By 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)
I saw a recent interview by eminent journalist Karan Thapar of Arghya Sengupta, research director of Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy on his book ‘The Colonial Constitution’, and I regret to say that I found Dr Sengupta’s views superficial and inane.
The thrust of Dr Sengupta’s argument is that the basic defect in the Indian Constitution of 1950 is that it does not devolve power to the people. In other words, it gives too much power to the Central Government, which towers over the people, and therefore it is broadly a repetition of the colonial Government of India Act, 1935 made by the British rulers.
But the vast majority of the Indian people are casteist and communal, with backward mindsets. Devolving power to them really means devolving power on people with feudal mindsets (as Karan rightly pointed out in the interview when talking of village panchayats and local bodies). Should power be given to such people?
The Constitution has set up a system of parliamentary democracy, but everyone knows that in India this largely runs on the basis of caste and communal vote banks.
Casteism and communalism are feudal forces, which must be destroyed if India is to progress, but parliamentary democracy further entrenches them. How can India progress under this system? Dr Sengupta simply ignores this aspect.
India is perpetually in election mode. Apart from the Central Government, there are 28 states and 8 Union territories in India, and the moment one election ends, preparations for the next one somewhere or the other begin.
The current focus is on the 2024 parliamentary and state elections that start in December (Mizoram) and go up to the end of January (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana.
Our politicians, who are experts in manipulating elections, constantly go around polarizing society, and whipping up casteism and communalism to win elections, paying little attention to the people’s welfare.
The fundamental flaw in the Indian Constitution is that it has set up parliamentary democracy, which ensures that India remains semi feudal and backward. Dr Sengupta does not deal with this, and yet advocates modernity, which is a contradiction because parliamentary democracy ensures that India does not modernize.
To set up a modern Constitution is only possible after a mighty historical united people’s struggle, led by patriotic, modern minded leaders, which will be protracted, and in which tremendous sacrifices will have to be made.
As to who will be those patriotic leaders determined to raise the standard of living of our people and give them decent lives, how will that struggle be conducted, how much time will it take to achieve success, what will be the alternative to parliamentary democracy under which India will rapidly industrialise and modernise, etc no one can predict.
One cannot be rigid about historical forms. The enlightened sections of the people will have to use their creativity in solving these problems.
The Constitution of 1950 no doubt gave to the people certain fundamental rights, which were not there in the Govt of India Act, 1935. But these were only political rights, not economic ones.
In India there is massive poverty, record and rising unemployment, appalling level of child malnutrition ( Global Hunger Index has said that every second child in India is malnourished ), skyrocketing prices of food and other essential commodities, almost total lack of proper healthcare and good education for the masses, etc.
Moreover, even the political rights often exist only on paper, as they are rarely enforced. After all, the Constitution is only a piece of paper, but the ground realities are very different.
Many people who criticize the government are arrested and jailed for long periods on concocted charges. Atrocities are often committed on minorities.
Dr Sengupta is totally wrong when he advocates decentralisation. In fact we need a strong central government if we wish to solve our basic socio-economic problems, but this must consist of modern minded patriotic persons.
Karan gave the example of the Meiji Restoration in Japan in 1868 which led to modernisation and emergence of Japan as a modern industrial country.
The real rulers during the Meiji Restoration was not the Emperor but his handful of advisers who were modern minded people determined to transform Japan from a feudal country under the Shoguns to a modern country. This was not done democratically by taking the consent of the people by elections.
Similarly, Mustafa Kemal, who was an army general who staged a coup in 1922 and deposed the Sultan and Khalifa, and then destroyed feudalism in Turkey forcibly, not by elections.
In fact if elections had been held, most Turks, who were then feudal minded, would have opposed abolition of sharia, suppression of the clergy, and emancipation of women.
Since most of our people are backward with feudal mindsets we must have a central government which ‘towers over the people’ (to use Dr Sengupta’s words), but such a government must consist of patriotic modern minded persons. Devolution of power to the people means keeping India backward, semi feudal and poor.