There is a feeling of resolve and energy flowing through the country, finding expression in a dharna here, a street art exhibition there, and huge determined marches everywhere. In cities and towns, people, especially women who have never participated in a public programme, are spending days and nights together in a new found sense of fraternity and purpose. Marches of thousands are seen, the tricolour waving in abundance, and huge (or small) photographs of Babasaheb Ambedkar and drawings of an open book–the Constitution–being carried aloft. The Preamble to the Constitution, a beautifully written promise of what the people had resolved and promised to give to themselves, in the new era of hope after the hated British rulers were thrown out, is being read out in gatherings.
Indians had never before so actively, and emotionally, shown their deep love for the document. And, this, one needs to remember, as the Republic completes its 70th year on January 26, 2020.
There is an irony though, as often happens. This outpouring for safeguarding the Constitution is happening because it is under threat. Under the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Janata Party government which just rode back to power last year for its second term, the values of this Constitution are being systematically chipped away, eroded and cast aside. These have been well-documented and had drawn protests from those directly affected. In different states, people fought against violations of constitutional norms for dealing with electoral imbroglios, or roles played by Governors acting as henchmen of the Centre. People protested against dismantling of economic architecture built for self-reliance and economic sovereignty. There were agitations for defence of dalits and adivasis, protected by the Constitution. Voices were raised against the hollowing out or subversion of constitutional bodies ranging from the Supreme Court to the Election Commission.
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But these were episodic, scattered and drowned out by the hegemony of the Modi-led government with its powerful propaganda machine and populist appeals.
However, events in the past few months changed all that. A new zest was seen in the government to push ahead with a number of the pillars of RSS ideology, which wants to convert India into a Hindu Nation, defined by what it thinks is a unity of religion, race, language and culture. It’s a scary vision, a nightmare. When it started dawning on people that this is what they had got in the bargain when they voted Modi and his party back into power, ripples of discontent started spreading.
Over and above this, the growing economic distress and the proven inability of the Modi government to resolve it so that people get some relief, contributed to a disillusionment. The rhetoric of ‘nationalism’ and ‘military might’ and ‘fastest growing economy’ and the vishwa guru (world leader) image started feeling sour and somehow dishonest.
Then, in August last year, the country had seen the impunity with which the constitutionally guaranteed autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir had been killed and the erstwhile state was divided into two Union Territories, governed directly by central fiat. It was clear that the intention and will to change the Constitution on the lines directed by RSS was there.
The final straw, so to speak, came when a new law changing citizenship norms was passed by the brute majority of BJP in Parliament in December last year. It fast tracked the granting of citizenship to members of six religious communities but not to Muslims. It was immediately seen for what it really was – an open subversion of the Constitution, which not only upholds secularism, but also equality of all irrespective of caste or creed, before law. Detention centres for illegal infiltrators from neighbouring countries have been built. It was announced by the Home Minister himself in Parliament that a National Register of Citizens will be made, so that we finally get to know who is Indian and who is an infiltrator. It was clear that the country was going to be plunged into a storm of strife, with an authoritarian government rolling up its sleeves to beat down and suppress any dissent.
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They are going to destroy the Constitution, and the country – that was the fear that spread across the vast country like a wildfire. And, this has sparked the unprecedented protests against the CAA and NRC that have been going on for over one and a half months.
What these protests have done goes beyond, much beyond the fight to defend the Constitution. They have shown that there is a vast young generation of Indians, mostly students, who are very clearly committed to modern thinking, to democracy and social justice, and to secularism. Who would have thought that students protests against CAA-NRC would erupt in over 60 universities and premier institutions of the country?
The public gatherings in defence of the Constitution have brought out thousands of women, including a large number from Muslim community, but also among students and other sections. This too was unheard of till now. Their indomitable spirit, their resolve and most of all, their understanding of the Constitution is breathtakingly lucid. It is as if a hidden treasure of diamonds has been revealed in this struggle.
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And, it should not be forgotten that only a couple of weeks ago, lakhs of workers, employees and even farmers and landless labourers, struck work not only for their demands, but also to prominently uphold the threatened Constitution, decrying attempts to tamper with its core values. This action blew to smithereens the lie that workers only fight for their economic demands – here they were on the streets fighting for a much larger political and social issue.
Perhaps crucially, apart from various protest events, groups of young people are going among the people, talking and explaining the looming threat posed by Modi government and RSS, discussing the nitty gritty of NRC process, sharing ideas with them of the India that should be built. It’s an arduous process, but the dedication is inspiring.
This churning of Indian people, the blossoming of their innate consciousness about what is good for the country and society and what is bad, the courage of those who have faced police repression and harassment – this is what makes this Republic Day so special and worth cherishing. In what are usually described as dark times, it is the glowing light of dawn for India.
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