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How directive principles fuel BJP and Congress politics on cow and Hindutva

The Narendra Modi-led BJP govt reinvented the directive principles as an important source for its brand of majoritarianism.

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The Madhya Pradesh government’s decision to impose the National Security Act (NSA) on three Muslim men who were accused of cow slaughter in Khandwa district, is just a sign of Congress’s version of Hindutva ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This Congress-BJP race to appropriate Hindu votes doesn’t entirely stem from the ideology of Hindutva. The cow politics has its roots in India’s Constitution – particularly in the Directive Principles of the State Policy (DPSP) — which is often extracted and exploited by different ideological groups for electoral benefits.

Do we need to revisit these directive principles which, after all, evolved out of a political compromise several decades ago?

These provisions underline an interesting ‘balance of power’. The Nehruvian imagination of the socialistic patterns of society dominates the DPSP. This is coupled with the Gandhian commitment to a decentralised polity and the nod to the demands by Hindu essentialists in the protection of cow and the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). The debate on the DPSP in the Constituent Assembly also confirms that the purpose of the Constitution makers was to create a balance so as to arrive at a politically viable consensus.

Also read: Do BJP and Congress differ in giving Padma Awards to Muslims — the number story

Constitution and ideological ‘balance of power’ 

The fourth part of the Constitution, which contains a number of principles/ideas that aim to provide directions to the government has been the most sensitive and contentious component of our constitutional framework.

These principles are not enforceable by the court. The government cannot be held responsible if it does not follow them at all. However, Article 37 reminds us that ‘it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws’.

Directive Principles post 2014

This lack of ideological coherence marks the second aspect of Directive Principles of the State Policy-inspired politics, which emerged in the post-2014 period. Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP government reinvented the DPSP as a crucial source for its brand of majoritarianism.

The provocative cow politics of Hindutva, which has created an anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit discourse in the country, was swiftly accommodated in the BJP’s narrative of constitutionalism. The BJP evoked the provisions of the DPSP to provide a constitutional justification for cow protection.

Similarly, the government has also justified its aggressive commitment towards the UCC during the Triple Talaq controversy through Article 44, which says that the ‘State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India’.

Also read: Yogi govt comes up with dos and don’ts for cows — from diet to disposing of carcass

Incoherence in the Directive Principles

There are also some old socialist ideals in the DPSP, which direct the government to control and regulate the economic sphere to achieve economic equality and rights of working classes.

Article 40 talks about the Panchayati Raj and local self-government; Article 48 asks the state to ‘take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle’.

Directive Principles and the Congress politics

There is a long history of the politics inspired by the Directive Principles of the State Policy. It began in the 1950s when the Jawaharlal Nehru government started implementing its core nation-building programmes such as the abolition of the Zamindari system.

The DPSP are often invoked by the governments not merely to justify the populist schemes but also to assert their absolute domination and powers in the name of ‘people’s welfare’. The standoff between the judiciary and Parliament in the 1960s and the 1970s is a good example in this regard.

The Congress governments argued that Parliament being the elected body had the ultimate power to change and alter any part of the Constitution following the spirit of the DPSP.

The judiciary, however, did not subscribe to this kind of majoritarian view. After a decade-long debate, the Supreme Court proposed the doctrine of the Basic Structure of the Constitution in the famous Kesavananda Bharati judgment (1973).

The apex court outlined the key features of the Constitution (such as its supremacy, its secular character, and the separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary), which cannot be amended by Parliament.

The later judgments of the Supreme Court also upheld the validity of this Basic Structure Doctrine. This development made it difficult for the government to misuse the DPSP for authoritarian political moves. The 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act, which was introduced in 1976 by the Indira Gandhi regime during the Emergency, was actually aimed to invalidate the Basic Structure Doctrine in the name of the DPSP.

The post-Emergency political developments, especially the 44th Amendment Act, which nullified most of the changes introduced by the Emergency regime in the Constitution, somehow settled the debate on the misuse of the DPSP. But it did affect the internal configuration of this part of the Constitution.

Also read: No Rahul Gandhi, BJP doesn’t want to destroy Constitution. It’s more complicated

Beyond the holy book

The Constitution has already become a sacred book, and also an ‘electoral object’. However, there is a need to give up this imposed sacredness and evolve a critical discussion on different aspects of the Constitution.

The author is a scholar of political Islam and associate professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Views are personal.

ThePrint is publishing three series on minorities in India by Hilal Ahmed. The ‘Sarkari Muslim’, ‘Minority Report’, and ‘Line of Law’ will trace the political journey of Muslims in the country. This is the third article under Line of Law.

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