9th Anniversary Special
With the BJP controlling the central government, the threat of subversion of the Constitution and the Parliament is very real
BY NILOPAT BASU
It is not a mere coincidence that the last three election manifestos of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) included the issue of a review of the Indian Con-stitution. And the fact that the BJP could manage to smuggle in this issue as part of the national agenda for government — the joint common manifestos of the motley combination, which calls itself the National Democratic Alliance — betrayed the intolerance of the Hindutva forces spearheaded by its political arm, the BJP, to the present Constitution.
It is also quite revealing that once it assumed office it went ahead with the formation of the Constitution Review Commission, which has since submitted its report. The attempts at tinkering with the basic features of the Indian Constitution, which has the parliamentary system as the centre–piece of the political structure, provides a sharp contrast to the involvement of elected representatives of the people as inherent in the Constituent Assembly and underlines the alien nature of this latter attempt which essentially is divorced from the people and their aspirations.
Fortunately, the composition of the Indian Parliament as of now, and the insight of a broad array of political forces into the possible dangers of the Hindutva forces in redefining the secular democratic and composite nature of the Indian State and society have largely thwarted the potential mischief–making potential of the move. The silence of the government thereafter, on implementing some of the issues raised by the constitution review is a case in point. Perhaps we will hear more about it on the eve of the coming election.
In response to his plea to lift the ban on the RSS, in 1948 the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had observed in a letter to the then RSS chief and the most influential of Hindutva ideologues, MS Golwalkar: "In the course of the last year both the central government and the provincial governments have received a mass of information in regard to the objectives and activities of the RSS. This information does not fit in with what has been stated by you in this behalf. Indeed it would appear that the declared objectives have little to do with the real ones and with the activities carried on in various forms and ways by people associated with the RSS. These real objectives appear to be completely opposed to the decision of the Indian Parliament and the provisions of the proposed Constitution of India."
But now that the BJP has virtually come to control the central government thanks to the servile capitulation of its so-called secular allies, the threat of subversion of the Constitution and the Parliament is very real.
In the wake of the ban on the RSS, the Hindutva forces had found themselves completely on the back foot. And it is against this background that the Jan Sangh was formed in the early 50’s, since nobody was prepared to take up the Hindutva view in the Indian Parliament at that point of time. Subsequently, by the mid 60s, though the Jan Sangh had increased its strength in Parliament and tried its best to use the floor of the two Houses to further the interest of the Hindutva cause, they met with limited success. Though the Sangh elements managed to position themselves crucially within the Janata Party in the general background against the authoritarian politics of the Congress Party epitomised by the Emergency, during the late 70’s, notwithstanding the success they achieved in planting Sangh Parivar elements in important governmental positions (particularly in the media with Advani handling the I&B portfolio), the fight back by the secularists led by Madhu Limaye on the dual membership question led to the Hindutva forces suffering a set-back.
By the 1984 elections, the BJP, the new incarnation of the Jan Sangh, came down to an all time low of just two members in the Lok Sabha. But the fortunes of the Hindutva forces started looking up, with the Hindutva campaign concentrating on "pseudo secularism" against the Congress after the Rajiv Gandhi government’s completely misplaced decision to placate fundamentalist elements by reversing the Supreme Court judgment on the Shah Bano case.
The use of Parliament by the Hindutva forces reached a most crucial phase with the Ram Mandir campaign in the early 90s. The BJP used the floor of the Parliament to propagate the mandir cause and ultimately, along with the National Integration Council, the two Houses were also used to hoodwink the nation on its real game plan about bringing down the Babri Masjid. However, this gory act once again saw the BJP finding itself in splendid isolation. The spectacle of Vajpayee completely lost standing alone in the Lok Sabha in an atmosphere of all–round condemnation will continue to be part of an enduring memory in the annals of the Indian Parliament.
But the fact that Vajpayee did not outright condemn the unmaking of the Indian Constitution in Ayodhya was a crucial point in the process of the Hindutva forces’ attempt to subvert Parliament. The Hindutva forces attempt at subverting Parliament went on unabated till 1998, so long as it was in the Opposition. But these efforts did not help the BJP emerge out of its political isolation.
However, these subversive efforts assumed a new dimension with the NDA government’s assumption of office in 1998. The dubious political and ideological premise which separated the BJP from its allies was promised to be relegated to the backburner on the eve of the elections. When questioned by the media on the absence of controversial issues like the reconstruction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, or scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution at the time of the release of the NDA’s common election manifesto, Vajpayee pointedly stated that the NDA, if voted to power, would have nothing to do with these issues.
