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Constitution vs Faith

Bhopinder Singh |

The Preamble of the Constitution mentions certain structural underpinnings, pre-eminently that India is a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic, Republic. Each of these has faced varying degrees of challenges while sustaining a composite India.

However, the majesty of the constitutional spirit is manifest in the unequivocal security afforded to every citizen. Uppermost priority has been accorded to ‘Justice’, and has been given precedence over the other privileges of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The scope of the term ‘Justice’ is far-reaching, covering the social, economic and political spheres.

Societally, much has been achieved in the seven decades since Independence and the interpretation, extension and protection by way of promised ‘Justice’ has been essentially progressive and transformational, irrespective of the basic instincts and the burdens of the past to maintain the status quo, and deny ‘Justice’ to a section of the citizens.

Ironically, the noble aspects of the constitutional elements and aspirations often militate against each other to hamper the overall narrative. For example, the imperatives of participative democracy often mutate and lead to the shortchanging of ‘Secularism’ of the state, especially in moments of electoral frenzy, as of now.

The transformational agenda of the Constitution has essentially survived the counter-pressures of society and politics by adapting, incorporating and correcting the vicissitudes of the times with its ‘live document’ dynamism that has undergone 123 amendment bills and 101 amendment acts, all to strengthen the fundamentals of the evolutionary progress.

All this has been achieved with the deliberate reposition of sovereign faith in the Constitution, as opposed to any perceived ‘faith’. Odd aberrations like the Shah Bano case reflected the limitations of the constitutional juggernaut, and exposed the structural chinks that could facilitate the political intrusion and regression, from the uninterrupted roll of the constitutional correctness. Such aberrations interrupt the onward march of India and can then be susceptible to political majoritarianism and revisionism.

The 5000-year-old civilisational profundities of India are also a societal minefield of faultlines, regressions and wounded perceptions that make it a tinderbox of contradictions and potential flare-ups. The statesmanship of the leadership at the time of Independence was overtly sensitive to this threat of India from the India-of the- past, in as much as it was opposed to the injustices of occupation by the British. Raj. Mahatma Gandhi was acutely aware of the challenges of ‘freedom’ from the British. He preferred to try and restore peace between the warring communities in Calcutta, rather than join in the fervour and ceremonial festivities in Delhi, on the eve of freedom.

The philosophical concept and template of ‘justice’ in an ‘inclusive-India’ (as opposed to the illiberal linear character of newly-created Pakistan) was earmarked for posterity with Gandhi’s prophetic statement ~ “Unfortunately the kind of freedom we have got today contains also the seeds of future conflict between India and Pakistan”.

The Father of the Nation and apostle of non-violence went from one riot-torn area of Calcutta to the other, not to spread the message of ‘appeasement’ but as a duty towards the lofty idea of ‘India’ that protected its most vulnerable sections. The leadership of the nation that had included giants like Nehru, Ambedkar, Patel, Abdul Kalam Azad etc. may have occasionally differed from each other, but they seldom betrayed the path of deliberate ‘inclusivity’.

They ensured that the morality of India remained unimpeachable and on-track. Many societal transformations were subsequently pushed through, and India emerged for the better while Pakistan chose a diametrically different direction of ‘exclusivity’. It now has to countenance international opprobrium, ridicule and self-inflicted violence.

Fundamentally India chose the superiority of the Constitution over faith, while Pakistan faltered and has increasingly accorded a higher pedestal to faith over the constitutional spirit envisaged by Jinnah. Today, the civic discourse has taken a diametrically opposite direction in Pakistan with jurisprudence, theology and politics almost always enmeshed in a dangerous game of contextualisation ~ the recent handling of the Asia Bibi case underscores the further retreat of the constitutional spirit.

The crippling ‘sitin’ phenomenon by the various religio-political forces over the years has seen the Pakistani state succumb to the blackmail of these revisionist forces, with almost all political parties and even the military guilty of propping up and supporting these forces to take on the government of the day, and also the soul of the Constitution.

The retrograde power of the ‘faith’ lobby unleashed in Pakistan was obvious from the response of the state to the recent protest against the Supreme Court ruling in the blasphemy case. The religiopolitical forces had asked soldiers to revolt against the Generals, questioned the Pakistani army chief’s religious credentials, asked workers in the houses of the judges to attack and kill them.

The Pakistani state meekly capitulated by signing an agreement with these lumpen elements. Basically when constitutional propriety becomes beholden or subservient to ‘faith’, the independence and operations of the constitutionally mandated institutions become irreversibly enfeebled.

These are the invaluable lessons from across the border. There is an inevitable risk of pandering to ‘faith’ over the ‘Constitutional’ spirit of justice, equality, secularism etc. Despite the undeniable progress made economically and even in matters of social justice, India is still teeming with multiple crises of discrimination, disengagement, disillusionment and in the socioeconomic realm, the agrarian crisis. India needs to renew its commitment to its voiceless, shirtless and shelterless.

This will call for steps that promote ‘inclusivity’ and not exclusivity. The next few months will certainly lead to a debate on the democratic impulses given the impending national elections. It also runs the risk of deepening the societal faultlines as hate and divisiveness are a more potent and gratifying currency, in the electoral calculus. These few months will also test the statesmanship of the leaders in various political parties and posit the reality when compared to the Nehrus, Ambedkars, Patels, Vajpayees as also to their commitment to the hallowed Indian Constitution.

The writer IS Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry.