I am speaking on behalf of the Constitutional Conduct Group of former Civil Servants and People-First Movement who have expressed strong solidarity with the farmers and the causes for which they are struggling. I will deal with the subject with a bit of historical perspective.
‘Emergency’ declared in June 1975 extinguished freedom and liberty in a large and vibrant democracy. With presidential proclamation under Article 352, Fundamental Rights were suspended. Part III of the Constitution stood ravaged.
This ‘Emergency’ had ripped apart the delicately crafted and carefully nurtured fabric of India’s democracy. As the Civil Rights stalwart Rajni Kothari put it: “It was a state off-limits, a government that hijacked the whole edifice of the state, a ruling party and leader who in effect treated the state as their personal estate. It was the imposition of a highly concentrated apparatus of power on a fundamentally federal society and the turning over of this centralised apparatus for personal survival and family aggrandisement. It was one big swoop overtaking the whole country spreading a psychosis of fear and terror with the new upstarts storming away through whatever came their way, pulling it all down and calling boo to it all. And it happened in this country after 28 years of democratic functioning”.
Though the nation recovered in 21 months because of the free and fair election held in 1977, Emergency’s deep wounds still persist. India’s democracy had diminished substantially.
The neo-liberal era that commenced in early nineties ravaged the concept of ‘welfare state’ as embedded in the Directive Principles of State Policy (Part IV of the Constitution). These are guidelines to the governments to be kept in mind while framing laws and policies. They are the instruments of instructions in the governance of the country. Directive principles are classified as social & economic charter, social security charter & community welfare charter. The principles laid down therein are considered fundamental in the governance of the country, making it the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws to establish a just society in the country.
The cardinal principles of state policy that ushered India as a ‘welfare state” are: 1. That the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means to livelihood; 2. That the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to sub serve the common good; 3. That the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment.
Abandonment of welfare state in the last about 30 years has resulted in extreme concentration of wealth and socio-economic iniquities in the country. The richest 10% of Indians own over 75% of the country’s wealth and the bottom 60%, own less than 5%. The super-rich 1% own 51.5%. India is the second most inequitable country in the world. Wealth of Indian billionaires rose by Rs 2,200 crore a day in 2018 and is continuously going up. While millions sink below poverty, and do not know from where their next meal will come from, number of billionaires has been growing faster than ever.
Post 2014, particularly post the 2019 Parliament election and more so during the past nine months of pandemic curfew, both Part III and Part IV of the Constitution stand ravaged and decimated. The laws enacted during this period and policies brought forward has shrunk democracy almost to the point of extinction. In the recent years and months, India’s democracy has been called into question by international watchdogs. In the 2019 Democracy Index released by the intelligence unit of The Economist Group, London, India had slipped by 10 ranks to 51st position -- a big downgrade. The Index categorised India under “flawed democracies.”
Post Parliament Election-2019 there has been a sharp decline. The 2020 'Democracy Report' by the V-Dem Institute based at the University of Gothenburg puts India in the league of countries who have seen significant slides into authoritarianism. India's democratic process is 'on a Path of Steep Decline', the Report says.
This is because the basic structure of the Constitution (Fundamental Rights and Federalism) is under severe assault and free and fair elections have become the thing of the past.
As to the economy, this government has been deliberately pumping, promoting and enriching a bunch of rich Oligarchs. The CEO of Niti Aayog, Prime Minister’s Think Tank has spilt the beans: “For the first time in India, a government has thought big in terms of size and scale and said we want to produce global champions. Nobody had the political will and the courage to say that we want to support five companies who want to be global champions. Everyone used to say … I want to support everyone in India, I want to get votes from everyone.” But this “Global championship of Oligarchs” is not happening fast the way Prime Minister wanted, because India had “too much democracy”.
Sum and substance is that Government should finish off everything small—Agriculture, Industry, Commerce, Trade, Informal Sector (i.e. 80% of India)—and propitiate only the big by transferring wealth and public assets to a few Oligarchs. The laws and policies mooted by Niti Ayog and being implemented by the government bear testimony to this. Farming laws, which has led to the massive farmer unrest, form important part of this devious agenda. So are the laws and policies concerning Infrastructure, Electricity, Labour, Public Sector, Education, Banking, Livestock, Marine resources and other areas unleashed since 2014.
In the event the Oligarchs are gloating and bloating while the nation and the vast majority of its people shrink and shrivel. The Economist, the most respected global magazine recently reported that the net worth of Mukesh Ambani had gone up by 350% since November 2016. The net worth of Gautam Adani has gone up by 750% in the same period. And all this happened in an economy that has been in decline and, particularly so during the pandemic curfew that has turned India into a nation of starving millions.
Part III is the heart of India’s Constitution and Part IV its lungs. With the heart and lungs virtually gone what is left of the body?!
In the event, one has a lurking premonition that India is heading towards a “Failed State” as defined by Robert Rothberg in his seminal book, "When States Fail: Causes and Consequences”:
"Failed states offer unparalleled economic opportunity - but only for a privileged few. Those around the ruler or ruling oligarchy grow richer while their less fortunate brethren starve…. The privilege of making real money when everything else is deteriorating is confined to clients of the ruling elite.... The nation-state's responsibility to maximise the well-being and prosperity of all its citizens is conspicuously absent, if it ever existed.... Corruption flourishes in many states, but in failed states it often does so on an unusually destructive scale. There is widespread petty or lubricating corruption as a matter of course, but escalating levels of venal corruption mark failed states."
With its democracy 'on a Path of Steep Decline' and its economy turning predatory and Oligarchic, India is heading towards being a ‘failed state’. One can’t even comprehend that a nation wherein live one-sixth of the human race is facing such humongous predicament. This is what happens when inspired by fascist forces, country’s Constitution is under continuous assault and passing through one crisis after another. This cannot be countenanced and it is time “We, The People” must rise and stand as one to uphold our Constitution and defend our democracy.
The humble and self-effacing farmers have risen up and are leading the way. And let us all follow… Truly so as Savant Thiruvalluvar has said in his immortal Tamil Classic Thirukkural: “uzhudhundu vaazhvare vazhvar, matrellore thozhundu pin selbavar (Only those who plough the land live and lead, all else follow with folded hands).”
Bravo, the Brave farmers. May God be with you all….
(M G Devasahayam is a former Army and IAS Officer. The speech was delivered in Janata Parliament. The views are personal.)