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Delhi: Former Judges, Lawyers Accuse the Current Government of Undermining Democracy and Constitution

Mukund Jha |
Translated by Amit Sheokand
Save Constitution, Save Democracy Convention. "Attempts are being made to convert a democratic state into a Hindu fascist state," Justice Gowda.

On Saturday, January 7, former Supreme Court judges and senior lawyers organised a national convention on the growing threats to the Constitution and democracy. Former Supreme Court Judge V Gopal Gowda even went so far as to say that the present ruling country is engaged in making a Hindu Rashtra. He did not stop there; he said that the present government reminds him of the early atmosphere of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Professors, other former judges, lawyers and journalists also participated in the discussion. 

The convention was jointly organised by the All India Lawyers Union (AILU), Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) and Democratic Teachers Front (DTF) and its main theme was "Save Constitution, Save Democracy". 

The convention was addressed by former Supreme Court Judge Justice V Gopal Gowda, former High Court Judge Rekha Sharma, former High Court Judge Justice UB Shah, Senior Advocate Raju Ramachandran, Senior Advocate Indira Jaising, DUJ President and Senior Journalist SK Pandey, DUJ General Secretary Sujatha Madhuk, DTF leader Nandita Narayan, Rajya Sabha MP and AILU President Bikash Bhattacharya and AILU General Secretary and Senior Advocate PV Surendranath. 

Current Indian Politics Reminds of Pakistan and Afghanistan: Gowda

Gowda strongly attacked the present dispensation and said that during the last eight years, liberty, equality and fraternity have been under major threat due to the rise of right-wing forces in the society, and the democratic state is being converted into a Hindu fascist state.

"Independent observers of the executive like the CAG and the Election Commission have been turned into extended arms of the central government."

The former Justice said that today the minorities in the country are scared. Stating that free and fair elections are no longer held in the country, he said, "Elections have become an event to legitimise right-wing rhetoric forces coming to power. A huge social and economic crisis has arisen for them. Historically disadvantaged groups such as tribal Muslims are in fear for their existence."

Along with this, regarding the decision of demonetisation, he said that the Central government had directed to pass the resolution of RBI. Complimenting Justice BV Nagaratna for her "dissent" in the post-demonetisation hearing, Gowda said, "She was the only Justice who showed courage and conviction in upholding constitutional democracy in this country."

Along with this, he also attacked many economic policies of the Central government, saying that this government imposed decisions like lockdowns, which did not give time to the state governments and even the country's people to prepare. After this, small industries were closed, and the country has not been able to recover from that economic crisis to date. Although the number of billionaires increased during COVID, during the same time, lakhs of people have also gone below the poverty line.

Along with this, he also called EWS (Economically Weaker Sections) reservation against the basic concept of the Constitution.

In his speech, Gowda also criticised the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) and NRC (National Register of Citizens) as ploys to change the very basis of the secular republic in India. At the same time, he also expressed concern about the misuse of the office of the Governor to undermine the powers of the elected governments.

He said the Supreme Court refused to hear important matters related to Article 370 and electoral bonds. Along with this, he also raised serious questions on the independence of the Election Commission and gave two examples. In the first instance, the Election Commission delayed the announcement of the Gujarat elections because the Prime Minister had to announce something. Second, the hasty disqualification of AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) MLAs in Delhi. However, later the decision of the Commission was rejected by the Supreme Court.

Before concluding the speech, he said, "The current Indian politics is on a path that reminds me of the first decade of Pakistan and Afghanistan. That's why the campaign to save the Constitution and democracy is very important."

Continuous Mixing of State and Religion is Dangerous for Democracy: Ram Chandran

Speaking at the convention, senior advocate Raju Ramachandran said the continued conflation of the state (government) and religion is dangerous for India's democracy. 

"Open adoption of temples by people sitting on constitutional posts makes you think what is state and what is religion?" 

Ramachandran said, "If the judges do not rise to the occasion, then it is our duty as lawyers to fight the battles that we fight in the courts now and through our meetings and statements outside the courts. Let us do our work."

Giving examples of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Ramachandran said that in the states which are ruled by opposition parties, governors are being appointed to prevent those governments from working, to obstruct their work, which is extremely dangerous for democracy."

Government Deliberately Ignoring the Constitution: Jaisingh

Senior advocate Indira Jaising said at the beginning of her speech that she is feeling some fatigue on this issue.

"We have been talking about saving the Constitution and democracy since 2014, but we are still on the defensive mode. I don't know when we'll be in offensive mode!"

