It is ironic that this year’s Constitution Day coincided with what appears to be a constitutional crisis. In Maharashtra, which delivered a fractured mandate in the recent assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party attempted to stitch up an alliance at an unearthly hour with a leader of the Nationalist Congress Party without, the Opposition is alleging, doffing its hat to constitutional principles or practices. Indeed, India is no stranger to periodic developments that seek to undermine, or even subvert, constitutional democracy in the country. The Emergency was not the only black chapter. In more recent times, ‘Operation Lotus’ bloomed in Karnataka by engineering defections in the government led by the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular). It was the BJP — why is it always the BJP? — that came to power as a result. But then the BJP has a formidable record when it comes to prioritizing power over principle. In Goa and Manipur, it had managed to form the government without emerging as the largest party. In Meghalaya, the BJP found for itself a seat on the high table in a coalition even though it had won two seats. The mandate of the people, evidently, is not something that has bothered the political fraternity when it comes to tasting power. Such a transgression is made possible by deftly dodging past constitutional statutes. However, it is not just the letter but also the spirit of the Constitution that is now at stake. The targeted violence against minorities is a case in point. Then, there is the citizenship (amendment) bill, which the BJP is eager to pass in the winter session. This legislation, which seeks to put citizenship to a religious test by opening India’s doors to refugees of all faiths but not Muslims from neighbouring countries, is in defiance of the constitutional vision of the republic being an inclusive, egalitarian political entity.
An illuminating study by the University of Chicago had found that Constitutions need not be guaranteed of longevity. The death of such sacred documents is often preceded by the separation of foundational charters from citizens. India is now experiencing such a frightening chasm. The future of India’s Constitution, a remarkable document upholding democracy and equality, rests on the willingness of the people to honour what the Constitution has bestowed upon the nation.