India, a democracy of 1.4 billion people, celebrates its Republic Day, one of three major national days, on 26 January every year. While Indians celebrate Independence Day as the day of gaining freedom from British Colonialism, Republic Day marks the adoption of the Indian Constitution as a free nation. This year is the 75th anniversary of India’s Constitution coming into effect.
The Indian Constitution is the longest written national constitution in the world, reflecting the diversity in this vast democracy. The Constitution is the supreme law of this land, which even the parliament is not allowed to overrule, barring limited exceptions. Heavily inspired by constitutions of other countries around the world, including those of the United States, France, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, the Indian Constitution declares India a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, federal parliamentary republic. It assures its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty? and endeavors to promote fraternity among its diverse communities and citizens.
As reality stands today, 75 years later, most of these values remain on paper and are absent from the everyday life of the common man and woman. To demonstrate this, we will look at three specific recent events – suspensions of Members of Parliament (18 December 2023), ongoing conflict in the North Eastern state of Manipur (3 May 2023 – ongoing), and the opening of a new temple in the city of Ayodhya (22 January 2024). We will examine how the values set out by the Constituent Assembly are kept in practice or not.
- The suspension of 141 Members of Parliament on 18 December 2023
In response to a security breach in India’s parliament on December 13, 2023, where intruders set off colored gas, shouted slogans and disrupted proceedings, tensions escalated as opposition MPs demanded accountability. The breach occurred on the 22nd anniversary of a previous militant attack on the parliament. The government suspended a total of 141 lawmakers, 18% of the total number of MPs, accusing them of disrupting parliamentary proceedings. The opposition, mainly part of the INDIA alliance, criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for attacking democracy. The breach suspects were charged under anti-terror laws, with reports suggesting their frustration with government policies. The opposition, suspended for the rest of the winter session, alleged a deliberate attempt to stifle questions and pass bills without debate.
The suspended lawmakers sought a debate on the security lapse and a statement from Home Minister Amit Shah. However, the Modi government rebuked the opposition, promising an investigation while refusing a parliamentary debate. Critics, including opposition MPs, labeled the mass suspensions as a mockery of democracy and part of Modi’s authoritarian style. The opposition claimed a purge to pass bills without meaningful debate and shield the ruling BJP MP linked to the security breach. The government countered, accusing the opposition of disrupting parliamentary functioning, disrespecting authorities, and employing a pre-planned strategy. Analysts questioned the move’s political motivation, emphasizing the potential misuse of institutions against opposition leaders.
The MPs who were suspended did violate the rule cited, but it is a common happening in the Indian parliament, and never before have so many members been suspended in a single day or even a single session. Leaving aside the merits in this act on either side, let’s look at what followed the suspension: The Home Minister, who refused to address the MPs when they were demanding so, was going to “friendly” media channels and other public events, addressing the security issue; he only avoided taking responsibility inside the parliament. Further, the Home Minister did not enter the House when demanded to do so but was present immediately on the next day of suspension coming into force. The government, using these suspensions of 141 MPs, passed several very important bills without any discussion, including three bills that seek to replace the entire criminal code of this nation. These three bills were described by sections of society as making India a “police state,” as some laws are worse than the original code written by the British colonizers.
The parliament has already been treated like a rubber stamp for many years, but this particular session crossed all limits. The three bills that revamped the entire criminal code saw little to no relevant discussion, with most MPs of the ruling party saying nothing of importance, or even relevance. The worst example of this was when a MP from Uttarakhand, Dr. Kalpana Saini, read out a poem singing laurels of the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, and the Finance Minister.
- The conflict in the Indian state of Manipur, ongoing since May 2023
Ethnic violence has erupted in Manipur, India, between the Meitei majority and Kuki minority, escalating into what some describe as a civil war. The conflict has resulted in at least 180 deaths, 400 injuries, and over 60,000 displaced people. This is heavily undercounted data figures, as the state government has frequently cut off all communication channels, media, and the internet for long periods to avoid any larger backlash and publicity of the issue nationwide. The Meitei and Kuki clash stems from disputes over tribal status, land and influence.
One incident that showcases the severity of the situation was when a video emerged in July 2023 of two Kuki women who were gang-raped and paraded naked in front of huge mobs. Even though a complaint had been filed on the very same day of the incident, 4 May, the state police (under Meitei leadership) took no action until 21 July, when the video got viral and severe criticism poured in from everywhere. It took more than 2 months for the police to act on such a heinous crime against humanity. The Kukis have accused the state Chief Minister (head of state government, member of Modi’s BJP), who is a Meitei himself, of siding with the Meiteis in the conflict, rather than staying neutral and helping resolve the conflict.
