You were wrong Arun Jaitley — on multiple counts

Link to his entire speech — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcSoWN3DjDc

This happened — 26 November was celebrated as the “First Constitution Day”. A good 65 years later. It does coincide with the 125 years celebration of Dr. BR Ambedkar. The historic significance of the date — On 26 November 1949 the constitution was adapted by the constituent assembly. The constitution was yet to be signed by the president of the constituent assembly Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who went on to become the first president of India.No body can deny the importance of Ambedkar in the role of drafting, providing the necessary shape to the constitution.

I am fundamentally against the idea of celebrating another “Constitution Day”. The most important day that needs to be celebrated is the day, when the constitution came into force. We do have a lot of days that have immense historical significance in the course of the making the constitution a reality — Setting up the members of the constituent assembly, its first sitting,its each meeting,the hundreds of deliberations that were undertaking during the course.Each moment of the process was important and of utmost significance. The Republic day is a culmination of all those efforts. By creating another separate day, we have turned this into a whole new “event management” as Sitaram Yechury calls it. He is true.

Then, we have the other aspect of the “Reaffirming” the belief. If there was “one rule book” that people of this country had the utmost trust in, it was the Constitution. People have never lost faith in it. People might have lost faith in the politicians that played by the book, sometimes in the ways it wasn't intended to. Elections are the biggest power that had been passed onto every citizen in the form of Universal adult sufferage. The consistency with which year after year people turned up to vote in any sort of election, in fact reaffirms their faith.

It would have been lovely had we celebrated the good that the constitution had provided us on this day. It would have been lovely had we celebrated that as country we adhered to what the makers of the constitution stood for. Instead, the leader of the house ended up taking pot shots at possibly every “road block” that the government “believes” it faces today.

I am not suggesting that the celebration be all goody-goody but the opening remarks of the leader of Upper house indicate otherwise. The tone was overtly sarcastic, sometimes even condescending. The smirk or rather “gotcha” was deplorable sometimes.

Here is my take on remarks made by Arun Jaitley —

(I will try to quote verbatim wherever I can type it, the full text wasn't available over the internet)

How is that two nations that were formed at the same time ended up differently — One with the largest democracy while the other that was governed by military/dictatorship for a large part ?

I love this statement. It brings up an important perspective. A lot of credit has to go to the makers of the constitution. It did sometimes amaze me that the “law of land” had so much foresight. The makers envisioned possibly every tricky scenario and built in enough checks and balances.

Having said that, due credit has to be given to the leaders that implemented the law. It takes visionaries like Nehru,Patel, Prasad, Shastri to ensure that we stuck to the principles of the constitution. It would have been immensely tempting to subvert the constitution in its early days and people wouldn't have even noticed. But these were gentlemen.The first 15–20 years were the most testing times of this country. The world watched how we would make the dream of democracy a reality in the largest illiterate population that had the possibly the biggest weapon — the right to vote. It would have been easy to repeal this right and vest it in an elite few. No one would have even realised what a huge blunder it would have been.

Just like any sport, the rule book is only as good as the players adhered to it. People of the highest moral calibre elevate the same game governed by the same rules in comparison with an immoral player.

Jaitley spends less than ten minutes on this topic — the only positive theme he left in his one hour of speech.

Article 21 — No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

He begins with how Indira Gandhi repealed these powers from ordinary citizens. Perfectly al right till now. He goes on to draw parallels with today’s situation of “intolerance”. He goes on to say “Of course, there is no comparison — the difference is between a mouse and a mole hill”. That was a clear pot shot at everyone who expressed their opinion on the rising intolerance in a dismissive tone. Two birds for one shot. Very cheap sir. Very cheap.

There is a lot of difference between what we witnessed during emergency and today but the way politicians reacted to tells me, things haven’t really changed. There is a sense of cynicism. It reaffirms my faith that the government has been living in a denial or rather treats this whole moment as a nuisance. That is very dangerous in my mind. When the intellectuals of this country can’t get the government to “hear” them, I am not sure how the government is going to hear from ordinary citizens. It goes on to prove how disconnected the government is from reality.

Article 44 and Article 48 —

Art. 44 — Uniform civil code for the citizens The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India

I believe he went on take a twisted version of both the articles.This was another attempt to swipe against “personal laws”. The reason I say that is because he said “Sixty-five years after he (Dr. BR Ambedkar) framed the Constitution, (if) all of us ready to say that all personal laws must be compliant with the Constitution”. I agree the personal laws are not compliant with the constitution but that doesn't mean we push for uniform civil code. We should rather make the personal laws compliant with the constitution. I assume Ambedkar would have reacted the same had he seen what is going on today, a fear echoed by Nehru back then and one of the important reasons why we don’t have uniform civil code today.

Art. 48– Organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.

This directive principle has no religious connotation. This directive principle was aimed from an ecological stand point — the importance of cattle, animal husbandry in agriculture, because the subsequent directive principles go on to support my point(Article 48A). But who cares, as long as we give it a religious spin and pander to the electoral base.

