The current winter session of Parliament began later than usual, tailored to accommodate our prime minister’s ever growing foreign visits. Soon after the session began, he has taken off again to attend the climate change conference in Paris, to make a three-minute intervention.
Primarily, as an attempt to deflect people’s attention away from the BJP’s colossal defeat in the Bihar assembly elections, this session began with a two-day commemoration of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary. After 65 years of our Republic, the BJP has suddenly discovered that on November 26, 1949, the Constituent Assembly adopted the draft Constitution. This day has now been gazetted as Constitution Day to be observed every year. This government is seeking to obliterate the fact that the Constituent Assembly met again on January 24 and 25, 1950, when all members signed the draft Constitution to be enacted on the appointed date, January 26, 1950. This exposes the RSS/BJP’s desperation to associate themselves with our freedom movement, in which they had no role whatsoever.
Such an effort, however, backfired. This RSS/BJP government sought to use this occasion to once again flag the hardcore Hindutva agenda. The Union home minister said that the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ were alien to the Constitution, smuggled into the Preamble during the period of ‘internal emergency’. The word ‘secular’, according to him, is the root cause for the growth of communal polarisation in the country.
The Union finance minister spoke on issues of religious conversions, cow protection and the uniform civil code — the core Hindutva agenda. The message is clear: To use Constitution Day as an occasion to further the conversion of our secular democratic republican Constitution into the RSS project of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. However, Parliament unanimously adopted a resolution re-asserting the primacy of our Republic Day, recollecting the people’s role in the freedom movement.
These parliamentary debates, however, brought centre stage the debate on growing communal intolerance, terror and intimidation, spearheaded by the RSS-led outfits in the country. The parliamentary debate turned out to be an expression of gratitude to a large number of our country’s intellectuals, historians, film personalities and litterateurs who are in the midst of a unique and determined struggle to uphold our country’s ethos and people’s collective secular democratic consciousness. To date, the prime minister has refused to assure Parliament and the people that action would be taken against all, including Cabinet ministers and MPs who are spearheading such communal hate campaigns, in accordance with the law of the land. Thus, reconfirming this government’s patronage to such forces.
Consequently, the government’s ostensible pretension of commemorating Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary has gone into the background. The CPI(M) had asked for a special session of Parliament on this occasion to discuss and legislate on crucial issues connected with the status of Scheduled Castes and other socially oppressed sections of our people. This, by the government’s design, was not to be.
We had asked this government to come prepared with the necessary legislative agenda to implement Ambedkar’s vision of social justice. The levels of discrimination and attacks against the Dalits seem to be growing. Since the BJP government assumed office, atrocities against Dalits have gone up by 19%. A total of 40,300 cases of atrocities were reported under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Atrocities Act during 2014. Till 2014, a total of 108,659 cases were pending for trial with a conviction rate of 28.8%. Such is the reality as we approach Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary (April 14, 2016). Are we anywhere near redeeming our pledge to realise his vision of social justice? Statutory status must be provided for SC/ST sub-plans. There are at least 10 necessary pieces of legislation that this government should have enacted in this session.
Reserved quotas remain increasingly unfilled. Given the focus on privatisation, job reservations in the public sector have reduced drastically. With the massive depletion of public education and growth of private institutions, the entry of Dalits has fallen sharply. The correct mix of quantity, quality and equity must be ensured in higher education. Serious attention must be paid by Parliament to extend reservations to the private sector.
Rather than discussing issues that are vital to improving people’s livelihood and providing relief, this government appears to promote its patrons in corporate India. It is projecting the GST legislation as the panacea for all evils plaguing our economy. While the GST may reduce some bureaucratic hurdles for India Inc, it is a myth to suggest that the GST would immediately translate into 1.5-2% GDP growth.
However, it must be recollected that the GST legislation has been pending for nearly a decade now. The Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers, chaired by the then West Bengal Left Front finance minister, submitted its proposals on the GST. This should have formed the core of the legislation before Parliament. For six years, it was the BJP state governments that had not accepted the GST. Prominent among them was Gujarat and its then chief minister Narendra Modi.
This government has neither informed Parliament nor the country if its consultations with the state governments, if any, on this issue have led to any consensus. There is an important issue to be resolved regarding federalism. The VAT had already curtailed the autonomous right of the state governments to levy state taxes. Now, the GST removes all rights of the state governments to raise revenue from the people. Unless all issues connected with this, i.e., rights of the states to raise revenues to implement their priorities, are resolved, the required GST constitutional amendment may not materialise.
Sitaram Yechury is general secretary of the CPI(M).
The views expressed are personal.