In 2014 the BJP-led Government came into power at the Centre. The Bharatiya Janata Party got an absolute majority riding on the Modi wave. In a democracy, as it usually happens, this was a somewhat predictable occurrence. The preceding Congress-led UPA government was in power for ten years. Hence a change of hands in 2014 was a normal episode.
The initial ‘honeymoon period’ of Modi’s administration, if one may call it so, lasted through the years 2014-15. In fact, until the announcement of demonetisation in November 2016, many believed that Modi would have eschewed the past years of his human rights violations and misuse of govt institutions in Gujarat and would usher in a magnificent new era in Indian history.
But, post-2016 it became amply clear that Modi government had no intention of mending its old ways. In fact, having gained total control at the Centre, the entire government machinery, constitutional bodies, judiciary, administration witnessed a slow and steady infiltration by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh & BJP as also complaisant cronies and confederates of Modi from Gujarat. A series of violations of the Constitution and trampling of parliamentary democracy ensued thereon with a total disregard for human rights under the guise of controversial legislations like UAPA and the arbitrarily pushed Farm laws (better known as the infamous Black laws).
Even before the euphoria of his 2014 success could wane, the year of 2019 witnessed an even bigger electoral mandate for Modi who secured this landslide majority against the backdrop of Phulwama terrorist attack which claimed the lives of 40 jawans. A thorough investigation of the ghastly incident involving 300 Kgs of RDX and the major security lapse associated with it remains incomplete till date.
In all of this, the most significant example of govt coercion is its blatant abuse of govt institutions and other constitutional bodies for political gains.
In fact, by 2021, one can assert that, not a single institution has been spared from this politico- criminal nexus by way of selective appointments, intimidation and/or lure of plump posts after retirement. IT, ED, NIA, NSA, CBI, NCB and several such institutions started working for the BJP. Be it the Pegasus spyware for cellphones or infiltration of computers by malware to plant key evidences against thinkers and activists to put them behind bars, the entire administrative machinery seems to have wilfully surrendered itself to the BJP.
The most upsetting fact is that, the judiciary – whether the lower courts or the supreme court, is seen to have been taking a cold apathetic, at times a surprisingly ambiguous and frigid stand. At present in our country, thousands of innocent human rights activists, protesting Dalits, righteous Muslim youths, Sikh farmers, peaceful protestors continue to languish in jail over 2-3 years for want of justice. Be it lynching of Muslims, Pegasus issue, Rafale case, PM Cares controversy, Electoral bonds, Phulwama attack, major human rights violations, farmers’ protests, Adani corruption cases, the list seems endless…in all these cases in the last 7 years, the judiciary has failed to perform its constitutionally mandated duties of upholding the rights of common citizens. It displays a rather lackadaisical approach on delivery of justice. On the contrary, the judiciary appears timid, vulnerable and wary of hurting the autocrat.
So what needs to be done in today’s scenario?
Of late, this thought has hounded many, right from grassroots workers to the top brass of our political parties! What can we do while adhering to Gandhiji’s principles of non-violence, truth, non-possession and non-cooperation? Where and how to begin with?
In such alarming times, when the deterioration of political and civil liberties has led to a rapid decline of democracy in our country, a document on the lines of Charter 77, needs to be conceptualised. Charter 77 was an informal civic initiative taken by Vaclav Havel and 9 others from 1977 to 89 in Czechoslovakia calling for the Czech government to live up to its own treaty of obligations for the protection of civil and human rights.
(Vaclav Havel, a rebel playwright went on to become the President of Czechoslovakia, he was awarded the Prize for Freedom of the Liberal International)
Sooner or later this regime will end, and end it will for sure!
Our charter should essentially highlight the stringent measures to be taken against erring officials who have blatantly and unconstitutionally violated human rights.
(These officials include many administrative officers, judges and officers of the Central investigative agencies who carried out “superiors’ orders” in this authoritative regime. The illegal summons and warrants issued have resulted in several years of imprisonment for thinkers and activists) Furthermore, if any of those officers cannot be tried as per above recommendations due to their demise, then the charter should lay down a provision to recover compensation from their kin.
