So what’s right with our republic?

Thinkers and opinion leaders in Bengaluru talk about what the Constitution has achieved, and what it still needs to achieve. Special feature for R-Day

The 70th Republic Day is here. On a day that honours the Constitution, we ask experts what’s right with the Indian republic, and where it is going wrong. Here is what they say:


Dr Nataraj Huliyar

Dr Nataraj Huliyar

Director, Centre for Gandhian Studies, Bangalore University. He is also an acclaimed writer of fiction in Kannada, and has several award-winning books to his credit.

‘Some are meddling with Constitution’

“Before submitting the final draft of the Constitution, Dr B R Ambekar, chairman of the drafting committee, said: ‘On January 26, 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality… We must remove the contradiction at the earliest moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which (the Constituent) Assembly has built up.’

The republic has never stopped addressing issues related to social justice, no matter which party heads the government, and that is mainly because of the compulsions of the Constitution. But glaring socio-economic inequality has continued to stay and is growing.

For the past few decades, groups with vested interests have attempted to meddle with the Constitution. But at the same time, strong voices have emerged from liberal political, cultural and academic circles and people’s movements. Of late, rightist and communal forces have been trying to undo the provisions of the Constitution. Extreme left groups that believe in violence as a means to achieve justice also keep defying the Constitution. Communal groups, sometimes with the covert support of the ruling classes, have also defied Supreme Court rulings. One such attempt was the resistance to the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple.

I firmly believe the Constitution of India, hailed as one of the best constitutions in the world, will withstand all onslaughts from time to time.”


Alice Mathew

Alice Mathew

Associate professor, political science, Mount Carmel College Autonomous. Her research interests include defence and development, indigenisation of India’s defence production, and empowerment of local self-governments.

‘We are an inclusive society’

“India’s success with democracy is admirable and this is because of the Constitution; few less developed countries have had such a good track record of democracy. As a republic, we have failed to address the needs of the poor; we need to work on education and healthcare. Grassroots democracy is key to this. Efforts are being made to undermine the fundamental tenets of the Constitution. Hopefully, we will be able to resist this, as we did during the Emergency. Federalism is weakening, and states feel schemes and policies are being thrust on them by the Centre.
The country is keeping up with the tradition and ethos of secularism and diversity. We are an inclusive society and have always believed in accommodating everyone and creating space for everyone.”


Nitin Pai

Nitin Pai

Director, Takshashila Institution, independent centre for research and education in public policy. A pioneer in public policy education in India, he is also deeply interested in foreign policy and defence economics.

‘We don’t stand up for others’

“We need structural reforms liberalising land ownership, labour, capital and knowledge and we need to restructure and strengthen the government. We need to create 20 million jobs a year and build sustainable cities. Yet, the political narratives are all from 1989---temple, reservations, price control. Federalism is under strain: states that have done well in human development seem to lack political power at the federal level. National leaders need to manage these problems in a statesmanlike manner.

For the first time in two millennia, every citizen in the country is equal. The flattening of a deeply hierarchical, divided society is the biggest achievement.

But, the republic has not been able to drive home the idea of the individual being a unit of society. Citizens have become inconsiderate; we lack compassion and are unwilling to stand up for others’ rights. We only protest when our own interests are threatened.”


Vasanth Shetty

Vasanth Shetty

Runs Munnota Book Store, Basavangudi, predominantly featuring titles on federalism. His team is simplifying science education in Kannada and popularising Kannada-medium education.

‘Language policies hamper federal setup’

The Preamble says justice, liberty, equality and fraternity are the four key values that guard the republic. When we talk about equality, the idea of federalism comes into the picture. We are very diverse; we are not a people but the peoples of India. We all came together keeping the Constitution of India in mind. But some things are not in keeping with federal aspirations.

Language policies laid down in the Constitution, in Articles 343 to 351, make it mandatory to use Hindi in all spheres. But why should a train ticket from Mysuru to Shimoga be printed in Hindi and not in Kannada? Why should IT filing and bank challans be in English and Hindi and not in the official language of the state? This nurtures a feeling of language inequality. With more centralisation, institutions become weaker. Our republic is lacking because of this.


Alok Prasanna Kumar

Alok Prasanna Kumar

Senior resident fellow, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. He has practised as an advocate in areas of taxation law, constitutional law and administrative law. He writes regularly on the judiciary and Constitutional law and theory.

‘Governance structures need change’

Federalism in India is at an interesting stage. On the one hand, in the last 30 years, the Supreme Court has dramatically changed its approach to federalism, and empowered states more and more. There has also been a pushback from the Centre, trying to centralise things more. In a federal system, the different levels are centre, state, city and panchayat. In our system, the cities and panchayats are dependent on the state, even if it is a big city like Bengaluru. We continue to have free and fair elections, and more and more parties are emerging. People are trying to improve governance, build unity and develop the nation. We are still failing in building robust institutions that think in terms of public interest and the law.”

 

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