The so-called secular allies of the BJP and NDA allowed themselves to suffer the self–delusion that the BJP was abandoning these issues for good. This was despite the fact that the Hindutva brigade did not make any secret about merely putting them on hold and not really abandoning them. But opportunism and lust for power prevailed in so far as the thinking of these so–called allies was concerned. To start with, the BJP was cautious and gave the impression that it was genuinely sensitive to the allies’ concern over the controversial issues. But as and when the vulnerabilities of these allies were exposed, the BJP went on the offensive, more so, after the NDA was re–elected to office in 1999.
The first major issue in its attempt to subvert the parliamentary system started with the efforts in securing endorsement for the Gujarat government’s decision to allow its employees the freedom to associate with the RSS. This was in complete contravention of the existing rules. The Opposition wanted the government to advise the Gujarat government to reverse this decision. Not only the Opposition, even a section of the NDA put its foot down, rubbishing the bid of BJP leaders at the Centre to pretend they did not wish to interfere or undermine the ‘legitimate authority’ of a state government.
The protest against this led to the stoppage of normal transaction of business in both houses of Parliament. In the face of such strong resistance, the government had to relent and appropriate advice was communicated to the Gujarat government, leading to the scrapping of the latter’s earlier order.
The next major confrontation was sparked off by Vajpayee’s infamous assertion that the ‘reconstruction of the Ram Temple was an expression of national sentiment.’ The debate on this dubious statement by the Prime Minister brought out the hypocritical commitment of the BJP to keep Hindutva agenda out of the government’s ambit. The Opposition did well to expose the sham and the Rajya Sabha, where the Opposition was in majority, voted a resolution disapproving the Prime Minister’s statement. But the flip side of this development was that so-called secular allies with otherwise impeccable credentials steeped in non–Brahminical Dravidian ideology like the DMK, MDMK or PMK sided with the government over such a crude expression of Hindutva.
The Ayodhya issue also saw government efforts at making the construction of the Ram Temple a part of the government’s agenda by offering legitimacy to the shiladaan program sponsored by the VHP and the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas even as the matter remains pending before the Supreme Court. It is the Prime Minister who gave legitimacy to the VHP’s pernicious design by promising it a deadline on the issue.
Having thus allowed the drift and once again put the entire nation on tenterhooks, the Prime Minister justified the action of the attorney general making the government a party to a religious ceremony.
Another major attempt at undermining secularism as the mainstay of state policy by the Hindutva forces is related to its series of actions aimed at saffronising education. Be it the question of withdrawal of manuscripts edited by secular historians for the ‘India Wins Freedom’ series or rewriting of NCERT history text books or framing of the national curriculum policy, Union minister for human resources development, Murli Manohar Joshi misled the Parliament and the nation with half-truths and plain lies. That the Opposition nailed these lies is a different issue.
But the most serious of all attempts to subvert Parliament by the Hindutva forces was over the Gujarat development.In the first week of March itself, the treasury benches refused to accept the terming of the indiscriminate looting, killings, arson, rape of the hapless minorities in Gujarat as state–sponsored genocide. All important ministers of the government, particularly LK Advani and Arun Jaitley justified Narendra Modi’s infamous "every action has an opposition reaction" theory, linking the communal carnage to the Godhra incident. Gaping holes in the government’s line of argument can be identified in the three debates which have taken place so far in Parliament on the subject. Attacks on independent institutions like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National Commission for Minorities have been major features of the government’s stand. On the floor of the House, Jaitley defended intolerance of the media, like the blocking of Star News coverage of the Gujarat genocide. Venkaiah Naidu was so enraged over facts quoted from the special issue of Communalism Combat on Gujarat that he demanded an immediate banning of the publication. Only a reminder that it is a legitimately published magazine brought him to his senses. The contradictory facts over the Godhra incident also bear testimony to the government’s attempts at subverting Parliament. Notwithstanding the government’s most blatant attempts to shield the Modi government and the indefensible acts of the Hindutva forces in Gujarat, the NDA–government ultimately had to be a party to a resolution in the Rajya Sabha accepting the failure of the Gujarat government and its own inaction.
To conclude, as long as the Hindutva forces are not ideologically weeded out from the body politic, the threat of Hindutva subverting Parliament will be real. The legislature and its capacity to assert its independence flow from the executive’s accountability. This is how the makers of the Constitution conceived the parliamentary system in our country. Given the obnoxious record of the BJP and the Hindutva forces, the threat is all the more serious.
In democracies the world over, the functioning of the legislature is inseparably linked to the functioning of a free press reflecting truthfully the development and proceedings in Parliament. Therefore, in the coming days, vigilance has to be redoubled to safeguard Parliament from such pernicious attempts at subversion.
(The writer is a CPI(M) MP in the Rajya Sabha).
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