Constitution is not for burning
Posted July 5, 2009on:
Ram Bahadur Rai, formerly of the Jansatta, feels that the country’s problems can be solved if the Constitution is thrown into the Ocean or consigned to the flames. Why this observation deserves consideration, instead of being dismissed as the manifestation of an old journalist’s pent up frustrations, is because it was made not at a coffee table but before an enlightened audience. Rai was the main speaker at the 17th Rajbahadur Pathak Memorial Lecture Series in Bhopal.
(The late Rajbahadur Pathak was hailed by his contemporaries as a journalist committed to the social concerns and his memory is being kept alive by his son and daughter-in-law Manoj Pathak and Renu Pathak by inviting on his death anniversary eminent personalities to speak on the current issues. The past speakers include Dharmpal, Nirmal Verma, Habib Tanvir, Kishan Patnaik, Prabhash Joshi, Sitaram Yechuri, Brinda Karat, Govindacharya, Mastram Kapur, Pushpesh Pant and Nandkishore Acharya).
Failures of Media
This year’s topic was the “failures of the media”. Rai dwelt at length to emphasise that foreign direct investment (FDI) was the real culprit and that it was because of the FDI that the editorial responsibilities had been usurped by the owners and the profit, not the public interest, became the sole concern of a media organisation. He praised Jawaharlal Nehru for putting a ban on FDI in the media (Reader’s Digest was made the only exception). A decision to review Nehru’s policy on FDI was taken by the government of V.P.Singh and ultimately FDI in the media was allowed by Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government in 2001.
From FDI, Rai moved on to black money and said that Rs 70 lakh crore of black money had been stashed by Indians in foreign banks. He quoted Govindacharya and S.Gurumurthy to point out how many primary schools and how many bridges could be built with that money if it was brought to India. (We have heard enough of this from the BJP’s former Prime Minister-in-waiting Lal Krishna Advani during the Lok Sabha election campaign).
Rai was being less than honest when he blamed the FDI for all the ills in the media and kept quiet about the role of unscrupulous owners who had started encroaching upon the editorial domain to further their business, industrial or political interests long before the question of allowing FDI in the media was considered by the V.P.Singh government. C.R.Irani had dissolved the Statesman Trust, which arbitrated in case of a difference of opinion between the editor and the management, in the late 1960s because he did not agree with the then editor on certain issues. The 1970s and 1980s saw further erosion of the independence of the institution called The Editor, and with that suffered the newspaper’s role to inform and educate its readers.
Leaving aside the polemics on the failures of the media, one feels really concerned about Rai’s outburst that the Constitution should be thrown into the Ocean or torched. (Exactly this is what Parkash Singh Badal had done in the 1980s and the BJP, led by Lal Krishna Advani, had agitated demanding Badal’s trial for sedition. Today, Badal is the chief minister of Punjab under the provisions of the same Constitution and the BJP is the junior partner in his government. The BJP leaders did not utter a murmur when Badal appointed his son Sukhbir Singh as the deputy chief minister of the State even though he was not an MLA).
Rai did not suggest an alternative to the Constitution nor did he point out how the Constitution came in the way if the editor of a newspaper wanted to highlight the miseries of the suffering people or if a chief minister was really interested in ensuring drinking water supply to the people or wanted to punish the officials and contractors who had swallowed the money allocated for providing mid-day meals in the schools. If there are some genuine shortcomings in the Constitution, these can be removed through amending it. The problem is not so much with the Constitution but with those who are responsible for implementing its provisions. While a very few amendments have been made keeping in mind the larger public interest, most of the amendments have been made to get the politicians in power out of the difficulties. Rai can burn this Constitution and have another one in its place (unless he believes in the theory of the withering away of the State) but what will he do with the Manmohan Singhs and the Advanis and the Badals and the Mayawatis.
The amendment pertaining to the election to Rajya Sabha vividly explains the collective manipulation by politicians to help themselves at the cost of the people’s interest. , The Council of States, or the Upper House of Parliament, was envisaged by the authors of the Constitution as a body comprising representatives of the States. In August 1954, it came to be known as Rajya Sabha. This House is not subject to dissolution. One-third of its members retire every two years and the vacancies are filled by holding fresh elections. The members of the State legislatures constitute the Electoral College. The Schedule IV of the Constitution had allotted the number of seats (in Rajya Sabha) to each State/Union Territory.
Section 3 of the Representation of People Act had ordained that a candidate seeking a seat in Rajya Sabha should primarily be resident of the State from which he/she was trying to get elected. The idea was to make use, in the highest law-making body of the country, of the learning, intelligence and experience of such persons as, for some reason, could not or would not contest the election to the House of the People or Lok Sabha but whom the members of the State legislature in their collective wisdom considered as eminently suitable to represent the State in Parliament.
All went well for about two decades. Then this institution, too, fell prey to the manipulations of the power brokers. The political parties, having requisite number of members in a State legislature, started sending to Rajya Sabha people for reasons other than their intelligence or commitment to public service and even persons from other States. The domicile clause was flouted by manipulating the law — prospective candidate would register himself or herself as a voter in the State or buy or rent a House there. Thus, Manmohan Singh became a “resident” of Guahati and Advani and Hansraj Bhardwaj of Madhya Pradesh.
When these violations ceased to be occasional aberrations and became endemic, some public-spirited persons like Kuldip Nayar sought judicial intervention to put an end to this malpractice. As the things started getting hot for the beneficiaries of the malpractice, and they included top leaders of political parties, they, in their “collective wisdom”, decided to legitimise the malpractice by amending the Representation of People Act. It was done by the NDA government with the backing of the Congress in August 2003. The amended Act made the contest for Rajya Sabha open for a person from any state.
The constitutional experts were horrified. Doubts were raised on the legitimacy of the amendment, because by one stroke, Parliament had sought to change the federal character of Rajya Sabha. Fali S. Nariman felt that the amendment would open the floodgates to big money bag owners and power brokers to descend upon the small people of the states and get elected to the Upper House. He warned the government against making Rajya Sabha “a stock exchange for moneybag holders from outside.” The consequences of the changes in the law would be grave, he said, because there are nine states which send only one member each to Rajya Sabha. What would happen about the representation of these states in the House if all nine members are from outside, he asked.
The Directive Principles of the Constitution enumerate succinctly what the States are expected to do for the people. V.P.Singh remembered the Constitutional provision for special efforts for the betterment of the other backward classes to play his politics with Devi Lal but he did not pause to think that the same Constitution was expecting from him as the head of the government at the Centre to “provide for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years”. In fact, had the politicians in power acted only on this part of the Directive Principles immediately after Independence, the complexion of the country would have been different by now