AS India marks its 70th anniversary of independence, it is necessary to recollect that the current political and social battles that are going on in our country emerge from a continuous ideological battle between three distinct visions of what should be the character of the political and social structure of post-independent India that arose during the course of our epic freedom struggle, particularly in the decade of the 1920s.
The mainstream Congress vision had articulated that independent India should be a secular democratic Republic. The Left, while agreeing with this objective went further to envision that the political freedom of the country must be extended to achieve the economic freedom of every individual, possible only under socialism.
Antagonistic to both these was the third vision which argued that the character of independent India should be defined by the religious affiliations of its people. This vision had a twin expression – the Muslim League championing an `Islamic State’ and the RSS championing a `Hindu Rashtra’. The former succeeded in the unfortunate partition of the country ably aided and abetted by the British, with all its consequences that continue to fester tensions till date. The latter having failed to achieve their objective at the time of independence continues with its efforts to transform modern India into their conception of a rabidly intolerant fascistic `Hindu Rashtra’. In a sense the ideological battles and the political conflicts in contemporary India are a continuation of the battle between these three visions. Needless to add, the contours of this battle will define the direction and content of the process of the consolidation of Indian independence and its constitutional republican order.
Further, the Left argued then and maintains today that the mainstream Congress vision can never be sustainable unless independent India frees itself from its bondage with imperialism and breaks the stranglehold of the feudal landlords. The Congress party’s inability to take the freedom struggle to this logical culmination became clear as it was serving the interests of the post-independence ruling classes – bourgeoisie in alliance with the landlords, led by the big bourgeoisie. This, by itself, weakens the foundations of a secular democratic republic. First, it relegates the anti-imperialist social consciousness that forged the unity of the people in the freedom struggle to the background. Secondly, instead of strengthening an inclusive India, it progressively excludes the growing majority of the exploited classes. This is resoundingly vindicated by our experience during these seven decades of independence. This provides the ‘grist to the mill’ of the communal forces, or the third vision, to strengthen itself exploiting the growing popular discontent against the anti-people policies pursued.
Independent India having adopted the framework of a secular democratic republic adopted the Indian Constitution under which our political system functions today. The four foundational pillars upon which this constitution rests are: secular democracy; federalism, social justice; and economic self-reliance. Each one of these has come under severe strain since the 2014 general elections and the ushering in of the present BJP-led NDA government. We focus here on the threats to our secular democracy.
Secularism and democracy express themselves in an integral and inseparable unity under Indian conditions. This is only natural given the huge diversities that have come together under the unified Indian State structure. This unity can be maintained only by granting equality of recognition, dignity and opportunity to all elements of this diversity. Any attempt to impose a uniformity upon this diversity will only lead to a social implosion in the country. Clearly, India’s unity and integrity can only be consolidated by strengthening the bonds of commonality that run through this diversity. This process necessarily requires itself to be wedded to both the secular principles governing Indian State polity and society and to democracy based on universal suffrage. The consolidation of this very process has come under severe strain today.
It was wrongly presumed that following the banning of the RSS by India’s first deputy prime minister and home minister, Sardar Patel, in the aftermath of Gandhi’s assassination and forcing the RSS to stay away from playing a political role, which eventually led it to declare itself as a ‘cultural organisation’, the danger of converting the modern secular democratic republic of India into the RSS version of a rabidly intolerant ‘Hindu Rashtra’ had been defeated.
Following the withdrawal of its ban, achieved through many a deceitful compromise made by the RSS to the then government of India, headed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the RSS was in search of a political arm to continue with its political mission of ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
In 1951, When Syama Prasad Mukherjee resigned from the Nehru cabinet, he was in search of setting up of a political party. The RSS had then sent certain pracharaks to assist him to start the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Among these were Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani and S S Bhandari. Thus was born the Bharatiya Jana Sangh as the political arm of the RSS.
Following the merger of Jana Sangh into the Janata Party in 1977 and the fall of the Janata Party government in 1979, the Jana Sangh component of the Janata Party came together to form the Bharatiya Janata Party as the new incarnation of the political arm of the RSS.
