Ambedkar’s Worst Fears Come True
Image courtesy: Wikimedia commons
While commemorating the birth anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar, one is painfully conscious that he would have been shattered to see members of Parliament of the ruling party purposefully stall the proceedings of the Budget Session in Parliament. There has been a long history of Opposition MPs disturbing the proceedings of State legislatures and Parliament. Never have ruling party MPs paralysed its functioning in such a concerted way. Ambedkar famously said in the Constituent Assembly that Parliament belonged to the Opposition. The role of elected BJP leaders in denying the Opposition benches to question the Treasury on the alleged nexus between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and tycoon Gautam Adani, blamed in the Hindenburg Research report of manipulating share prices, is highly condemnable.
On 18 May 1949, RK Sidhwa, a distinguished Member of the Constituent Assembly, flagged the general apprehension that ministers reluctant to face the legislature would avoid summoning its sessions. Ambedkar responded that during the British rule over India, the legislature was convened primarily to collect revenue. The executive was not keen to allow the questioning of day-to-day administration or laws to remove social grievances. He described the situation as a “travesty of democracy” and said, “I do not think any executive would hereafter be capable of showing this kind of callous conduct towards the legislature.”
Seventy-three years after Ambedkar’s hopeful words about how democratic and free India would function, the executive fully controlled by the BJP is proving him wrong. The phrase “travesty of democracy” has been shockingly replayed in Budget sessions when the Opposition was stopped from raising questions. Budget proposals dealing with revenue collection running into lakhs of crores were passed in Parliament without discussion.
The accountability of the executive to the legislature is central to India’s parliamentary democracy. It is a part of the Constitution’s basic structure, which cannot be amended or deleted.
Attack on Basic Structure of Constitution
The basic structure doctrine was never questioned, let alone attacked by ministers of the ruling party or constitutional functionaries since the Kesvananda Bharati judgement of the Supreme Court. But now, it has been attacked by none other than the Union Law and Justice Minister Kiren Rijiju. Jagdeep Dhankhar, Vice-President and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, is mandated to be impartial and uphold the Constitution, yet he, too, has led such attacks on the basic structure. Ambedkar would have been bewildered to see such a situation.
Ambedkar Warned of Grammar of Anarchy
In his last speech in the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar presciently said that if constitutional methods were not followed to pursue and achieve the objectives of the Constitution, it would amount to letting a “grammar of anarchy” prevail. Ruling-party Members of Parliament now engage in wilfully paralysing Parliament, creating dreadful apprehensions of the coming of a “grammar of anarchy”. Why are critical functionaries against the constitutional method, which they violate with impunity and make Ambedkar’s worst fears seem true?
Only after the Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud, categorically said that the basic structure of the Constitution is like the North Star, guiding India to uphold the Constitution, that the Law Minister and Chairman, Rajya Sabha, began to refrain from repeating their attacks. However, even some State Governors appointed during the present ruling regime are violating the norms of the constitutional method. Like the President of India, a governor takes an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. But in Punjab, the governor did not approve the Aam Aadmi Party government’s decision to convene the Budget Session in the Assembly. It was in total disregard of the constitutional mandate for a governor to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers of a State.
Strangely, the governor cited the plea that the Chief Minister of the State, Bhagwant Mann, had written to the governor in intemperate language—for this he sought legal opinion regarding convening the Budget Session. Only after the Punjab government moved the Supreme Court on the matter—and just before it was taken up by the apex court for adjudication—the governor signed the file to convene the session.
The Supreme Court noted in this matter that the governor cannot put any conditions to approve the Cabinet’s decision to summon a session of the Assembly, as the Constitution mandates. Other governors have broken away from the norms of the Constitution, and without the Supreme Court’s intervention, the possibility of “grammar of anarchy” taking over the constitutional governance scheme cannot be ruled out.
Ambedkar’s Warning on Boycott of Minorities
In the draft Constitution prepared in 1945, Ambedkar devoted two pages to address the calls to boycott minorities and urged future legislatures to provide stringent deterrent measures to prevent people from giving calls that violate fraternity. The BJP and Hindutva leaders are relentlessly violating that vision of Ambedkar by issuing non-stop calls to boycott Muslims and other minorities. Such alarming developments grimly manifest in the fatal weakening of the Constitution and the ideal of fraternity, which Ambedkar assured was inserted in the Preamble to the Constitution.
For the first time in the history of India, ruling party MPs and constitutional functionaries are aggressively violating Ambedkar’s vision. The need of the hour is to defend our Constitution and the vision of India embodied in it by upholding what Ambedkar called “constitutional morality” in society, polity and the governance scheme.
The author was Officer on Special Duty to President of India KR Narayanan. The views are personal.
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