by BA and Venkatesh Sundaram
Source of image: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/indicators/indias-unemployment-rate-continues-to-hover-above-24/articleshow/75998561.cms
The annual Republic Day Celebrations start a couple of days before January 26 and end soon after. In 2022, this will take place against the 50h Anniversary of the formation of Bangladesh and the 1971 War in which Pakistan signed the Instrument of Surrender. It is an opportunity for the ruling circles of India to brag about their military prowess and their supposed pride of place in the regional chess board and an opportunity to impress upon the peoples of India and region of the `manifest destiny’ of India as being the regional superpower especially to the east and to the south and in the Indian Ocean region. It is an opportunity to showcase the military might of the Armed Forces of the country with the customary parades to the peoples of India and the region. The Republic Day furnishes an opportunity to bolster the impression that all is well in India and that it is justified in being an important player in world affairs, especially based on its military and strategic strength. But it is also an event which should make us think – what exactly have the people of our country achieved when India was made a Republic?
Republic Day marks the occasion of the coming into effect of the Constitution passed by the Constituent Assembly, which incidentally was not based on Universal Suffrage. India was proclaimed to be a Republic, no longer a Dominion or even a member of the Commonwealth with the monarch of the United Kingdom as its’ head of state, but a President. Although the Constitution claims to be speaking in the name of the entire people of India the people do not even have the most rudimentary political powers, let alone the power to initiate legislation. Only elected representatives have decision-making power, and in practice they implement policies that advance the interests of the super-rich and not the majority of the Indian people. Supreme political power resides in the Cabinet headed by the Prime Minister. The President of India nominally retains the power akin to the British Monarch, but is duty bound to listen to the advice of the Cabinet.
Though universal adult franchise was guaranteed by the Constitution, the way in which the Westminster system of multi-party democracy has been implemented ensures that it is the writ of the richest that runs, no matter which party comes to power. The richest and mightiest in India who fund the electoral parties ensure that elections bring in governments which implement policies to ensure that they get richer and more powerful, while the people of India remain completely disempowered. As the scale of exploitation escalates and as the gap between the rich and poor worsens, India now has the dubious distinction of being a country with one of the most glaring disparities in wealth and income distribution. The country has sunk in terms of all indicators, and the people of India in any poll are found to be amongst the unhappiest in the world.
In recent years, the people of the country having been facing even more terrible conditions, worsened by the pandemic. Across the length and breadth of the country men and women are struggling to make ends meet, children are suffering from lack of proper schooling. The pathetic condition of public health care was highlighted last year during the ‘second wave’ of the pandemic, with hundreds of thousands of people dying and tens of thousands thrown into destitution. On the other hand, the wealth of the richest sections has increased by leaps and bounds, even during the pandemic! This should make it clear as to whose interests have been and are being served in the present Republic of India.
The government has had to take back the Farm Laws in the face of the determined struggle by the farmers of India and ruling circles are devising methods to break the fighting unity of the people. The government at the Centre as wells as in many states have enacted regressive labour laws and codes. The Union government is trying to push ahead with its’ program of privatisation, of selling the assets created by public wealth and labour at a pittance to super-rich.
It is noteworthy that while the Constitution of the Indian Republic protects the “right” of the super-rich to accumulate and multiply their wealth, it does not guarantee human rights or democratic rights. The right to work and livelihood is not recognised. On the other hand.
Preventive Detention Laws like UAPA are used to terrorise people. Thousands of political activists are rotting in jails accused of being “terrorists”, “separatists” or “anti-national”.
All this should make us reflect seriously on the state of affairs and the way ahead. It is clear that the Republic has not worked to the advantage of the vast majority of people of the country. Neither has the Constitution ensured basic human rights or even dignity. Should we not have a system where people have political power in the real sense – rather than being only able to push a button once every few years? Should we not have representatives who are accountable to the people they are supposed to represent, rather than the super-rich who fund political parties which later work in their interests? Should we not have the right to select the candidates for election and be able to recall the representatives at any time? Should people not have the right to propose, approve, reject, or amend laws and policies? Should the economy not be reoriented from one which ensures that the super-rich inevitably get richer and more powerful, to one which ensures the material and cultural needs of society at large? Should we not have a constitution which actually guarantees, with enabling mechanisms, human rights including the right to livelihood, education, health care, and the right to conscience? On the occasion of the seventy-second Republic Day, we need to think about all of these, and as well, the way to achieve these.