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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 22, May 27, 2023

History Is Calling Us! Unite In Struggle To Defend The Values Of The Freedom Struggle | Manoranjan Mohanty

Sunday 28 May 2023, by Manoranjan Mohanty


Text of presentation by Manoranjan Mohanty, the Chair of the Reception Committee, Bharat Bachao, 11-12 March 2023, HK Surjeet Bhavan, New Delhi

‘Save Democracy, Save Indian Constitution, Save India’

Unite In Struggle To Defend The Values Of The Freedom Struggle:

 Swadhinata, Samata, Sanhati, Swaraj
 Freedom, Equality, Solidarity, Self-Rule

  Have Faith In History, 
  Have Faith In People,
  Have Faith In Future

History is calling upon us all to awaken further and come together in defence of the fundamental values of the freedom struggle waged by the people of India against colonialism and all forms of injustice and oppression that Indian people suffered from. In this great Hall named after a veteran communist leader and a fighter for the democratic rights of workers and peasants, Comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet, meeting soon after International Women’s Day we must respond to the challenge of oppressive forces of autocracy, authoritarianism, neo-colonialism, and fascism that people of India are confronted with today. History is calling us to face this challenge sincerely and democratically. History is calling us above all to shed off our personal, sectional, and partisan interests and UNITE to launch a fresh SATYAGRAHA for saving democracy, saving India.

Why this call?

      People of India today face the onslaught on the basic values of the Constitution from a regime that is determined to impose a socio-political system of Hindutva chauvinism on the multicultural, multi-religious, multilingual society thus violating the constitutional commitment to equality of all citizens. It is advancing the neoliberal agenda of the corporates that is causing enormous hardships to farmers, workers, and the poor as a whole. It is unfolding an economic strategy of distributing various kinds of symbolic relief to the different sections of the masses without creating substantive long-term productive assets and without addressing the questions of massive unemployment, and distress conditions of farmers and workers, most artisans, and small-scale industries. and steadily increasing inequalities of wealth and income. The propaganda machine of the government presents them as ‘pro-poor’ policies whereas in reality funds have been cut from key welfare sectors such as MGNREGS, rural development, education, and health. Achieving economic growth with state-supported corporates accumulating profit, accompanied by a pronounced focus on ‘national security’, projected prominently to the world is the driving strategy of acquiring and maintaining political power by the current regime. In this scheme, the VALUES of the Constitution do not seem to figure except in rhetoric.

All criticism is sought to be suppressed, and dissidents harassed, jailed, or silenced by a variety of means. Using state investigative agencies such as the CBI, ED, Income Tax agencies, and NIA, all critics including opposition political parties, academics, journalists, writers, poets, NGOs and research organisations are subjected to much harassment. Surveillance and repression are the order of the day. Much of the media is either co-opted or silenced or coerced to propagate the government’s or the ruling party’s viewpoint. Independent institutions of the state are mostly subdued with careful manipulations. The polity and its governance in all spheres are today highly centralised using economic, political, security, and technological means. Not only Indian democracy is facing an unprecedented threat, but the values of the Constitution are also at stake.
In such a critical moment of our history, those who are fully immersed in electoral battles, or ideological or political struggles must realise that the water has gone much deeper and the roots of the Republic are under threat. It is a struggle over VALUES. Hence history’s urgent call to us is to unite and point out the full dimensions of this situation at every level from villages, towns, and in every part of the country and build conditions for democratic transformation as envisaged under the Constitution.

   History tells us that all colonial, fascist, authoritarian, and oppressive systems are eventually defeated and people finally win freedom and civilisation continues its march towards greater equality and justice, social solidarity and harmony between humans and nature. Therefore, we must have faith in people. Satyagraha for democracy and people’s rights shall be victorious. We need the will to unite and pursue the democratic struggle with full patience and determination.

The Vision of India of Gandhi, Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, and People’s Struggles

Friends. The representatives of peasant and workers orgnisations, Dalit and Adivasi movements, political parties, social and political activists, leaders of the civil liberty and democratic rights movements, poets, writers, lawyers, academics, and many other democratic forces assembled here, know very well, how the colonial regime had tried to crush India, expropriated Indian people’s wealth, destroyed knowledge systems, divided them steadily as a part of its ruling strategy, calling the colonised people uncivilised, stratifying them further as ‘primitive’ and so on. To fight that challenge Indian people waged struggles on many fronts to assert the right to equality of nations and peoples. They launched many movements for people’s rights and engaged in great debates to define the rights of individuals, groups, and regions and build a vision of a democratic republic. That vision was enshrined in the Constitution of India. Many progressives including Gandhians and Ambedkarites were not satisfied with what the Constitution gave to people. They considered the document a compromise draft with ruling forces. But even then the new Constitution contained a large consensus about the kind of society that the freedom fighters wished to build in India. The essence of that vision is contained in the statement of the key VALUES in the Preamble of the Constitution. A new India was thus born. Today that India is under threat of destruction. Hence today HISTORY IS CALLING US: BHARAT BACHAO. Save India.

The Preamble highlights four great values:

JUSTICE, social, economic, and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship;
EQUALITY of status and opportunity;
FRATERNITY assures the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.

Each of them has a rich meaning embodying civilizational history of the people of India and the world. India as a Sovereign Democratic Republic that was originally mentioned in the Preamble should have been adequate to pursue these goals. But as the trends already unfolding showed slides towards furthering inequalities and social disunity, ‘socialist and secular’ were added by the 42nd Amendment in 1976 during the authoritarian regime of the Emergency and were retained by the 44th Amendment during the Janata regime in 1977 even though the many authoritarian distortions were removed from the Constitution. ( ‘integrity’ was also added and retained in the expression ‘unity of the nation’.)

    These values of the Constitution were given concrete shape in the various provisions of the Constitution, especially in the Parts on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy and the scheme of Federalism and in an independent judiciary and many other institutions of the Democratic Republic. Possibilities of much positive socio-economic transformation appeared and many were accomplished by operation of a vibrant democracy enacting laws to expand people’s rights to basic needs. But in the course of the past decades it also became clear that often big capital, upper castes, communal and neo-colonial forces found the constitutional provisions unfavourable to their interests and sought to seize state power to subvert them in many new ways. So people’s movements were carried out to present demands of oppressed sections. Even though many of them were either crushed or manipulated their impact did achieve many goals.

The Past Decade of Neoliberal Hindutva Politics

The intensified attack on the values of the Constitution has been most evident during the past decade of neo-liberalism and communal authoritarian rule both in the pattern of mobilisation for winning elections and in the method of governance,

1. The scale of its use of the institutions of the republic to serve the rulers’ political interests rather than promoting the values of the Constitution is unprecedented.

2. Weaving a formidable strategy of long-term political domination has gone much beyond the familiar notions of Political Parties in a pluralist democratic polity.

3. State power is used to establish structures of domination spanning all spheres of society, economy, and culture rather than allowing democratic space to operate autonomously.

4. Combining domestic with global realms, the regime uses global forums to achieve its partisan ends

5. Making full use of the latest smart technology for communication, surveillance, and repression it has organised a large army of technocrats to use all arenas of government and society.

 People of India had experienced phases of authoritarian and even fascistic rule such as the Internal Emergency before either in the whole country or parts of the country. But the nature and dimensions of the present phase have many new dimensions which pose unprecedented challenges. Therefore, it is necessary to freely debate over this situation and its implications and come to an understanding and formulate an action plan for a united struggle to defend the values of the Constitution.

Democracy is not majoritarianism

All this has been done in the name of a government that has come to power by winning majority seats in the elections. This ‘majoritarian’ view of democracy is a distorted view of democracy. Majority principle is ultimately a practical way of taking a decision in a democracy only after all steps have been ensured to follow the four basic values of democracy :

  • Equality
  • Freedom
  • Justice
  • Reason

That is why a number of institutions have been designed in the Constitution and all functionaries of the state are required to take oath to ‘protect and preserve the Constitution’. Reason is a crucial element in democracy that is often missed in the common notions. Loud rhetoric with captivating oratory by political leaders may sway emotions in a campaign. But it may in fact get far away from the discussions based on reason. Free and reasoned discussions in a fair and even environment must take place so that information and alternative viewpoints are presented before a decision is arrived at. A free press is meant for that purpose. But rulers have made it a point to take over media, print media, and electronic media to promote their viewpoint. Elections are to be fought on an even playing field with various small and big parties and independent contestants having equal opportunity to present their case before the electorate. The Election Commission was meant to be an impartial body to make that possible. But rulers try to appoint pliable commissioners to tilt the balance in their patron’s favour. Thankfully the Supreme Court has come out with a new appointment committee to ensure the appointment of independent commissioners. Courts are the arenas of debates by prosecution and defendants and witnesses with the objective of reason-guiding deliberations leading to a verdict. But the appointment of judges is also now sought to be manipulated to seek verdicts in favour of the rulers.

Today ‘reason’ is under attack in the name of a government that holds a majority in the legislature. First, elections are won by using huge money power, deploying musclemen to cajole voters, and appealing to religious and ethnic emotions to mobilise groups. Then party leaders establish ‘high commands’ or ‘supremo’ system in leader-led parties using a whip or enforcing discipline and making them courtier defenders of their leaders. Then the majority party leadership does not allow debates in the legislatures. Hence ‘reasoned’ debates have become a rare phenomenon. All the great institutions of ‘question hour’, adjournment motions, etc., and the wit and civility of informed debates on the floor of the house and in committees have been a thing of the past.

Take for example the happenings in the sphere of education. Reason is the essential characteristic of education through which a generation of human civilisation passes on its knowledge, skill, cherished values and inquiring tools to another generation. The state provides adequate funds and infrastructure to facilitate this process allowing full freedom to the teaching and learning community from early education till the higher levels in the university. Democracy rests on the quality of education as it is meant to promote equality in status and opportunity. What has happened in practice is just the opposite. The New Education Policy (NEP) not only carried forward the growing trend of commercialisation and privatisation of all levels of education in India to new heights accelerating the creation of massive inequalities, but significantly communalised and highly centralised the education system. This is another area where the Constitutional vision of decentralised, autonomous processes of education has been abandoned.

We have a task before us. Let us take up the challenge, and discuss with full respect for each other’s viewpoint. We must discuss comprehensively the whole range of current challenges, the reasons we reached this point in our history and rebuild the structures and processes to achieve the goals of our freedom struggle: Swadhinata or Swatantrata (freedom), Samata (equality), Sanhati ( solidarity or mutuality of humans) and Swaraj ( self-rule or full-scale self-realisation of individuals, groups, and regions through multidimensional liberation from all forms of domination). I hope this historic initiative will reach each corner of India and with a long-term perspective of reaffirming the basic VALUES of our Constitution we shall succeed in protecting and preserving our Constitution and SAVE INDIA.

Jai Hind, Jai Bhim, Jai Dharti, Jai Jagat

(Author: Manoranjan Mohanty, Former Professor of Political Science, University of Delhi)

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