The conflict has severely impacted businesses and entrepreneurs, causing extensive economic losses. With so many deaths, homes and places of worship destroyed, and thousands displaced, the state faces a dire situation. Retail inflation is high, and an internet shutdown compounds economic challenges. The violence has paralyzed the economy, with businesses experiencing over 70% losses. Entrepreneurs have been forced to lay off employees, and the violence has disrupted traditional business activities. The tourism sector, once thriving, has collapsed, leading to predictions of economic stagnation. Economic recovery will require comprehensive government intervention.
The Prime Minister, who has generally tweeted and shared his opinion on all major happenings in the nation and worldwide, has refused to utter a single word on Manipur since when the violence broke out. He only addressed this once in parliament, when the opposition forced him to do so, by bringing in a No-Confidence Motion, in a completely inadequate manner, and tried to deflect the whole attention from this massive crisis comparing it with much smaller incidents in opposition-ruled states.
- A Hindu Temple opening in the city of Ayodhya on 22 January 2024
On 22 January 2024, the Prime Minister of secular India presided over the opening ceremony of a new Hindu temple in the city of Ayodhya. This marked the end of a contentious journey that began with the demolition on 6 December 1992 of the 16th-century Babri Mosque that stood on the same ground as the new temple, and the court case between the Hindu and Muslim communities dating at least 140 years before that. The first judge in the Ayodhya dispute was a British-appointed judge in the then British colony of India.
Tensions arose from the belief among many Hindus that the mosque had been built on the birthplace of Lord Ram. The demolition of Babri Mosque and the communal violence that ensued leading to the death of thousands, has been a defining moment in India’s history. After years of legal battles, the Supreme Court in 2019 awarded the disputed land to Hindus, allowing the construction of the Ram Temple. The concept of a mosque being “not integral to Islam” was remarked by the Supreme Court in 1994, reinforcing the Hindu claim. The decision also mentioned that the mosque’s demolition was against the rule of law.
The new temple’s grandeur is part of a multi-billion-dollar makeover of Ayodhya, transforming it into a “Hindu Vatican.” The timing of the temple’s opening, months before general elections, is seen by critics as a strategic move by the Prime Minister to rally Hindu nationalist support. The city’s transformation includes expanded infrastructure, a new airport, railway station, and the demolition of homes and structures to widen pilgrim corridors. Critics accuse the government and the ruling BJP of violating the secular nature of India’s Constitution by supporting a religious event. The Muslim community expresses concern over the government’s lack of outreach and assurances regarding potential tensions. For Muslims, especially in Ayodhya, the new temple’s opening ceremony evokes fear and painful memories, anticipating tensions as Hindu devotees from across India flood the city.
While many express joy at the construction of the temple, locals also voice concerns about the impact of the city’s transformation. Residents displaced by demolitions claim inadequate compensation and lament the toll on their homes. The makeover has sparked a mix of emotions, with some appreciating the economic boost and others feeling their lives have been disrupted. Despite the events being a source of pain, some locals believe in the historical interdependence between Hindus and Muslims in Ayodhya.
Hinduism is the majority religion in India, a supermajority, actually, as Hindus comprise over 80% of the population, but the Constitution was drafted with the principle of separation of government and religion front and center. This principle has been violated by many leaders in India, by almost every government since Independence in one way or the other. However, Ayodhya is an extreme case.
Further after opening the temple, the Prime Minister gave a long speech, full of rhetoric and talking about the virtues of Lord Ram, the deity of the temple, all of which were violated in building the same temple. Out of everything he said, one sentence deserves to be more heavily criticized: “Ram is the aadhar of India.” Loosely translated, it would mean Ram is the basis of India. This is completely untrue; the Indian constitution specifies India to be a secular state, in its very first page, the Preamble.
India has seen a violation of the Constitution and its values by most governments since Independence; I have only counted the latest ones, which also happen to be some of the worst violations. For a majority of Indians, everyday life has hardly changed post-Independence, with the only exception being that the ruling elite in this land are no more foreign Britishers (as British people are referred to in India), but Indians who are still using power and privilege to get their way, very similar to how Britishers controlled India for their gains.
The Constitution of India – https://legislative.gov.in/constitution-of-india/