Making of a document of such kind is of prime significance right now. Because, history shows how Nazis were prosecuted during Nuremberg trials in 1945 and many Nazi officials defended themselves claiming that they had persecuted and punished, terrorised, tortured and killed anti-Nazi intellectuals, thinkers, writers, Jews, gypsies and nomads at the behest of their superiors. The defense ended up being rejected.
Our citizens’ charter needs to declare that a “Superior’s orders” cannot and should not absolve any officer of his constitutional duties.
The Nazi officers in Nuremberg trials were sworn in to and by the Fuhrer (Hitler) himself. Hence they were accountable to Hitler.
However, in India, each and every official in judiciary or administration swears by the Indian Constitution, and not by PM Narendra Modi (or his associates!). Thus, every official is accountable to the Constitution, not to any party, individual or his associates.
The Indian Constitution considers the Prime Minister as “first among equals” in the Cabinet. The Constitution does not grant any unlimited power to the prime minister or any of his colleagues. No official or judge can base his decision/judgement on Hindutva or any other philosophy that he might want to believe in, but the Constitution.
Judgements passed arbitrarily impacting the lives of others is a very serious crime. And even if such crimes are covered up by the current regime, the belief that they will be forgiven and forgotten by the next regime, must be squashed vehemently. Such a strong and pointed message needs to be widely spread across the nation.
Now the question arises as to who will write the Charter 2021. Actually speaking, any individual, organisation, or party who loves, respects and has an understanding of Indian independence and liberty can singly or jointly write this charter. Nevertheless, Congress as the principal opposition party must shoulder this responsibility. If Congress believes that it is the main opposition party, it should forthwith release the “Charter 21” document. Also all those political parties who have been victims of this fascist regime should ratify this charter by signing on it. Thereafter, the most important responsibility lies on the civil rights groups, human rights defenders, intellectuals, writers, thinkers and activists who should contribute to the charter as also ensure its widespread reach across the nation.
If Congress as the main opposition party, or any other opposition party delays in drafting this charter, any citizen can come up with this document.
Our Constitution would never construe of an oppressive regime that eclipses freedom of the populace.
Hence it becomes the utmost and prime constitutional duty of all of us, as citizens, to create this charter.
In Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel and his fellow associates initially wrote a five-page charter against the then regime. The charter became a rallying point for opposition to tyranny, as reform minded attitudes of many thinkers were later reflected through additions to the manifesto and this soon turned into a people’s movement. It came to be called as the Velvet revolution , the non violent nationwide protest movement, which was a progression from a petition, the Charter 77.
It is easily possible for activists across our nation to create such a charter and convert it into a manifesto. It can be a step towards embracing Gandhian ethics of truth, nonviolence and non- cooperation. What is important is defending one’s dignity and regaining one’s sense of responsibility. A charter which is born out of a Gandhian grammar of ethicalisation of politics is the need of the hour.
The reason for creating such a charter in a fascist regime is that, truth is being suppressed in the current regime. Government blatantly disregards the principle of non-violence, while everyone else, right from farmers to common activists diligently follow the principle of non-violence.
During the British rule, Gandhiji had followed the path of non-cooperation and civil disobedience. Likewise, a peaceful dissent is the constitutional right of every Indian citizen.
Hence it is incumbent upon the Congress to take the initiative and form the Charter. It is also natural to expect Congress to lead the way as this grand old party has gained a thorough knowledge of fair governance and hence can detect misuse of power by this regime, be it the UAPA (Black Act) or random use of colonial sedition law.
Only after a charter/ a manifesto / a declaration incorporating all the intricacies assumes a distinct form and emerges before the people, will the National Investigative Agency with its unrestrained excessive activities and the judiciary with its indifferent stance towards the Opposition as well as common citizens, wake up to the repercussions of their unconstitutional and criminal conduct. They will realise that their current deeds might eventually jeopardise their lives in future when their present ‘masters’ would not come to their and their family’s aid and rescue them.
The Preamble to the Indian Constitution begins with the words, “We, the sovereign people of India”. As yet we are still the citizens, but it’s high time that we reclaim our sovereignty. Let this sound as an awakening & beginning of
(Originally my Marathi blog. Translation by Kirti Deolekar)