The clamour for junking India's Constitution, a long-standing agenda of the Hindu supremacist camp, is now out in the open. The most audacious advocacy for a new constitution has come in the form of a newspaper article written by economist Bibek Debroy on the occasion of the 76th anniversary of India's independence. It will be a folly to treat this article as an isolated opinion piece by an individual when the individual happens to be the chairman of the PM's Economic Advisory Council and the arguments put forward in the article are already being invoked by the government in its pronouncements and steps. Bibek Debroy's article should rather be seen as a sequel to former CJI Ranjan Gogoi's statement just the other day in the Rajya Sabha questioning the basic structure of the Constitution.
The Vajpayee-era NDA government had also sought to advance the agenda by setting up an eleven-member National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) under the chairmanship of retired CJI Justice MN Venkatachalaiah. But this commission was entrusted with the mandate to suggest changes without interfering with the basic structure or basic features of the Constitution. With the shock defeat of the Vajpayee government in 2004, the agenda could not be pursued any longer and there were no takers for the NCRWC report. The Modi-era amendments and bills have however already started undermining the basic features and spirit of the Constitution. The CAA has subverted the secular underpinning of citizenship; EWS reservation has challenged the basic premise of reservation as affirmative action against social injustice and inequality; the usurpation of the constitutional rights of Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi have delivered a body blow to India's federal framework; and institutional autonomy and citizens' rights are being eroded by all possible means.
The Debroy article takes these trends to their logical conclusion and calls for a new constitution altogether instead of serial amendments. Clearly it is the doctrine of basic structure, which sets limits to amendments and compels governments to abide by the federal balance and separation of powers, and the character of the republic and its basic direction set in the preamble, that continues to place some check on the Modi government's drive for unbridled concentration of power and wealth. To overcome this hurdle, Debroy has come up with the idea of a radical solution in the form of an altogether new constitution.
What is interesting is that Debroy does not advocate the new constitution by invoking the classical Hindutva goals of Hindu Rashtra and the insitutionalisation of Manusmriti. Those references are conspicuously absent in his article. He junks the constitution as a colonial legacy, so a new constitution becomes a decolonising project. Amit Shah has invoked the same argument while seeking to replace the laws of criminal jurisprudence. Indian Penal Code is sought to be replaced with Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita with the grand claim of shifting the focus from the colonial-era idea of punishment to the right of citizens to secure justice. But behind this misleading name change, the 'new' code only renders the colonial-era laws more repressive and sweeping.
The other premise is 'efficiency and speed' of governance. Dictatorship always projects democracy as a hindrance to 'decision-making' and 'rapid implementation' of decisions. We can already see a systematic scuttling of the parliamentary process, which became most glaring during the Covid19 pandemic when the government unleashed an aggressive campaign to change policies and enact new laws to strengthen corporate control keeping parliament and the people paralysed. Debroy wants to institutionalise this system as a legalised constitutional dictatorship.
The Modi regime clearly has a problem not just with the proclamations of the Preamble and the fundamental rights and directive principles enunciated in the Constitution, but also with the constitutionally mandated federal framework, albeit with a unitary emphasis, and the separation of powers among the executive, legislature and judiciary. The Constitution declares India, that is Bharat, as a Union of States. The Modi government is busy eroding the powers of the states and encroaching into their jurisdictions. In states ruled by non-BJP parties it is routinely using Governors and various central agencies to obstruct, destabilise and even topple governments. And now the executive is out to snub and circumvent the judiciary at every step and by all means. Never before has there been such a malicious campaign against the CJI and such systematic undermining of every Supreme Court verdict trying to restrain and reverse the aggressive expedition of the executive.
The RSS which has been drawing inspiration from the fascist models of Mussolini and Hitler since its inception has increasingly also been imitating the Zionist model of Israel. Modi government's ongoing war with the Supreme Court of India resembles the Netanyahu regime's judicial overhaul campaign which has triggered massive public protests in Israel. The Constitution is the foundation of modern India. Today as Modi seeks to present himself as a modern-day Hindu emperor - his bhakts call him the emperor of Hindu hearts - who marks the transition from one thousand years of 'subjugation' to the forthcoming one thousand years of 'glory', it is clear that the Republic of India which was brought into existence by the Constitution of India adopted after India's protracted battle for freedom from British colonial rule is faced with a fundamental crisis and challenge.
In the eyes of the Sangh brigade the new Parliament building with the installation of the monarchical symbol of Sengol, which Debroy hails as the reawakening of India's 'forgotten heritage', has already announced the architectural arrival of its cherished 'new India'. Debroy's advocacy of a new constitution seeks to consummate this process of subversion of the constitutional foundation of free India. The malicious campaign against India's Constitution must therefore be rebuffed at the very outset. There can be no swapping of the secular democratic republic of free India for a new republic of fear, bigotry and slavery.