The state of the nation is such that we have devolved from “for, of, by the people” towards “far, off, buy the people”. It has become so entrenched in our psyche that little do we realise whose republic India is. On January 26, 1950, India gave herself a constitution, a document, a social contract that should protect citizens from the statism of the government. But, constitutionally speaking, do citizens today fear the government or does the government fear the citizens?
On India’s 72nd Republic Day, amidst the pandemic, it’s not too late to reflect on our conspicuous display of celebration, state of the economy, governance and other ideal civilities.
India is a republic.
The idea of res publica is to have a form of government in which elected representatives practice democratic powers in a constitutional manner. If India was not a republic, she would have seen today’s “new India” in 1950 itself. Then, the important questions are: how did we reach here, why, and what have we become?
Health of a democracy
The cultural design of the republic is to sustain the “public sphere” rather than treat a nation as the private property of a few individuals. The powers enshrined on the government are constitutionally limited so that citizens can breathe rather than blindly obey the state.
A scientific temperament, critical consciousness and questioning attitude are essential to upgrade the health of a democracy, but unfortunately, recent trends suggest that the idea of a republic is merely an abstract on the original document (the constitution) written by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.
India’s republic is witnessing a grand fall in free speech (142/190 nations in 2020, against 134/190 nations in 2014) and an upward trend (of about 165% with just a 3% conviction rate) in sedition cases (2019). It seems that it’s wrong to be a republican if the state of affairs is dismal.
India’s republic has been modified in a way that questioning the government looks “anti-national”. There’s a systematic scheme of restructuring the soul of the public sphere. The whole fabric is tailored to suit the panoptic goals of a few authoritarian figures. Nevertheless, India is consciously entering the gates of a Potemkin democracy while dropping down to a level of 102/117 nations on the hunger index.
Dr. Ambedkar, on November 25, 1949, warned in his last speech to the constituent assembly about the need to give up the grammar of anarchy, to avoid hero-worship and to work towards a social goal.
Sadly, his anticipation is turning true, today. He said:
“Will history repeat itself? It is this thought which fills me with anxiety. This anxiety is deepened by the realisation of the fact that in addition to our old enemies in the form of castes and creeds we are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing political creeds. Will Indians place the country above their creed or will they place creed above country? I do not know. But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost forever. This eventuality we must all resolutely guard against.”
He further added that we must be determined to defend our independence with the last drop of our blood. On January 26, 1950, India would be a democratic country in the sense that it will have a government of the people, by the people and for the people, he said.
“What would happen to her democratic constitution? Will she be able to maintain it or will she lose it again? This is the second thought that comes to my mind and makes me as anxious as the first.”
Taking a cue from how a supreme leader is worshipped at the cost of a “republic”, and who doesn’t hold any press conferences, Ambedkar anticipated:
“Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.”
The republic of India is manufacturing a “concept” that will beget the current and upcoming generation to worship the Manusmriti over India’s constitution.
Is this history repeating itself?
It was Swami Karpatri and the Hindu Sabha who expressed their disgruntlement at the constitutional process in the late 1940s. Contemporarily, a few fringe elements are establishing themselves as the “deep state” to channelise the conventional tenets of a “Hindu rashtra” than that of a secular, tolerant, democratic and liberal India.
The narratives and interactions are simply amended, verily through the selective power of the fourth pillar (media), while the other three pillars are mere spectators-cum-facilitators. Like never before, WhatsApp university is a credible source, fake news is a qualification, hate speech is the “new” free speech, interfaith marriage is love jihad, unaccountability is transparency, history is fake, mythology is science, and coercion is consent.
One side of the community has to prove its nationalism along with “kaagaz”, another community is programmed only for manual scavenging, while yet another one enjoys watching a “bhoomi poojan” breaching the basic structure of the Constitution.
The constitution was founded with the intent to make India’s democracy “functional”. The recent farmers’ protest over the new farm bills is an ongoing case study to examine how people’s consent or farmers’ consultation does not matter. The new republic of India is willing to transcend and supersede any heights to transform a re-public state into a re-private state.
In this re-private state, crony capitalism and denationalisation go hand in hand. And, in this consciousness, the nexus of media, government, and business houses working together would simply mean that Brahminism inherently prevails over life, liberty, dignity, and consent of the working class…and any act of disobedience would beget “untouchability” of the dissidents through sedition charges, lynching, UAPA, defamation suits, trolling and threats, leaving no room for any August Landmesser moment.
I am ratiocinating this so-called cynical piece with a factual ode:
“Stand up, and all hail the git,
Censor this and that and every wit,
Bid a farewell to democracy using rit,
Dump down that constitution in a pit,
For it provokes dissidents to never sit,
This new India will have its own kit,
That will lynch, beat and lit,
Whatever the supreme says is never a nit,
Obey and follow, dear cit.”
Jaimine Vaishnav is a lecturer based in Mumbai. He is presently completing his PhD. He blogs on subjects like Hindutva, Buddhism, free speech and society.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty