Hate begets fear and fear breeds distrust and disunity. This explains Congress’ Rahul Gandhi’s clarion call ‘Nafrat Chhodo, Bharat Jodo’ — ‘Discard hate, Unite India’. But leaving out Gujarat, where the hate really originated, is a major flaw in the structure of the yatra.
I belong to Kanyakumari and have closely watched the Bharat Jodo Yatra as it traversed this Tamil Nadu district and entered neighbouring Kerala. The yatra, which started off on 7 September, will pass through 12 states/union territories covering 3,570 Km over 150 days and culminate in Kashmir.
To understand the urge behind uniting India by undertaking this yatra, we have to go back to the Constitution of India and its conceptual base that envisages the territories of the Indian Union to be autonomous units exercising all powers and functions of the government and administration, except those assigned to or vested in the Union.
The Constitution that “We, The People” gave to ourselves emphasised on Fraternity: referring to friendship and support between people who feel they are closely linked to each other. Perhaps the most significant sentence in the Preamble is “to promote among them all Fraternity, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.” This is the essence of India’s abiding principle ‘unity in diversity’.
This basic core is fortified by the very first Article of the Constitution, which declares India as the “Union of States”, clearly outlining its federal, composite and plural nature. Its several flaws and shortcomings notwithstanding, the Constitution is India’s charter of democratic governance, and any assault and subversion of the constitutional scheme of things could undermine and even destroy the unity and integrity of the nation and its people.
First blow to independent India’s unity
It happened in 1975, under Indira Gandhi’s rule. But the first major assault on India’s ‘constitutional scheme of things’ did not last long and was defeated in March 1977 by the collective will of the people. The Janata Party government took immediate steps to dismantle the authoritarian features of the Emergency regime and restore liberal democracy. All Emergency detenus were released. It reinstated fundamental rights and full freedom to the press, political parties and individuals. The reignited democracy was back on rails.
But the damage had been done with the unity and integrity of the country rudely shaken. One episode at the height of Emergency when I was District Magistrate of Chandigarh highlights this.
Jayaprakash Narayan, or JP as he was popularly known, was a prisoner and under my care while his incarceration was being monitored by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi herself. It was at a dinner hosted by a common friend wherein stalwarts like P.N. Haksar and T.N. Kaul, close confidants of the PM, were present along with a few senior IAS officers. As the party was warming up, Kaul taunted me: “Young man, we hear you are taking good care of JP and we also hear you are not happy with the Emergency. May we know the reasons?”
I was reluctant to respond but was goaded into it by the host and Haksar. “Sir, I am from the southern-most tip of India and as a toddler I have gone through the pangs of poverty and privation as India became a free nation adopting the path of democracy. Since then, I have believed freedom and democracy are India’s most precious assets without which there could be neither unity nor integrity nor prosperity. Both these assets stand extinguished now and you have arrested and jailed the 73-year-old JP who was one among the stalwarts who made freedom and democracy possible even when he is in poor health. How do you expect me to be happy?” I said.
There was stunned silence, which was broken by Haksar who asked about my forecast for the country and its future. Unable to contain myself, I blurted out that if this kind of assault on freedom and democracy goes on, in six decades, India will disintegrate. I gave cogent reasons and a convincing chronology. We are in that sixth decade — 2020 to 2029 — now and what I stated then appears to be coming true, despite the delusions of some that the country is united and strong.
The urgent need for a Bharat Jodo Yatra
Under the current ruling dispensation, even without any formal Emergency, unity and integrity of the nation is under grave threat. Constant attacks on federalism and politics of hate and bigotry apart, the constitutionally covenanted institutions of democratic governance, which keep the country and its people united, are being captured and subdued. The Office of the President, who is also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, has been reduced to a politically convenient but functionally ineffective dummy. Governors in states and Raj Bhavans are seemingly nothing but an extended arm of the RSS.
Though representing only about one-fourth of the electorate’s mandate, the BJP is running riot and has made Parliament functus officio. The higher judiciary, the defender of the Constitution and last bastion of justice, is not rendering justice. No one knows where the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the watchdog of taxpayers’ hard-earned money, has vanished. The Election Commission, the sentinel of electoral democracy, has been compromised and rendered ineffective to combat the ruling establishment’ might of 3M (Machine, Money, Media).
Ministries, public sector undertakings, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED), Income Tax Department, Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Delhi Police — all stand weaponised with their claws and fangs bared and menacing. Laws are made more draconian and these entities and agencies are being brazenly misused to deny people fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution and also to morph India from a people-oriented welfare state as laid down in Part IV (Directive Principles of State Policy) to a market-driven corporate state. Though these militate against the core of the Constitution, mandarins of the Indian Administrative, Police and Revenue Services, who have sworn by it, act like the proverbial monkey that will see nothing, hear nothing and speak nothing.
Amid all this, Vallabh Patel is invoked with a tall Statue of Unity and Rajpath is renamed as Kartavya Path to bully the hapless public that they have more duties than rights. What is more, while democracy is being torn asunder, a gargantuan “Temple of Democracy” is being built in Delhi’s Central Vista at massive cost to the taxpayer even as the country is sinking into economic morass with extreme inequity, ever rising prices and massive unemployment.
But who will tell the people all this? The news media has become mute and at best dances to certain tunes. The only alternative is to walk with the people and talk to them. And that is what Bharat Jodo Yatra is about.
“United we stand, divided we fall” is the famous adage. The ‘one-size-fits-all’ dogma — culture, language, religion, election, party, tax — is sure recipe for division and fall. But this needs to be understood in its proper perspective by moving with the people. Eighty years ago, behind the prison walls of an enslaved nation ruled by the East India Company, Jawaharlal Nehru ‘discovered’ India. In a free but fettered nation today, overlorded by a West India Company, his great grandson Rahul Gandhi is perhaps trying to ‘rediscover’ India.
From the way the yatra has commenced and the tremendous response it is receiving, it looks as if the clarion will be achieved to a reasonable extent. And Newton’s Third Law of motion — “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”— might kick-in and India could as well avoid disintegration.
M.G. Devasahayam is a retired IAS officer and chairman of People-First. He also served in the Indian Army. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)