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Time for Another Extraordinary Press Conference

Hiren Gohain |
The flagrant attacks on democratic freedoms have not met with serious resistance in the legislature.

Representational Use Only.

I have been eagerly scanning press reports on proceedings of Parliament for reports on the recent extraordinary developments that camouflage most serious irregularities and illegalities by government as patriotic laws and strict compliance with the writ of the Constitution. I have been sadly disappointed.

There is admittedly shortage in time. Many pressing and urgent issues have to be dealt with within a short span of time, which has again to be further “curtailed” owing to the pandemic. But the issues mentioned above are not less, if not more, important. Particularly the gross misuse of the UAPA and other black laws. Some people who today crow over their role in the fight against the Emergency conveniently forget that they had then actually fought a despotic regime precisely for the same reasons, i.e. its suborning of the democratic state.

There have been some stirring moments, for example MP Mohua Maitra’s impassioned and irrefutable questioning of the Centre’s financial responsibilities and obligations. But it is still regrettable that the flagrant attacks on democratic freedoms have not met with serious resistance in the legislature. The Centre is using loopholes in the VII Schedule to arrogate to itself most of the limited powers of states and undermine those implicit norms in our judicial system where everything cannot be written down to leave only the shell of rule of law intact.

The Congress is rather uncomfortable with this kind of role, predictably and unfortunately. It is haunted by ghosts from the past. For dizzy with power, they had taken the first steps, however shame-facedly, in this hazardous direction. UAPA, TADA, and many minor bending of rules owe their origin to their craving for power and urge to appease the moneybags. The soft Hindutva they pandered to opened the doors to the more ferocious and remorseless varieties. Some senior leaders had lately broken ranks to hail certain draconian measures of the current government.

But there is no reason on earth why they cannot make a clean breast of it and promise to mend their ways. They can still embrace democratic principles in governance before they go on to clean up the party, which they have long been promising to do. In this hour of peril for our Constitution they can still win credibility and wider mass support with such a commitment. But they do not seem interested and are banking on the BJP’s growing unpopularity and missteps to crawl back to power. When power becomes the magnet and the cement it becomes much easier for the BJP to lure away disaffected leaders and members. The 23 senior leaders who appealed for clear democratic elections for party offices and posts have actually overlooked the far more urgent ideological urgency. It is to be sure fairly evident that some Congress-minded social activists have also been in the forefront of the fight and they yield to none in sincerity and seriousness of purpose. So the record is not all blank.

There is some ground for wondering if the ties with monopoly capital that they themselves had sponsored and nurtured, and that has now switched loyalties to the saffronista as the latter makes it easier for them to get their way, is the real reason for their hesitations in this critical battle for democracy. But that is a shadowy region and I lack the tools to light it up. I leave it as a mere hunch for further investigation.

This brings me to a tactical move from civil society that might yet deliver some good results. Justice AP Shah’s courageous and forthright call to the highest judiciary to awaken from slumber to save the democratic state from collapse under insidious but relentless attack by authoritarian forces does revive the dying embers of hope. Maybe the moment for another press-conference by eminent and qualified judicial figures with no political axe to grind has arrived!

The author is a socio-political commentator and cultural critic. The views are personal.

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