People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 19, 2007
Radically Transform The Republic
People’s Democracy greets its readers on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of India’s independence.
We had noted earlier that the year 2007 is, indeed, significant from the point of view of India’s history. It marks the 250th anniversary of the battle of Plassey, which decisively consolidated the rule of British East India Company in India. 2007 also marks the 150th anniversary of the great national revolt of 1857, considered by many as the first war of India’s independence. Its defeat consolidated the direct rule of the British Crown for the next 90 years. 2007 is also the birth centenary of one of India’s greatest heroes and revolutionaries Bhagat Singh.
People’s Democracy had announced to commemorate all these events in a series of articles and contributions beginning with the Republic Day issue of 2007. The overwhelming response that we have received from both the contributors and the readers to the 1857 series has encouraged us to continue these observations beyond this issue commemorating the 60th anniversary of our independence.
This special issue is dedicated to strengthening and consolidating the Indian Republic with the specific objective of radically transforming the republic – for the better – in the interest of both the nation and the people.
Accordingly, the focus in this issue is to discuss certain important aspects relating to our experience of these six decades concerning the foundational pillars of our republican Constitution, viz., secular democracy; federalism; economic self-reliance; and social justice. The special articles in this issue discuss these various aspects.
These pillars of the modern republic were constructed out of the experience of forging the national freedom struggle against British colonialism. The Indian freedom movement recognised very early that given the vast diversity and plurality which encompasses all facets of our social existence – linguistic, religious, regional, cultural, customs and traditions etc – the unity of the Indian people and the consolidation of Indian nationalism can only take place on the bedrock of strengthening the bonds of commonality amongst this diversity and not by imposing any uniformity upon this diversity. What emerged is the present reality of India as the union of Indian States, as declared by our Constitution, with 28 states and 7 union administered territories. According to one official estimate, India is a country with 1618 languages (not to speak of thousands of dialects), over 6400 castes, with six major religions, six distinct ethnic groups (not to speak of the various tribal identities) and 29 major religious festivals, the largest in any country of the world.
Indeed, the task of strengthening the unity and integrity of the country with such immensely rich diversity was and will continue to remain a major challenge. It was and will be possible to meet this challenge only when all the social groupings that inhabit our country acquire the confidence that their distinctiveness will be maintained while their equality would be guaranteed. This challenge would only be met when the rights of the minorities of all hues are assiduously protected, when they are treated equally by law and when they have the equality of opportunity. This means the provision of adequate measures to compensate those sections who due to centuries of social oppression and discrimination remained unequal in competing for the available opportunities. The modern India seeks to ensure this through the provision of reservations.
Secular democracy was, is and will remain the only political structure through which such a challenge can be met. In the Indian context, secularism and democracy can neither be separated from each other nor can they exist without each other. Secularism, in strict scientific terms, means the separation of religion from politics and the State. The State, however, vigorously protects the right of an individual to pursue and propagate his/her religious beliefs or choose to be an agnostic or an atheist. Over the years, in practice, secularism has come to be defined in India as the equality of all religions in the eyes of the State. The protection of the rights of the religious minorities is only possible in a set-up where they exercise their democratic right of access to equality of opportunity. This is possible only under a vibrant democracy which ensures and protects the democratic rights of the minorities of all hues. Hence, any attack on the secular democratic foundations of India means a direct attack to demolish the foundations of the modern Indian republic.
During the course of these six decades, many serious challenges had been mounted on secular democracy. The imposition of internal emergency in 1975 saw the formal abrogation of democratic rights and civil liberties. This was preceded by the semi-fascist terror unleashed against radical communist forces particularly in Bengal during the 1970s. This was generalised at the national level with the imposition of emergency. The heroic people’s struggle against the emergency saw the eventual restoration of democracy in 1977. The subsequent emergence of the Left Front governments in West Bengal particularly saw the deepening of democracy with the panchayati raj system taking democracy to the grassroots. The success of this forced the universalisation of the panchayati raj local bodies all across the country through a Constitutional amendment in late 1980s. The subsequent years saw the consolidation of both democratic structures and the democratic consciousness amongst the people.
However, political democracy continues to be grossly distorted through the use of money and muscle power during elections and democratic institutions continue to be eroded through corruption and criminalisation. These are ills that need to be cleansed. The struggle to strengthen our democratic system, thus, must continue with redoubled resolve.
Democracy, in its complete sense, means not merely to grant and protect the political rights of the people but to also provide the people with capabilities and capacities to exercise this right. For instance, while the people may have the right to vote, if they are not provided with education, their capacity to judge and evaluate contesting candidates on the basis of their ideologies and programmes will continue to remain inadequate. Likewise, in many other sectors and areas, India has a long way to go. On this 60th anniversary, we need to strengthen our resolve to empower our people with capacities and capabilities to exercise their democratic rights and, thus, strengthen democracy further.
Secularism continues to remain under assault. During the course of these six decades, the communal forces have sought to stage a come back on the basis of spreading intolerance and hatred through the rousing of communal passions. The last two decades, in particular, have seen horrendous attacks with the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Gujarat communal carnage being the worst expressions. The response in the form of fundamentalist acts of terrorism only fuelled the spread of the communal virus. In fact, majority communalism and minority fundamentalism feed on each other.
In a sense, the battle of contesting and conflicting visions that emerged during the freedom struggle continues today. The mainstream vision led by the Congress during the freedom struggle defined the character of independent India as a secular democratic republic. The Left vision carried this further by seeking to transform the political independence into the economic emancipation of all Indians, i.e., socialism. In complete conflict with these visions emerged a vision that sought to define the character of independent India on the basis of the religious composition of its people. This had a twin expression: the RSS demanding a Hindu Rashtra and the Muslim League demanding an Islamic State. Apart from the terrible consequences that the communal conflicts left behind, ably abetted and assisted by British colonialism in the partition of the country and the consequent communal polarisations, the fact remains that these conflicts continue to plague us even today weakening the process of consolidating the secular democratic republic.
This battle of visions needs to be carried forward with the specific objective of consolidating the secular democratic foundations of the Indian republic. Through these columns, during the course of these observations in 2007, we had repeatedly analysed and brought the attention of our readers to the continuous mounting of challenges by the communal forces. As stated earlier, the true meaning of the 60th anniversary celebrations of our independence lies in redoubling our resolve to defeat the challenges posed by the communal forces and to further strengthen and consolidate the Indian republic.