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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 4 January 27, 2024

75th Republic Day Marks the Traumatic Transmutation of "Democratic" India into "Hindu" India!? | Sukla Sen

Saturday 27 January 2024, by Sukla Sen


A brand new state, independent "India", emerged — out of and covering a major chunk of the erstwhile British India — shedding the shackles of a century-old direct foreign imperial rule as the successful culmination of around three decades-long mass participatory epic freedom movement on August 15 1947.

On January 26 1950, it, in due course, became a "sovereign republic" and adopted a (dynamic) Constitution meant to embody the democratic, egalitarian and humanistic values espoused and nurtured by the freedom movement.

A tumultuous and yet momentous journey commenced.

A very engaging story — of multidirectional intense contests between various opposing forces representing uplifting forward looking aspirations and instinctive urges to recede back into the womb of darkness of the past.

To start with, Indian independence came bundled with the hugely traumatic Partition of the British Indian state, on the basis of religious identities, giving rise to gory bestial violence – perpetrated and suffered by all the three major religious communities involved viz. Hindu, Muslim and Sikh – on a humongous scale.

On top of that, the putative Father of the (Infant) Nation, fighting a valiant battle, virtually single-handed, against the tidal wave of violence triggered by the Partition, would therefore be assassinated by a fanatic Hindu group, in less than six months since Independence. Yet another traumatising shock.

Regardless, Independent India would come up with an elaborate and exhaustive Constitution in less than two years and a half. The document, of course, resembled the Government of India Act, 1935 dished out by the erstwhile colonial ruler – in order to stem the rising ride of popular unrest. But, that must not obfuscate the major departures made. First of all, the new tome formalised the momentous transition of the colonial state into a sovereign independent one. The other most remarkable feature is that the Constitution, very much unlike in the past, provided for universal adult suffrage. Additionally, the document offered a special section on Fundamental Rights; a Preamble – laying out the essential aims and objectives of the document; Directive Principles. Etc. etc.
The actual nationwide poll – a gigantic and elaborate affair in a vast and mind-bogglingly diverse country like India – would be successfully conducted in less than five years since Independence.

Things, however, started going palpably sour in the sixties. The decade virtually commenced with a big military humiliation of the country at the hands of its much bigger neighbour triggered by an impetuous armed clash, as is now more than evident, pretty unwisely initiated by an utterly unprepared India. As a consequence, the towering figure of the first Prime Minister suffered grievous loss of prestige and credibility – nationally and globally. Presumably, under the shock, he would die in less than two years. Even though the ruling Congress could avert the much anticipated chaos, in ’67, it lost in quite a few state polls. Quite unthinkable even a while earlier. That year also saw the rise of left-wing armed revolts in a number of states, which are yet to completely die down.

However, it’s the next decade that would see significantly greater tumult. In order to reverse the (long-term) decline of Congress, Nehru’s daughter Indira, fortuitously then in command, adopted quite a radical pro-poor stance, to the chagrin of the entrenched organisation bosses and eventually split the grand old party. Despite very remarkable initial success, by the middle of the decade, popular unrest rose to a crescendo and in an abrupt move, as the immediate response to a deeply debilitating court order, she imposed an (internal) Emergency – dispatching Indian “democracy” to deep freeze, even if not the morgue outright. That was an extremely traumatic development. Apart from other things, the pathetic frailness of the India’s, much vaunted democratic, institutions — including the judicial structure — got painfully exposed. Mercifully, the period lasted only a little over a year and a half. Not because of any popular resistance – in fact there was hardly any in sight – but because of a serious misjudgement on the part of the author of the Emergency. In order to re-establish her democratic credentials, she announced a general election – anticipating virtually a clear field without any worthwhile opposition. The outcome, however, would turn out to be just stunning. She got roundly defeated.

The severe trauma of Emergency, triggered, at its end, the era of rebound to “democracy”. One highly significant development during this period was the ground-breaking Bommai Judgement delivered by the re-energised Supreme Court, in 1994, that put an end to the hostile Central government’s arbitrary removal of state governments at the drop of a hat and immensely reinforced the federal element in the Indian state structure. And this phase would reach its peak during the UPA-I and II (2004 – 2014). Here are some Acts legislated during this period:

(A) Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI).

(B) National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (MGNREGA)

(C) Forest Rights Act, 2006).

(D) ’Right to Education Act — RTE (or Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act). (Passed in 2009.)

(E) National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 (NGT).

(F) Substantive amendment in the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Act, 1984 - the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

(G) Right to Food Act (or the National Food Security Act, 2013).

(H) The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 (or the Lokpal Act).

Quite paradoxically, darkness, however, would again start descending at the very high noon of Indian “democracy” – signalling the final end of that era. In 2004, “the butcher of Gujarat”, Narendra Modi – the solitary one on this plant to have an academic degree in “Entire Political Science” — got ensconced in the chair of the Indian Prime Minister, once decorated by no less than the illustrious Jawaharlal Nehru. He inaugurated his first term somewhat cautiously with beef banning and lynching of Muslims spiking sharply. The term was ended with extremely rash “Balakot” – an air raid against a nuclear neighbour, unprecedented in history. That, however, brought in extremely rich electoral dividend and he would be back with a very sweeping victory. And the real horror story would start almost immediately unfolding with the effective scrapping of Article 370 and turning the whole of Kashmir virtually into an open jail for months together. And, only last month, a firebrand opposition MP was stripped of her parliamentary membership via a sort of mock “process”. In fact, a little while ago something quite similar had been done to the Opposition mascot Rahul Gandhi too – reminding one very much of the “democratic” methods in Russia under Putin. In any case, the permanent expulsion of Moitra was almost immediately followed up with (temporary?) expulsion of as many as 146 MPs – from both the Houses. Something undreamt of till then. The crucial, and highly controversial, Act as regards appointment, powers and terms of service of the Chief Election Commissioner, and his colleagues, was passed by the Parliament with virtually emptied Opposition benches.

Never mind. Cut to the very immediate present, on Jan. 22 2024, the incumbent Prime Minister, a standard-bearer of an ideological-political tradition that had completely shunned the epic freedom struggle and is bitterly fighting its ideology — especially the ideal of a composite and inclusive nationalism also graphically emblazoned on the tricolour national flag and delightfully celebrated in the national anthem — with its own brand of exclusivist "Hindu" nationalism since the very inception back in 1925, inaugurated, as the Prime Minister of India, an under-construction (grand) Hindu temple at the site of an illegally demolished, by way of a carefully choreographed wanton act of mob violence, of a historic Muslim mosque built back in 1528 riding on the highly dubious claim that there had existed a Ram Temple earlier.

The inauguration is, to be sure, also an act of ritual celebration of the act of gross criminality some thirty-one years ago.

The Prime Minister quite boastfully, and rather truthfully, announced to the world that the occasion marked the launch of an altogether "New Era".

Obviously, the "New" actually stands for "Dark".

Just four days thereafter follows the 75th Republic Day.

A Necessary Footnote:

The fight for restoration of the "India" that had been born on August 15 1947, together with the associated dreams, is, however, just not yet over.

And it’s never over till it’s over.

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