Justice Markandey Katju-
Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.
Two of the foremost political thinkers of the world were the British thinker John Locke ( 1632-1704 ) and the French thinker Jean Jacques Rousseau ( 1712-78 ). Both advocated the social contract theory, which was a secular theory in contrast to the theory of the divine right of kings, which was a religious theory as it said that the King should always be obeyed as he was the viceroy of God. But there was a vital difference between Locke and Rousseau.
Locke proclaimed the theory of ‘natural rights’ of the people which even a King could not violate ( see his ‘Second Treatise on Civil Government ‘. He placed particular emphasis on the right to property and upheld the unlimited accumulation of wealth by individuals. Locke never spoke for the poor, while Rousseau always championed their cause.
In his ‘ Discourse on Inequality ‘ Rousseau writes ” It is plainly contrary to the law of nature, however, defined, that the privileged few should gorge themselves with superfluities, while the starving multitudes are deprived of the bare necessities of life”.
Rousseau saw that all talk of natural rights, which Locke propagated, was meaningless to a person who is poor, for poverty is destructive of all rights. What do freedom of speech, liberty, formal equality, etc mean to a man who is poor, hungry or unemployed ? They mean nothing.
The truth is that in India hundreds of millions of our people are denied the right to have a decent human life as a result of abject poverty and unavailability of basic necessities such as food, jobs, water, shelter, good education and proper healthcare, and thus stripped of human dignity.
The level of child malnutrition in India is appalling ( almost every second child in India is malnourished, according to Global Hunger Index ), and 50% of our women are anemic. There is record and rising unemployment in India, skyrocketing prices, and widespread farmers’ distress ( between 350,000 to 400,000 of our farmers have committed suicide due to indebtedness ), and the Indian economy is sinking.
I am not a Marxist, but how can one justify a situation where 7 individuals in India own wealth equal to the total wealth of the bottom 50% of our 1350 million people?
Before the Industrial Revolution which began in England in the mid 18th century, there were feudal and tribal societies everywhere. The methods of production in feudal society were so backward and primitive that very little wealth could be generated by them. So only a handful of people ( kings, aristocrats, etc ) could be rich, while the masses had to live in horrible poverty.
This situation has drastically changed after the Industrial Revolution. Now the modern industry is so powerful and so big that enough wealth can be generated to give a decent life to everyone on earth, and no one need be poor.
Yet, despite this unique situation that has arisen in world history, the fact is that about 75% of the world’s people, including those in the Indian subcontinent, are poor.
Even before the covid crisis the Indian economy was in doldrums, but after it came it has tanked, causing horrible misery to the vast majority of our people.
In his State of the Union Address delivered on 11th January 1944 US President Franklin Roosevelt proposed a Second Bill of Rights, which were socio-economic rights of jobs, food, healthcare, etc, as he strongly felt that the existing Bill of Rights in the US Constitution, which gave only political and legal rights to Americans, were clearly inadequate to redress the plight of the people.
India no doubt has fundamental rights in its Constitution, e.g. freedom of speech, liberty, equality, etc but these are only political and legal rights, while socio-economic rights, such as those envisaged by President Roosevelt, are in the part called ‘Directive Principles of State Policy’ which have been specifically made unenforceable vide Article 37.
The time has come to make them enforceable, but this is not possible within the present system. A French Revolution in India is therefore inevitable.