The unprecedented majority gained by the BJP in the recent elections has made some people wonder whether India is on the road to becoming a Hindu majoritarian state. There is nothing in the bjp’s manifesto to justify such fears. But past provocations by Subramanian Swamy and more recent ones by Ashok Singhal (Hindustan Times, July 17) do make the question worth debating. The hope reportedly expressed by a Goa minister (belonging to a coalition partner) that India could become a Hindu rashtra under Narendra Modi (Times of India, July 25) does make the question worth debating. While there can’t be any doubt that the Hindutva agenda will be steadfastly pursued, is it constitutionally possible to make India a Hindu rashtra?
To do that, we will have to start right with the Preamble to the Constitution. We will have to drop the words “secular” and “democratic” from the description of the Republic. The words “justice, social, economic and political” will have to be deleted. “Liberty of thought, expression, belief and worship” will have to be dumped. “Equality of status and of opportunity” will have to be erased. And we must even abandon “fraternity, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation”.
After ripping the Preamble apart, we will need to storm the Fundamental Rights. The essential targets will be nine. Equality before the law and equal protection of the laws (Article 14). Prohibition of discrimination on grounds, inter alia of religion (Article 15). Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment (Article 16). Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion (Article 25). Freedom to manage religious affairs (Article 26). Freedom from payment of taxes for promotion of any religion (Article 27). Bar on religious instruction in any educational institution wholly maintained out of state funds, and freedom not to attend religious instruction or worship in state-recognised or partly state-aided educational institutions (Article 28). And the cultural and educational rights of minorities (Articles 29 and 30).
But this is where the “basic structure doctrine” comes in. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in Golak Nath’s case by a thin majority that the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution was not unlimited, and that any amendment which took away or abridged fundamental rights would be void. Remember, Indira Gandhi was still finding her feet then. In 1971, a very powerful Indira Gandhi responded to the Golak Nath judgement by bringing in the 24th Amendment, which removed all restrictions on Parliament’s amending power. And a bench of 13 judges of the Supreme Court (the largest ever) sat to decide the Kesavananda Bharati case (involving the validity of that amendment, and consequent and related amendments).
There was just one abortive Emergency-time attempt by the Indira Gandhi government to get the Supreme Court to review the Kesavananda verdict. Since then, the political class has accepted the “basic structure” doctrine; it is now 41 years old. Any attempt to tamper with the Constitution will be hit by the doctrine, and will not withstand judicial scrutiny. However, if a determined government decides to enact a Uniform Civil Code, a different yardstick may have to be applied. The government may be able to argue that Article 44 (a Directive Principle) requires it to endeavour to secure for citizens a uniform civil code.
And now, a disclosure. I have been a critic of the “basic structure” doctrine on the ground that it is anti-democratic and counter-majoritarian (a different kind of majoritarian, referring to parliamentary supremacy).
I have argued that unelected judges should not have the power to interfere with the authority of elected representatives to decide what the Constitution should be. In an essay written 14 years ago, I have, without prejudice to my critique, acknowledged the importance of Kesavananda in the context of its times: it warned a fledgling democracy of the perils of brute majoritarianism. I concluded on a naive note: “Those days are however gone. Coalitions can only bring about major changes through consensus. The doctrine must now be buried. The nation must be given an opportunity to put half a century’s experience of politics and economics into the Constitution.” Now that majority politics has returned, is a rethink necessary?
(The writer is a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, and a former additional solicitor-general.)
Apropos Raju Ramachandran’s The Quest and the Questions, with the kind of majorities the BJP is piling up in legislatures, constitutional amendments may not be difficult to achieve. Secular intellectuals will need to be much more alert than Ramachandran envisages.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
[[It is the Hindus in the U.S. who fully reap the benefits of American secularism and yet dole out millions to anti-secular hate groups in India such as the RSS and the VHP.]]
No Hindu group in the US has ever come under scrutiny for supporting/funding hate groups in any country. On the other hand, your beloved CAIR has been censured and several Muslim groups like LeT, Jaish, Hamas, etc. are actually banned in the US.
Will you just trot out unverified statements or will you actually provide some examples?
>> "Why sit on a high moral/intellectual perch?"
Exactly my point! Thanks!
Coalition politics are bad for the country. The country has to tolerate the tantrums of mamata, Mayawati, and Mylayam. The leaders get richer, and the country goes to the dogs.
>>> I was just stating THE FACTS
And I too was just stating THE FACTS !!! Why sit on a high moral/intellectual perch?
The morale is put the fire out at home first ...
>>> I was just stating THE FACTS
And I too was just stating the facts !!! Why sit on a high moral/intellectual perch?
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