The Indian Constitution is re-emerging today as a subject of study and an object of scrutiny. There is an emergent sea change in society’s understanding of the Constitution’s status. At a recent talk that I gave about the Preamble’s essential concepts (liberty, equality and dignity), a faculty member in the audience challenged my reverential attitude toward fundamental rights, asking, ‘What’s so sacred about the Constitution?’ This person was no leftist revolutionary; she was a Modi supporter.
While macro-economic challenges forced by global capitalism erode the viability of the democratic welfare-state, undermining the ideology of the welfare state would be a natural strategy for both global corporations and cash-strapped democratic states. When the architecture of the welfare state is inbuilt into the Constitution itself, undermining the ideology of aspects of the Constitution would be a necessary consequence of the strategy. For the past two decades, democratic governments have already sought to convince their people of the need to balance fundamental rights against perceived threats over ‘security’. The acceptance of state exigency as superior to constitutional basics gets hardened with the triumph of the security paradigm (in avatars like National Security Act, UAPA, sedition, etc) over liberty (freedom of expression, habeus corpus, due process of law), or the normalisation of invasive surveillance (with global corporations and nation-states in connivance) that tramples citizens’ privacy. This helps to catalyse atavism about the nature of state power: a return to the attitudes of many millennia back when we regarded it as the natural right of authorities to rule as they will (that is, not in line with contemporary principles of egalitarian justice). And in a certain sense, I think that behind the question that was posed to me on the sacredness of the Constitution was the question, ‘Why should our executive government be bound by egalitarian justice?’