The common man is the loser in this game of competitive electoral politics; to beat the Opposition to the draw, the Government often acts in great haste with the result that its half thought-out actions are struck down by the Courts.
The almost instantaneous passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the Constitution 124th Amendment Bill (relating to reservation for the economically weaker amongst general castes) highlights the contempt with which our lawmakers view the public and the spirit of our Constitution. Simultaneously, with the Citizenship Amendment Bill the Government announced that six Assam tribes would get Scheduled Tribe status, which is a quid pro quo offered to a section of society for not opposing a patently immoral legislation. Whatever be the stated lofty reasons for amending the Citizenship Act, the Assam finance minister let the cat out of the bag when he said that ‘Jinnahs’ would be weeded out. Prime Minister Modi went further, saying that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is an atonement for the past mistakes of Partition. Can such retrograde views justify the passing of a law which is being opposed tooth and nail by the affected people? Should the Government try to create divisions in civil society by rewarding some sections if they do not protest against its wrongful actions?
The Bill granting reservation to general castes was assured of even speedier clearance by Parliament because any law enhancing reservation or the benefits associated with reservation gets the unstinted support of all political parties. In the latest case, the political class intentionally ignored the fact that the very basis of the Constitution Amendment Bill was flawed, violating the norms laid down by the Supreme Court viz. reservation beyond 50 per cent and reservation based on economic criteria was unconstitutional. Later on, should the Supreme Court strike down the amendment, the judiciary would be conveniently blamed for not approving legislation aimed at favouring the forward castes.
Compartmentalisation of citizens in caste and religious identities suits political parties; hence all parties support all kinds of class reservation even though any kind of reservation is downright divisive. It is a wellknown fact that political parties decide candidates on the basis of the caste composition of a particular constituency which provides further impetus to casteism. Knowing fully well that caste-based politics is a bane of our democracy, all parties support caste-based politics, if not overtly then covertly.
The common man is the loser in this game of competitive electoral politics; to beat the Opposition to the draw, the Government often acts in great haste with the result that its half thought-out actions are struck down by the Courts. Additionally, there is no public debate on the Government’s proposed actions; what could be done in a cordial manner is mostly done so shoddily that the desired objective is not achieved but unnecessary fissures are created in society.
Demonetisation is a classic example of this unthinking, sledgehammer approach of the Government. Post-demonetisation, new and sometimes contradictory instructions were issued daily, causing inconvenience to the public and creating an impression that the Government had paid no prior thought to implementation. Similar was the case with the Income Declaration Scheme (IDS 2016). It is reported that a junior level officer of the Finance ministry was instructed to prepare the Scheme in a single day.
The only guideline given to the draftsman was that the Income Declaration Scheme was to be modelled on the Black Money Act. This is strange, considering the fact that the Black Money Scheme had bombed. Hundreds of clarifications had to be issued to salvage the Income Declaration Scheme, resulting in the bulk of declarations being made in the last few days.
Contrast the voyage of the Citizenship Bill with genuine social legislation like the Women’s Reservation Bill, which is yet to see the light of the day after many years of lying in limbo. The Benami Act, passed by Parliament in 1988, was implemented only in 2016. Despite the strenuous efforts of the Supreme Court, the Lokpal Act is yet to be implemented after five years only because the Act would enforce discipline and accountability in politicians and bureaucrats. The cavalier attitude of our parliamentarians could be gauged from the fact that the Budget, which authorises Government expenditure of Rs.20 lakh crore-odd is often passed in a matter of minutes ~ sans debate.
It is interesting to note that a day before the Bill granting 10 per cent reservation to upper castes was brought in, the junior minister had denied in Parliament that any such quota was being contemplated. This would indicate that there was no consultation when this crucial legislation was being drafted. A similar doubt persists about demonetisation, with many insisting that even the top brass of the RBI and Finance Minister himself were not privy to the move. One can only pity the plight of the Indian people who are ruled by laws framed without any preparation or homework.
Such cloak-and-dagger manoeuvres do little credit to our democracy where the mandate is to rule by the will of the people. Legislation against the desires of the affected people is difficult to implement, more so if it is not well thought out and full of loopholes.
The entire North-East is feeling alienated by the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which violates both the letter and spirit of the Assam accord. Is it not the duty of Parliament not to deliberately stoke discontent?
“The many challenges with the 10% quota” by Ujjwal K Chowdhury in The Statesman of 10 January 2019 highlights questions which the authors of the Constitution Amendment Bill should have considered and which parliamentarians should have addressed before giving their assent to the bill.
Moreover, at a time when the country is facing record unemployment of 7.38 per cent, the Government’s attention should be on creating more jobs and filling the 29 lakh vacancies in the Government sector, the Government has legislated a new species of reservation which is guaranteed to hold up Government recruitment for a long time.
Another example of legislative thoughtlessness is that of legislatures using their sovereign powers to criminalise personal preferences in matters of diet and sex; imposition of prohibition and creation of cow-related offences being glaring examples of such proclivities. A number of States have passed laws providing long jail sentences for drinking liquor. In some other States, cow conservation is seen as being more important than even conservation of human lives. Consequently, much of the time of the police and courts is spent on tackling such offences, to the exclusion of more serious ones.
Past experience shows that citizens cannot hold out against the Government for too long. The protest against the Mandal Commission report’s implementation was bitter and longdrawn, but nothing came out of it. Political parties bank on such forced acceptance for unequivocally wrong actions.
In a mature democracy like ours, after conclusion of elections, political parties should sit down and think of strategies to solve the many problems of the electorate e.g. agricultural distress, unemployment and the like. Unfortunately, political parties in India are perpetually in election mode, sparing little time for governance issues. Looked at from this perspective, the suggestion of PM Modi to hold all elections simultaneously has considerable merit.
The absence of leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, who rose above caste and religion and who made our infant Republic caste and religion neutral, is being deeply felt today. The current trend of reviling these iconic figures only proves that the present lot of politicians would have us forget the ideals which inspired our freedom movement. It is for us, the electors, to eschew divisive tendencies and not support parties that try to buy our votes for the crumbs they throw to us. Justin Trudeau once said: “Politicians are constantly stuck between what is politically expedient and politically beneficial and what is the responsible or right thing to do.” We, the common citizens, have to ensure that politicians take the last mentioned option.
(The writer is a retired Principal Chief Commissioner of Income-Tax)