January 24, 2021

Republic Day: Resolve to Fight for Citizens Rights

WHEN the pogrom against minorities in Gujarat was raging in 2002, the then President of India, K R Narayanan had remarked to a delegation which met him seeking intervention, that: “The Constitution is not working in Gujarat”.  Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat at that time.

Now, nearly two decades later and nearly seven years of the prime ministership of Modi, it can be said that the Constitution is not working in large parts of the country and in various sections of the polity.

As we observe the 71st Republic Day, it would be instructive to see what has happened to the fundamental rights of citizens – the right of personal liberty, the right of freedom of speech, association and assembly among others.

At present, there are hundreds of people in jail with no prospect of bail because they are charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and other pernicious laws like sedition.  They are not criminals or terrorists but political and social activists, journalists and even standup comedians. They include 16 intellectuals, lawyers and academics who have been jailed under the UAPA in the Bhima Koregaon case, 19 students, research scholars and activists under the UAPA falsely implicated in the north-east Delhi communal violence, 49 in jail under the `Love Jihad’ ordinance in Uttar Pradesh and journalists like Kappan in Mathura jail and three other senior journalists in Manipur are under the UAPA. It also includes a comedian, Munawar Faruqui, who is in Indore jail.

The right to personal liberty provided in the Constitution has been trampled upon.  The UAPA is a monstrous law which makes getting bail extremely difficult. It should be noted that it was the UPA government which amended the law to introduce draconian provisions regarding bail in the wake of the terrorist attack in Mumbai in November 2008.  The creation of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), which encroaches on the rights of the states in the sphere of law and order, was also a product of this period.  The Modi government had made both the UAPA and the NIA Acts more stringent and violative of the fundamental rights of citizens through further amendments.

The separation of powers envisaged in the Constitution, in which the judiciary has an independent role has been seriously eroded.  More and more, the judiciary starting from the Constitutional court – the Supreme Court – has become a party to the violation of fundamental rights of citizens and their right to personal liberty.  The Supreme Court has become more of an executive court.  In April 2019, in the Watali judgment, the Supreme Court pronounced that while considering bail applications under the UAPA, courts must presume the allegations made in the        ‘first information report’(FIR)  to be correct and the burden of proof rests on the accused to disprove the allegations.  This has made getting bail virtually impossible for a person accused under the provisions of the UAPA. This judgment was cited by the Mumbai High Court recently to reject bail for three of the accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case.

In the BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the tenets of the Constitution does not apply, especially, if you are a Muslim.  If a Muslim boy walks with a Hindu girl on a public road, he can be hauled up and put in jail if a complaint is lodged by any of the Hindutva outfits.  In the case of Munawar Faruqui, he has been in jail in Indore for three weeks even though the police have gone on record that there is no evidence that he insulted Hindu deities or “hurt religious sentiments”.  But then, the complaint had been lodged by the son of a local BJP MLA and that is the writ that runs.  The Hindutva mob, the police and the court – all act in unison.

This assault on the rights of citizens extends to areas other than life and liberty.  The right to food, the right to work and equal access to health and education are all under ferocious attack.  The pandemic and the way the Modi government had dealt with it have only exacerbated the inequalities, hunger and unemployment.

India has slipped to the 94th position among 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index of 2020.  According to the CMIE, compared with December 2019, over 1.7 crore (17 million) less persons were employed in the country in December 2020 with the unemployment rate rising to 9.1 per cent.  The Modi government has unashamedly promoted the interests of a handful of big business houses in this period when illness and misery have stalked the land.  The year 2020 saw the list of billionaires (in dollar terms) reach a new high of 90 billionaires.  The corporate sector made a bonanza in the quarter ended in September 2020. The financial statements of 4,234 companies showed an extraordinary rise in profits in the midst of a lockdown; net profits increased by 569 per cent.  Fifty per cent of the companies cut their wage bill in the September quarter, compared to their levels a year ago.  Seventy per cent of listed companies recorded a fall in wages, in real, inflation-adjusted terms.  Huge profits, along with wage cuts, that is the ugly face of intensifying class exploitation.

It is to enforce this Hindutva-neo-liberal order that every Constitutional right of the citizen is being suppressed.  Dr. Ambedkar had warned: “However good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot”.  The “bad lot” are ruining the Constitution.

Republic Day should be the occasion to resolve to fight relentlessly for the political, social and economic rights of citizens - the tractor parade of the kisans will exemplify this fight. It is imperative to carry forward the political struggle to defeat the Hindutva-men who are wrecking the Constitution.

(January 20, 2021)