As Sitaram Yechury interjected him , Arun Jaitly conveniently ignored the other directive principles between Article 44 and 48, especially Article 45(The original one — The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years — See more here) before it became a fundamental right.

So in terms of education vs protecting cattle, we do realise where the priorities of the government lie. Between fundamental rights vs directive principles, we do understand what the government wants to push. Make smarter people vs creating a regressive society on religious grounds, we do understand where we are heading. It is especially true after this government cut spending on education in this budget.

Usage of article 356 — Imposition of president rule in the state

There is little doubt that Article 356, has been misused multiple times. The rise of regional parties lead to decrease in the usage. However, Jaitley goes on to use this data to point fingers at the Congress governments while conveniently ignoring its misuse by his own paternal party.

I can understand the imposition of Article 356, sometimes misused, by Nehru, because he was battling to keep the country together and he lost his important wingman in Shastri very early. But I have very little respect for the way Indira misused this provision. There is no debate about it. Having said that,guess the prime minister who used Article 356 the second highest number of times — Moraji Desai.

Source: http://www.livemint.com/Politics/x3cSvcJAHHtHZmdwPONeCI/Has-Article-356-been-the-Centres-AK56.html

Usage of Article 356 by different prime ministers
Usage/Month of tenure

Moraji Desai formed his government with the Janata Party that included the likes of Vajpayee,Advani, right after Indira’s emergency. There is a sense of irony in how things have panned out.

By the way Modi, is doing a pretty good run rate here as well(Agreed the circumstances are different,nevertheless). All these facts have been ignored by Jaitley while he went to bury the Congress government for its appropriation of Article 356. Selective pickings again.

Dual reservation “privilege” and a case of misuse

It has been noted that some of the people have been taking advantage of the reservations provided by the caste and also enjoying the reservation in minority institutions. I unfortunately don’t have numbers on this issue . However this surely doesn't warrant an opening remark(because the intersection set of this scenario is minuscule in my mind) in the celebration of constitution day unless there is an ulterior motive — which my guess is, there is one.

Murders made as martyrs

This was a brilliant point. The processions we saw on TV when a terrorist was hanged — in simple terms — not right.While making his point, Jaitley chose to ignore hundred other examples — Samjutha,Maya Kodnani,Tytler etc. In the Samjutha case, there have been allegations of toning down the allegations, in the Maya’s case, we see her roam scot free. We ended up making her the minister of a state government, ironically for women and child empowerment. I am not sure if that isn’t the highest level of martyr-ship, what is.

On one hand we have government extending free hands to other terrorists on “humanitarian grounds” and other hand cry wolf. It also begs the questions if the government introspected whether due judicial process was followed in the hanging of the terrorist. He goes on to quote instances of where rulers have been blind sided by their “own people”. I am guessing he was drawing parallels with the current “dissenters” with the erst-while betrayers. I hope I am wrong. If it was true, he is wrong on so many levels.Is the government playing step mom to certain sections of this country ?

The Third Reich — the biggest take away point of the speech

Jaitley identifies four steps on how Hitler laid out a plan to circumvent constitution for his “greater” purposes.

  1. Pretext of fire to impose emergency
  2. Amend the constitution to provide all powers to Hitler by detaining all opposition members
  3. Censorship on newspapers
  4. All this is interest of Germany

It take no genius to identify who he is was aiming at. He further substantiated his point by quoting Rudolf Hess — “Adolf Hitler is Germany and Germany is Adolf Hitler” Clearly, that was a give away and the cat calling from the benches behind him suggest that the leading party members thoroughly enjoyed the take down.

There are interesting parallels with what is happening today — We have ignored the “dissenters” and are on our way to create “fire” by identifying “Us vs Them”. Any one who raises voices that are in principle against the government is part of “them”. Marches and counter marches. Rise of religious jingoism and bigotry. Pseudo-nationalism.All of them point in that direction.

We have reached a stage where people of this country have lost faith in media and of course media houses are not helping themselves. We have successfully created an evil and all this is in the interest of this “Hindustan”. Dangerous parallels Jaitley.

I couldn't cover his points on Judiciary and the repealing of property rights. Each of his statement is an indication of what this government believes in — Land bill (it failed to bring in), NJAC(it believes judiciary has crossed the Lakshman Rekha), the media(how unaligned it is with the government), uniform civil code,Federalism(Tax sharing structure between centre and state) and the red meat issue. It only reaffirms that the statements made by second-rung leaders of his party aren't an exception but rather the statements the party truly believes in.

Finally, I would like to conclude that on an occasion that deserved to be shown immense decorum to all the pillars of the constitution — the people, the judiciary, the opposition, the democracy, the media, Jaitley chose to point fingers on each of these institutions in a distasteful tone.It is a rather sad note to end upon.