Jaisingh said that the ruling party is deliberately ignoring the Constitution. She said, "We can fight against the changes or tampering being done in the Constitution, but they are simply ignoring the Constitution of India."

She further says, "It is a big challenge before us that how do you deal with a ruling dispensation which is ignoring the Constitution of India."

She further clarifies what she means by 'ignoring the Constitution'. 

"We all know that the Constitution was the result of the struggle of the freedom movement. It was known as the 'Rule of Law'. Today the 'Rule of Law' is being ignored. And we need to answer this question. Let's face it, are we a 'rule of law country? I don't think we are!"

Addressing the lawyers sitting in the hall, Jaisingh said, "As lawyers, we have a very big role to play in protecting the Constitution. We need to come together."

She said, "There were two important incidents when the Constitution of India was attacked. One was during the emergency, and the other started in 2014. I think it is important for us to understand the difference between these two attacks."

Jaising said, "The emergency of 1975 gave us a big blow. The legitimacy of all our protests and the legacy of our struggles were brutally put to an end when the emergency was declared. The emergency changed our understanding of liberal democracy. We saw the end of liberal democracy. Despite its efforts, the emergency did not succeed in invalidating the Constitution. On the contrary, the emergency and the struggle against it further strengthened the Constitution, as both sides claimed they were defending liberal democracy."

Jaisingh said, "After 2014, the ruling party says in all their statements that they do not believe in liberal democracy. They try to convince us that the freedom struggle never happened, but it is happening now. As per them, all our rights and democratic practices emanate from the Vedas, and we are in the continuance that the word secularism should be removed from the Constitution, and we should be governed by cultural nationalism instead of the Constitution."

Jaising later said, "The emergency was on a piece of paper, and we could have fought it in a court of law, but not now."

Pointing to the role of judges after 2014, Jaising said, "I have noticed that some of our judges have also started speaking in their language." 

Along with this, she also marked the attack on the constitutional institutions and said, "Nowadays, the judges of the Supreme Court are saying that the RBI and the government cannot remain separate while the Constitution itself has kept them separate. Tomorrow they can say that the Central government and the Election Commission also cannot stay aloof."

Modi Government Curtailing our Freedoms: Journalists

Journalist SK Pandey said, "It is true that the situation is worse now. This government is continuously attacking journalism. A journalist is locked in UP jail for doing his work. Along with this, trade union rights have been abolished. The union has been thrown out of the press, undermining the fight for journalists."

Gowda also spoke for the journalists and said there had been a decrease in media freedom in the country; for this, Gowda cited some reports. He referred to the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh and the arrest of journalist Siddiqui Kappan. He also questioned the stand of the court. 

He said, "A journalist from Mumbai was arrested, and the Supreme Court granted him bail in a day even though his bail plea was pending in the trial court. But when Kappan's case came, the Supreme Court rejected his petition, saying that his trial was going on in the lower court.

Sujata said, "We all abuse the media today, but we must understand why this happened. All this has been done since neo-liberalism with complete planning. First, our union was institutionalised. Then The contract system was introduced, which changed the nature of the entire media."

Pandey further said, "Earlier, there were some royal courtiers, but today almost all media organisations are government spokespersons. Nowadays, only a few websites are right on the scale of journalism; the government is targeting only them. That's why today, we have to hold joint meetings, and struggles are needed.

People Being Jailed for Speaking Their Minds: Nandita Narain

Nandita Narayan, former president of the Delhi University Teachers Association, who attended the convention, said, "Today, this government is making every effort to suppress the voice of protest. Earlier, there was a place to speak, but today there is jail for speaking. Today the government has made protesting itself a crime."

Along with this, she also discussed how attacks have increased in the field of education and said, "Earlier, foreign educational institutions were not allowed to earn money in our country, but with a notification, the government has allowed foreign institutions to earn money. Along with this, this government is trying to destroy the entire education system in the name of digital education, while the experience of the whole world regarding digital education has been bad. Even after this, the government is doing this to bring down the quality of education so that people cannot read or think."

She said, "This government, which is looking at everything from the point of view of making profits, is nothing but the second incarnation of the East India Company.

Justice UB Shah said, "Today, the question is whether we are free. Even after 75 years of independence, we have to ask this question; it is very unfortunate." 

He also told the people sitting in the judiciary that we should not understand this.

He further says, "Opposition should be respected in a democracy. But today, no one is allowed to speak even in the House. This is an attack on democracy and the Constitution, and we must save it."

Bikas Bhattacharya said, "The voice of protest is the lifeblood of democracy. If we do not respect it, democracy will not survive. 'Freedom of thought and expression' is necessary."

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