It is time to ask whether Mahatma Gandhi laid down his life for this(AP)
It is time to ask whether Mahatma Gandhi laid down his life for this(AP)

Rebuild trust between State, citizens | Opinion

Gandhi would have been disturbed by the India of today. Politicians must now course correct
By Shashi Shekhar
UPDATED ON JAN 27, 2020 08:33 PM IST

We have just celebrated Republic Day, and now we are shortly going to commemorate Martyr’s Day, when the Mahatma laid down his life. This is a moment of introspection, especially at a time when our democracy is grappling with difficult questions. Are social divisions deepening? Is the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) really against a particular section? Will it really put India’s federal polity at risk?

Be it Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, or any dharna site in Lucknow or Mumbai, at every demonstration, there is a common vocabulary. Among those invoked are Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar; the text hailed is the Constitution of India; the terms used are peace, non-violence and brotherhood.

After the violence in Uttar Pradesh and Mangalore, the agitators have now adopted a new tactic. They are putting young people and women at the forefront of the demonstrations, as they know that it is not easy to remove them forcibly. In the current age of rapid information flows, coercion cannot be hidden. It can, instead, be counter-productive for those who deploy force. The objective of protesters is clear — continue the movement as long as possible in a peaceful manner.

The Tricolour, revolutionary poems, Gandhi and Ambedkar’s photographs have been used successfully so far to animate the atmosphere at these protest sites. But the incidents in Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh are worrisome. In Lohardaga, Jharkhand, violence spread when stones were pelted on a procession in support of the new citizenship law, leading to curfew being imposed. Similarly, stones were pelted in Beniya Bagh of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, when the police tried to disperse the protesters. In Maharashtra, workers of the Vanchit Aghadi were accused of violence during the bandh. Needless to say, social harmony will be threatened if this is repeated in other places as well.

Before getting into the nuances of the current situation, I would like to draw your attention to the members of the Constituent Assembly (CA). They set the foundations to guide India’s diverse society in the right direction.

In this Assembly, there were Gandhians such as Rajendra Prasad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Maulana Azad; there were socialists and leftists such as JB Kripalani and Somnath Lahiri; there were leaders such as Shyama Prasad Mookherji, who went on to establish the Bharatiya Jan Sangh. Begum Aizaz Rasool of Muslim League too was a member of this Constituent Assembly. While MG Ranga was the leader of the farmers, Baldev Singh represented the Sikhs. The CA represented every section of India in the true sense of the word and that is why it was able to frame a Constitution which transcends religion or creed. Needless to say, that this Assembly had Mahatma Gandhi’s approval and blessings.

Even today, representatives of every section are there both in Parliament and in assemblies, but the chasm of mistrust among them is widening. They know that the solution to the problems we face lies in mutual discussion and dialogue.

But the government’s obdurate attitude, and needless posturing by the Opposition, are blocking positive solutions. The government says that the Opposition parties are spreading confusion over the CAA. The top leaders of the ruling party are challenging the Opposition for a public debate over the issue. In response to this, Opposition parties argue that the government is doing this to divert attention from its economic mismanagement. They allege that democracy in India is in danger. India’s drop in rankings in the Democracy Index, brought out by the Economist Intelligence Unit, lends credence to this criticism.

Amid all this, another dangerous trend seems to be emerging. Many states have refused to implement the new law. Those who govern these states, well aware of the division of power within the constitutional framework, are aware this is not legally tenable. Once a law has been passed by the Parliament on the issue of citizenship, which falls squarely within the Union list, it has to be implemented in the whole country. Isn’t this posing a threat to the country’s federal structure? In some states, governors and chief ministers are already engaged in a bitter battle, hurting the dignity of constitutional offices.

The Centre has been challenged in the past too, particularly in Kashmir and some states of the Northeast. But these voices were scattered, and, so, it was easy to deal with them. This time, however, the dissent from federal units is more widespread. From Chandigarh to Thiruvananthapuram, this fire is spreading.

Take it all together. The breakdown of political dialogue; the street protests and subsequent violence; the trust deficit between a section of the citizens and the State; the discord between the Centre and the states. And it is clear that India needs to be worried.

It also shows the helplessness of the gana (people) before the tantra (system). As we celebrate the Constitution at 70, and as we look back at the Mahatma’s life 72 years after he was assassinated, it is time to ask whether our founders envisaged this India.

It is time to ask whether Bapu laid down his life for this.

Shashi Shekhar is the editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal
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