Heed CJI’s words, before it’s too late

Heed CJI’s words, before it’s too late

Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi addresses the inaugural function of Constitution Day celebrations, in New Delhi, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. (PTI Photo)

The words of the Chief Justice of India, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, which underlined the primacy of the Constitution in the national life and in the lives of every citizen of the country, are relevant at a time when it is facing serious challenges. The CJI made his observations on Constitution Day, November 26, the day the Constitution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly in 1949. He said that it was in the interest of the nation to heed the ethics and morality of the Constitution, as “otherwise our hubris will result in a descent into chaos’’. It represents the voice of the marginalised as well as the prudence of the majority, and its wisdom continues to guide us in moments of crisis and stability. Quoting John Stuart Mill, the CJI also issued a warning against the citizens surrendering their liberties at the feet of a ‘great man’ and against trusting him with power “which enables him to subvert institutions’’. 

The Constitution is the organising principle of the republic and it is the rock on which the democratic structure has been built. Every idea that the CJI expressed is timely because the Constitution is under stress in the country and some of it cardinal values are being flouted and sought to be debunked. The chaos that Justice Gogoi spoke of may be seen in the vigilante actions against minorities and weaker sections and in the failure of governments to take action against the attackers. In place of the prudence of the majority, majoritarianism is being promoted and encouraged. The caution against mortgaging freedoms to a leader is especially relevant when one leader is presented as a superhuman. Concentration of power in one individual leads to subversion of institutions which support and sustain democracy. The country once paid dearly for its trust in one person, but the people managed to win back their freedom and the Constitution. The mistake should not be repeated. 

Justice Gogoi's warning comes when there is a threat of overthrow of the rule of law, with the campaign for the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya being pushed and driven by supporters of the ruling party and the government. A Supreme Court order which grants equality to women is being opposed in Sabarimala. The courts are told not to issue orders that are “not implementable” because they are not in accord with the ruling party’s ideology. Assertions are being made that faith is above the Constitution. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will do well to heed the CJI’s warning if he does not want his tenure in office to be the period when India began its descent into chaos. The Constitution, which holds the country together, should not be undermined. 

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