Democratic India Will Not Brook Legalised Dictatorship
by Dipankar Bhattacharya

As India observed the 76th anniversary of independence, PM Narendra Modi turned his tenth Independence Day address from Lal Qila into yet another desperate election speech. His tired rhetoric against corruption and dynastic politics only revealed his growing fear of the rising anger of the people and the emerging signs of political unity against his fascist rule. Even his boastful claim of returning after the next elections to inaugurate the projects whose foundation stones he has already laid gave away his fear that the ground beneath his feet was slipping everyday. For 'we, the people of India' this only means that the coming days will be witnessing more brazen attacks on the constitutional foundation of India's parliamentary democracy and the composite culture of India's diverse social fabric.

The signs of this intensifying war could not be more explicit. The entire monsoon session of Parliament witnessed the Modi regime's utter contempt for parliamentary democracy and the growing push to imprison India in a legalised dictatorship. The Prime Minister increasingly behaves like an emperor who treats the Parliament as his court or darbar with BJP MPs hailing him with their loud 'Modi-Modi' chants. The way the PM avoided the Parliament while remaining present in the Parliament building and its vicinity was itself a clear sign. It must be seen as an unprecedented crisis of parliamentary democracy that the opposition had to table a no-confidence motion only to bring the PM to the house.

More than symbolism, we must of course focus on the substance of the bills being placed and passed in Parliament. The Delhi bill which could be passed in the Rajya Sabha only because two major regional ruling parties like BJD of Odisha and YSRCP of Andhra Pradesh sided with the government was a brutal blow to the federal framework. The regional parties which supported this bill treating it as a special Delhi-specific bill committed the same blunder that the AAP had committed in August 2019 when it endorsed the denial of the constitutional rights of Jammu and Kashmir as a 'special case' only to find itself at the receiving end four years later.

The Delhi bill was not the only step the government took in this session to counter a verdict of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court. In March this year, the Supreme Court had issued an order regarding the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and other members of the Election Commission. To ensure the autonomy and neutrality of the Election Commission, which in turn is a prerequisite for the credibility of the entire electoral exercise, the Supreme Court had mandated a three-member selection committee comprising the Prime Minister, leader of opposition or leader of the largest opposition party and the Chief Justice of India. The Modi government has now tabled a bill to replace the Chief Justice of India with a cabinet minister nominated by the PM! In other words, the executive will have complete control over the appointment of a crucial constitutional body like the Election Commission.

The most sinister blow to the legal architecture of the country was delivered on the last day of the monsoon session when Home Minister placed three bills to replace the existing Indian Penal Code (1860), Criminal Procedure Code (1974) and the Indian Evidence Act (1872) with what the government would like to call Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita, Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita and Bharatiya Sakshya Bill. Only four months ago Minister of State for Home Affairs had informed Parliament that the expert committee looking into the issue of legal reforms would undertake wide-ranging consultations with all stakeholders including chief ministers of all states, governors and lieutenant governors, Chief Justice of India and Chief Justices of High Courts, Bar Councils, universities and law schools and all members of Parliament before finalising its recommendations and hence the process would take time. Yet without any public record of the promised extensive consultations, the government has now placed all the three bills proposing sweeping and sinister reforms with completely misleading claims!

The government would like us to believe that the new codes would put an end to the colonial legacy and mindset and prioritise justice over punishment. But a closer look at the provisions of the bills rebuts the claim and makes it clear that the idea is to arm the state with sweeping powers to undermine the individual and collective rights of citizens, and sap democracy of its lifeblood - the right of the people to question and oppose government policies and fight for change and justice. . To take just two examples, the police will now have an extended custody of 60 to 90 days instead of the current norm of 15 days; and the word 'sedition' would be dropped only to expand the potential for criminalising virtually every mode of dissent as a 'terrorist activity'.

By increasingly concentrating all powers in the hands of the executive the government is daily undermining the federal framework and the autonomy of constitutional bodies and the balance of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary. Now with the proposed bills, citizens will be stripped of the very spirit of liberty and rights. In other words, the cherished Hindu Rashtra of the Sangh brigade will not only reduce Muslims and other minorities to second-grade citizens, it will sound the death knell of the very idea of a free citizenry and transform constitutionally empowered citizenship into colonial-era subjecthood, all in the name ending the colonial legacy! This is why Babasaheb Ambedkar had termed 'bhakti in politics' the surest road to dictatorship and warned against Hindu Raj becoming a reality in India by calling it the greatest calamity for this country.

Even as Narendra Modi waxed eloquent against corruption and called his government a scam-free regime, we now have CAG reports exposing scams in virtually every department of the government. The Dwarka Expressway has recorded a fourteen-fold cost overrun, spending 250 crore rupees per kilometre against the sanctioned estimate of Rs 18 crore per km. The much hyped Ayushman Bharat stands exposed as a scam-ridden scheme with a whopping 750,000 beneficiaries registered against one single mobile number 9999999999, and huge sums withdrawn in the name of deceased patients and missing hospitals. Funds meant for old age pensions have been found diverted to run Modi government's publicity campaigns. Irregularities have once again surfaced in the Ayodhya development project with contractors benefiting in the name of Swadesh Darshan pilgrimage scheme.

We are now in the tenth year of the Modi government. The ten years have already taken a huge toll in every sphere of governance, ruining and retarding India on a scale that has made a mockery of the dreams of our freedom fighters, the principles of the Constitution and the aspirations and rights of billion-plus Indians. From Manipur to Haryana, the rule of law has given way to state-sponsored campaigns of ethnic cleansing and targeted bulldozing. It is time for India to draw strength and inspiration from the great anti-colonial battle for freedom to stop the chain of disasters unleashed by the Modi regime on all fronts of life and free India from fascist destruction.

Democratic India Will Not Brook Legalised Dictatorship