On January 26th ceremonious parades will take place in Rajpath, and the might of the Indian army, navy and air force will be on display.
What is the real meaning of a republic? According to popular definition, a republic is a country where supreme power is held by the people.
The word ‘Republic’ takes its origins from the latin ‘res publica’ which means a state in which power rests with the people.
There is a need for introspection today whether the Indian Republic, which has completed 73 years, really vests political power in the hands of the people.
Today’s India cannot be called a republic if we go by the true meaning of the term. The gap between the rich and poor has been widening all these years. People are subjected to severe unemployment, rising prices and deprivation of even basic needs. Economic measures such as the imposition of back-breaking taxes and privatisation of essential public services have pushed people to desperation. Black laws such as UAPA and the National Security Act are used to quell any dissent and opposition to the existing state of affairs. Legislation such as farm laws and labour codes have been designed to impose the will of the big monopoly houses on workers and farmers.
According to the Indian Constitution, supreme power resides in the hands of the President and a small coterie of ministers. The political process is dominated by the political parties of the ruling elite who use money and muscle power to keep the people marginalised in the political process. In fact they act as gatekeepers to political power, making sure that people are kept as far away from political power and decision-making as possible. Democracy has been reduced to conducting elections periodically with people having the right to vote and nothing else. They neither have control over their elected representatives nor do they have any role in running the affairs of the country.
While drafting the Indian Constitution, members of the Constituent Assembly, argued on these issues. A few members professed that the rich Indian experience, at least 2600 years long, of building republics and democratic systems should not be ignored. But the broader view of placing faith in the British institutions prevailed.
A s Subhash Kashyap, former Secretary-General of Lok Sabha and a Constitutional expert put it, ‘the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution were fascinated by British Parliamentary institutions and aspired to have the same for themselves in India. They said goodbye to British rule, but embraced the colonial model of governance’.
The Constituent Assembly did not represent the entire people of India. They represented only the educated and propertied classes. It was not in the interest of this section to do away with the colonial system, which had oppressed the Indian people for more than 200 years. The Constitution makers placed their faith in the Westminster system of democracy, a system which had enabled Britain to colonise more than half the globe. They retained the legal framework of English laws which were used to subjugate the people of the colonies.
This was totally contrary to the wishes of those who fought in the freedom movement with the aim of liberating their country from colonial enslavement. Countless martyrs sacrificed their lives in the freedom movement with the aim to overthrow colonial rule and install in its place a democratic system where sovereign power resides in the people; that irrespective of religion, caste, creed, colour or sex and irrespective of the level of education and profession, all are equal in the eyes of law; that each individual is capable of governing one self and of managing ones own affairs and that of the country. In their vision, in a democracy, people are their own masters; they have an inalienable right to be both the ruler and the ruled.
But, as Subhash Kashyap points out, the Constitution makers decided that direct popular democracy is not possible in the modern world. He says ‘modern democracy thus has of necessity to be indirect representative democracy whereunder government is carried on and laws are made by elected representatives of the people.’ This means that instead of rendering democracy modern and entrusting power in the hands of people, the Constitution makers took the regressive step of depriving the people of political power and placing it in the hands of ‘elected representatives’ who actually represent parties of the status quo and are funded by the big monopoly houses to protect and advance their interests. From among the elected representatives, a few are chosen to be members of the Cabinet who head the executive with overarching powers to draft legislation and rule by decree.
Introspection of the experience of the past 73 years lead us to the conclusion that the present system and its political process needs to be thoroughly overhauled. It has become imperative today to work towards a political process, a system of democracy and a form of government that are in tune with the aspirations of a modern world. In this system, sovereignty will reside in the hands of people. They will be both the ruler and the ruled. Such a situation will be a source of inspiration for peoples all over the world who today are coming forward with their problems and seeking solutions.