Early Friday morning, several Union government functionaries, including ministers sent out almost similar tweets, urging citizens to join President Ram Nath Kovind in reading the Preamble and “reiterating our commitment to upholding our constitutional values”.
However, a better idea would have been to get those responsible for ensuring the principles enshrined in the Preamble are followed without demur to read the document and follow it in letter and spirit.
More than the citizens, our rulers and those given the onerous task of upholding our Constitutional values and ensuring the rulers aren’t in breach of the Articles of the Constitution should read the Preamble, if not the entire Constitution.
After all, it isn’t exactly rocket science if one argues that the 299 members of the Constituent Assembly, many of them leading lights of our freedom movement, may not be very pleased with the direction we seem headed to.
Our Legislature – Parliament as well as state Assemblies – has become subservient to the Executive. With every passing year, the time spent by the legislature in debating bills and discussing issues effecting the common citizens is getting curtailed. Parliamentary Committees, often working on party lines, have stopped functioning as arbiters of prospective laws – so much so that the government of the day has become used to not allowing scrutiny of most legislative business by these committees.
With governments being brought down and new ones being formed through use of brute force and money power, with central government agencies like CBI and Enforcement Directorate often being put into action to force legislators to switch sides, the democracy that our founding fathers spent days and nights debating seems a distant memory.
The Executive is happy being his master’s voice, ensuring that party interest is above the interest of the citizens.
Our police are busy putting citizens, most of them whose only crime is protesting against the anti-people policies of the government, in jails, often on grounds that should be laughed out of courts. If not for perceived crimes, then catch and jail innocent people for WhatsApp chats or even mere thoughts – remember comedian Munawar Faruqui’s arrest by Madhya Pradesh for a joke he hadn’t cracked yet?
Or the most recent arrest of Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan for the crime of being present at a rave party onboard a cruise ship? So what, as it soon transpired, if the operation was the handiwork of a controversial officer of the Narcotics Crime Bureau (NCB), whose own conduct and integrity is under the scanner now, and that Khan junior had neither taken drugs or found to be in possession of any drugs. He still spent weeks in custody?
Or where farmers, protesting against the three controversial farm laws, can be arrested and put in jail for the mere crime of protesting near the site of public meetings of the ruling party’s ministers but it takes several days for the police to even take the name of a Union Minister’s son for his alleged involvement in mowing down and killing hapless farmers under the wheels of his SUV. Some equality this?
For the Executive, which has appropriated to itself all the rights granted by the Constitution, the citizenary has the responsibility of strictly following the duties enshrined in the book.
But, one pillar of democracy that, more than others, needs to make the reading and understanding of the Constitution and its Preamble mandatory is the judiciary, especially the higher judiciary.
While, in recent times, succussive Chief Justices and his brother-judges, whenever they make a speech, have reminded the citizens of their rights. But the same judges, when they are called upon to uphold the rights of the same citizens, they forget their own words.
Playing ball with the government and its agencies in keeping upright civil activists and hapless critics of the government in jail, often on flimsy and trumped up charges, seems to be the acceptable norm for most members of the higher judiciary now. Upholding the rights granted by the Constitution to the citizens is missing from the agenda of our Constitutional court judges. Liberty is a word that, for many of them, looks good only in the Preamble.
More than ever in the past, our Chief Justices have begun to resemble politicians in their public discourse, often missing no opportunity to remind the citizens of their duties while often forgetting their own – as upholders of the citizens’ rights.
After all, only a weakened judiciary empowers the bully in the Executive to come up with and implement anti-democratic measures like the secretive electoral bonds and breaching the citizens’ right to privacy with tools like Pegasus.
It is time, the pillars of democracy started acting like real pillars instead of half-bent crutches which can’t even support their own weight.
Maneesh Chhibber is a Consulting Editor with India Ahead News. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.