By Inder Jit
(Released on 9 May 1989)
Brave and splendid words were spoken again in Parliament last week to denounce communalism. The nation was alerted against the evil and several suggestions were made to combat it. Many MPs demanded a bank on communal parties. The Prime Minister, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, for his part, announced his decision to convene a meeting of the National Integration Council. He also said that he had asked the Home Minister Mr. Buta Singh, to first convene a meeting of all the secular and nationalist parties “to see how we can build a common culture.” But the big question is: Will something concrete be done this time and, more particularly, before the Lok Sabha poll? Will various parties be prevented from playing the communal card and pushing India closer to disaster? Or, will the Council meeting end up as yet another exercise in pious platitudes and rank hypocrisy?
First, the poll timing, a subject on which the Prime Minister fuelled fresh speculation by what he told newsmen in Ahmedabad last week. Remember, he said the general election would be held on schedule but added that “all options are open.” Factually, there is little scope for conjecture in the light of the Constitution and the law. The present Lok Sabha will stand dissolved on January 14 at the end of its five-year term. The new Lok Sabha is required to be elected and constituted before this date. The Election Commission (and not the Government) alone is empowered to fix and notify the poll dates any time during the six months prior to the expiry of the House. Thus, the Election Commission will have to hold the poll latest by about January 7, so that the House can be constituted by January 13. The entire poll process takes about 45 days.
The Prime Minister does not have many options. Actually, he has only one which, in fact, is hardly any option. He could even now get the Lok Sabha dissolved and opt for a snap poll. But he would have to act before July 13. Thereafter, the initiative will pass to the Election Commission. Theoretically, he could get the House dissolved on May 15 and ask for a poll. However, this would not make much difference. It would only mean that the new Lok Sabha would have to be constituted by November 14 instead of January 13. (The Constitution provides that six months shall not intervene between two sessions of the Lok Sabha.) In any case, the poll cannot be held in June, contrary to speculation. The electoral rolls are still being revised to include millions of youth who turned 18 on April 1 and are now entitled to vote. The final rolls will be ready only in July, except in Assam and some areas.
Now the main point: communalism. Everyone knows the problemwell. Successive Prime Ministers, beginning with Nehru, have thundered on the subject since Independence. In March 1984, Indira Gandhi described communalism as “the Indian version of fascism.”Further, she called upon all the parties to unite “at least to root out this evil.”Mr Rajiv Gandhi, too, has expressed himself firmly and forthrightly on the issue time and again. In 1986, he told the National Integration Council that if communalism was allowed to spread “it would be disastrous for the country and would ruin everything we have built—and that would be the end of our dreams and aspiration.” Not many remember that the National Integration Council was initially set up by Nehru in 1961 to combat communalism and was subsequently revived and reconstituted by Indira Gandhi and, after her, by Mr Rajiv Gandhi.
Yet, little has been done to tackle the basic malady over the past four decades. Shamefully, we have continued to indulge in double talk and deception. We have still to implement the unanimous resolution adopted by the Constituent Assembly (Legislative) way back on April 3, 1948 to eliminate communalism from India’s body politic. The resolution, which was passed against the background of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, called upon the Government to take legislative and administrative measures to eliminate communalism so as to ensure proper functioning of democracy and the growth of national unity and solidarity. Specifically, it demanded action to prevent communal organisations from engaging in politics — any activity “other than those essential for the bona fide religious, cultural, social and educational needs of the community.”
In the meanwhile, the very evils that Nehru sought to combat through the Council in 1961, namely communalism, casteism and regionalism, have grown by leaps and bounds. Indeed, today one hears more and more of castes and communities — Thakurs, Brahmins, Jats, Yadavs and others—than ever before. This brings us to the question: why? The answer is simple. Nothing has been achieved, because nothing was seriously sought to be achieved. This has sadly been the case even after Parliament became much stronger in 1976 to enforce secularism and root out communalism than during Nehru’s time. That year, the preamble of the Constitution was amended to provide that India was no the longer merely a Sovereign Democratic Republic. On January 3, 1977, it became a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic when the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act 1976 came into effect.
More than anything else, this change in the preamble enabled the Centre to tackle any difficulty posed by Article 19 of the Constitution in banning communal parties. This Article relates to fundamental freedoms and, among other things, provides for the basic “right to form associations or unions”. Yet, this new power has not been exercised on one pretext or another. Worse, little advantage has been taken so far of the additional powers now available to tackle communalism with the help of the recent amendments to the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act 1988. This amendment requires all the political parties (new or old) to pledge their allegiance to socialism, secularism and democracy and to seek registration with the Election Commission. But the Centre has not even issued a notification required under the Act to bring these provisions into force!
On Wednesday last week, the Prime Minister eloquently referred in passing to these amendments and told the Lok Sabha: “The secular injunctions of the Constitution must be carried out in good faith and with deep dedication. Religion must not be mixed with politics. No one doing so can run for elections today after our recent amendments. But still there are some political parties who have not amended their Constitutions. These political parties must amend their Constitutions and bring them into conformity with the nation’s Constitution”. Ironically, Mr Gandhi’s own party, the Congress-I has yet to amend its Constitution. That most other parties have also not done so makes little difference. The ruling party is expected to give a healthy lead in a matter described by Mr Gandhi as a national issue demanding a national response.
That is not all, Mr Gandhi warmly complimented Mr Justice Bharucha of the Bombay High Court for his historic judgement in setting aside the election of a Shiv Sena MLA for having pandered to religious sentiment. Yet, Mr Gandhi’s own Congress-I brazenly played up to the Christian sentiment in its manifesto for the Mizoram Assembly poll last January. The manifesto declared: “As Christians, it is our bounden responsibility to proclaim the gospel…” Further, that “the Congress-I socialism is based on Biblical teachings,” that the Congress-I would “explore ways and means to send pilgrims to the Holy land,” and that the Congress-I would “revise the school syllabus on the basis of Mizo culture and Christian Principles.” All in all, one thing stands out. It is time to cry halt to double think and double talk. We only invite disaster if we continue to beg the basic issues and indulge in sanctimonious platitudes. — INFA