Changing republic

When the Indian republic is at an inflection point of 60 years of age, it is poised at the crossroads of remarkable achievements and difficult challenges. Through six decades of its working, the republican idea has taken deep roots but has also been adapting itself to a fast-changing social and political environment. The Constitution that we gave unto ourselves three years after gaining independence laid down the basic structure of state and the processes of governance that we aspired for. While independence is a state of being, the republican framework is an act of becoming. Independence meant freedom, but the republic defined it, ordered it and shaped it, moving the idea of the nation to the reality of the state. The reality has undergone changes but it still holds itself on its own against internally-generated pressures and externally-induced threats.

The basic democratic idea of governance did not fail except during the brief interregnum of the emergency years. Emergency was an attempt to tame the forces unleashed by a democratic Constitution by suspending it. But the failure of emergency was itself proof that a diverse country where millions of aspirations and mutinies are rising by the day could not be ruled without the mediating role of the rule of law, assurance of justice and room for self-expression. That has fortified the democratic structure but the content has seen compromises down the years.

The democratic space has expanded through statutory empowerment of local self-government structures, rightful access to public information and better guarantees of basic rights. But the changes have not often been real and they have not always translated into a better life for most of the people. Political and official corruption threatens the moral imperatives of governance, the organs of state have lost much value and credibility and institutions have weakened. The party system has decayed. There is disintegration of larger social and political collectives and the rise of individualism unregulated by a sense of common purpose. The republic does not have sway over large parts of the country.

There is a crisis of faith and legitimacy haunting the republic and weakening its core. But its sustenance over six decades is itself proof of its strength and durability. It has been accommodative and flexible enough to respond to changes. It still represents, however imperfectly, the democratic idea and the will of the people. Expanding it and deepening it is the challenge in the coming years and decades.

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