With the formation of the current BJP government advancing the RSS agenda, under the stewardship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a systematic attack has been mounted on everyone of the foundational pillars of our constitution. This is accompanied by a continuous process of sharpening communal polarisation. The murderous attacks of the private armies of `Gau Rakshaks’ and `moral policing’ squads are reflection of such efforts. Every institution of parliamentary democracy is being penetrated and sought to be communalised. Education and research bodies are being penetrated with RSS personnel in order to sharpen communal polarisation and to rewrite history. There is a frenzied effort to communalise all public spaces. This is leading to a situation where sections of secular and democratic people are being intimidated before this offensive.
There is virtual control by the central government of the official media to ensure that only the Modi narrative is propagated. The private media has come under large scale corporate control. The government-corporate nexus is ensuring that the narrative in the mainstream media is monopolised by the RSS/BJP.
While we legitimately pride ourselves as a country that embarked on the path of democracy granting universal suffrage without discriminating among any one of its adult citizens, the `first-past-the-post’ system has deprived the Indian people of democracy usually understood as the rule of the majority. Since independence, there has been no central government that commanded the mandate of more than 50 per cent of the people who voted. Leave alone, commanding the support of more than 50 per cent of the entire electorate. The current BJP-led government is in office with the BJP having just a 31 per cent share of those who voted, 39 per cent with its allies.
This needs to be corrected to strengthen democracy. This can be done by introducing a semi proportional electoral representation system: where along with individual candidates, people also have a vote for parties on the basis of its programmes and policies. Each of these parties submits to the Election Commission a priority list of whom they want to send to the parliament. Depending on the percentage of vote the parties receive all over the country, the proportionate number of MPs from the list submitted earlier would enter the parliament.
This would ensure both the majoritarian character of the government while, at the same time, protecting the needs of India’s immense diversity to have people of their community/region/language etc to be represented in the parliament.
Further, the health of the democracy can be improved only if we are able to cleanse the electoral system from the menace of the alarming rise of money power. To achieve this, we must begin by banning corporate funding of political parties; imposing a ceiling on political parties electoral expenses which, today, is unlimited; and introducing a form of State funding of elections. The corporates must be made to contribute to Indian democracy but these sums must be maintained and managed by the Election Commission, or, any other governmental agency.
Instead of moving in this direction, the Modi government has chosen to move in the opposite. It has now revoked all previous restrictions on the amounts that corporates could donate to political parties; it has made corporate funding completely non-transparent by introducing electoral bonds and, thus, is only legitimising political corruption. These are retrograde measures which distort our democracy further.
Under our constitutional scheme of things, the sovereignty of India rests with its people. Constitution, hence, begins with the words: “We the people ....adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution”. The people exercise this sovereignty through their elected representatives whom they choose in every election. The governments are answerable to the legislature. The legislators, in turn, are answerable to the people. This is how the system must work. But this system collapses if the vital link between the government and the people, ie, the legislature, does not function effectively. The government escapes from being accountable and answerable and the people are denied their power to exercise their sovereignty by making the legislators and the government accountable. This is precisely what is happening under the current government. The brazen manner in which they are grossly misusing the constitutional power given to the speaker of the Lok Sabha to decide on any legislation being a “money bill” deprives the upper house, ie, Rajya Sabha, the right to debate and vote on such bills. The BJP today enjoys a majority in the Lok Sabha and has reduced that house as an expression of the tyranny of the majority. During these three years of this BJP government, on an average, the parliament met for not more than 70 days each year. Unless there is a constitutional mandate of ensuring that the parliament must meet at least a 100 days in a calendar year, we cannot strengthen the working of our democratic system.
Secular democracy in India has never come under such a severe strain as we are witnessing today. Only the fighting unity of Indian patriots can overcome this challenge and take India forward towards the creation of a better India for our people. It is this unity in struggles of the vast majority of our people which will create the alternative people’s narrative to the current Modi narrative.