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SBI 'openly complicit' in Electoral Bonds scam? Apex Court's Constitutional dilemma

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*

In a short time from now, the Election Commission of India (ECI) is expected to announce the General Elections 2024! The citizens of India are aware that this is a watershed moment for the country and the outcome of the elections will certainly determine the future, particularly the nation’s commitment to its Constitution and the future of our democracy!
India today is on the brink! There are fascist, fundamentalist and fascist forces at work, determined to take the country back to the ‘dark ages’ of history. At stake are India's pluralistic traditions and democratic ethos! ‘Good governance’ is pathetically lacking! Article 19 (which guarantees freedom of speech and expression), Article 21 (the right to life and liberty) Article 25 (which guarantees freedom to preach, practice and propagate one’s religion), for that matter, all fundamental rights- are consistently denied to citizens.
At the receiving end are the poor and the vulnerable, the marginalised and the minorities, the excluded and the exploited, the Adivasis, the Dalits and the OBCs; the small farmers and migrant workers; women and children; the differently-abled and other sexually-oriented persons; human rights defenders, journalists and all those who take a visible and vocal stand to protect and promote the idea of a democratic, pluralistic and secular India!
There is a serious lack of political will to address systemic burning issues; there are hurried legislation and draconian, prejudiced policies (all designed to decimate the Constitution) like the National Education Policy, the Citizenship Amendment Act, the anti-conversion laws, the anti-farmer (pro-Corporate) farm laws, the four labour codes, the Forest Conservation Amendment Act, the recent Uttarakhand Universal Civil Code, the ‘One Nation, One Election.’ Constitutional bodies like the Election Commission, the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the NIA, the police and even the judiciary are compromised; they have become ‘Caged Parrots’.
Corruption is the new normal; we have the most corrupt government since independence! First, it was demonetization; then, the scam of the Electoral Bonds. Fortunately, the pathbreaking judgement on the Electoral Bonds by the Supreme Court on 15 February, has exposed the corruption, the lack of transparency and accountability of this current Government.
The State Bank of India (SBI) had to furnish the complete details to the Apex Court by 6 March. In a blatantly corrupt manner, on 4 March, the SBI petitioned the SC – for an extension of time till 30 June to provide these details! Only an absolute moron will be unable to see the nexus between the SBI and the regime! Let’s see what the decision of the SC is and whether they will be openly complicit in this corrupt act!
Communalism is everywhere! ‘Hindutva’ is mainstreamed: from the proliferation of temples to the ascendancy of the RSS in every sector. The pluralistic fabric and the rich diversity of the country is being destroyed systematically. Early December, in Jaipur, one of the newly elected MLAs went round closing down non-vegetarian restaurants run by Muslims. On 22 January, with much fanfare, it was the launch of the Ram Temple by the BJP /RSS, using official Government of India machinery.
There are numerous instances of minorities (Muslims, Christians and Sikhs) being targeted and attacked. In Manipur and elsewhere, Christian personnel and institutions are being attacked almost daily! The farmers and the ordinary labourers are on the warpath. Thousands of them, who at this moment, are outside Delhi are being forbidden to enter the capital city. The Government is using every ruse in the book to quell their protest
On 26 November 1949, We the People of India, gave to ourselves a visionary and pathbreaking constitution. Thanks to all the members of our Constituent Assembly, eminent women and men, from every section of India’s society, led by stalwart Dr BR Ambedkar. On, 25 November 1949, the eve of the enactment of the Constitution, Dr Ambedkar gave a long but very passionate speech to the Constituent Assembly.
His speech set the vision and the spirit of what the new Constitution should be for the people of India. Ambedkar said:
“If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives…. where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for (..) unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.
“The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not “to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship. The third thing we must do is not to be content with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it, social democracy”.

Ambedkar’s final words in that path breaking speech, sums up his views on the measure of responsibility owed to preserve the idea of India, as envisioned in the Constitution:
“If we wish to preserve the Constitution in which we have sought to enshrine the principle of Government of the people, for the people and by the people, let us resolve not to be tardy in the recognition of the evils that lie across our path and which induce people to prefer Government for the people to Government by the people, nor to be weak in our initiative to remove them. That is the only way to serve the country. I know of no better.”
It looks as though, the visionary he was, Ambedkar was actually visioning and speaking of India 2024, when the Constitution is truly at stake! The sacred Constitution of India today, is not only being trampled upon and desecrated, but being torn to shreds. The Constitution guarantees fundamental rights (rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948) to every single citizen of India; they are based on the four non-negotiable pillars of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity.
These fundamentals which are enshrined in the Preamble with the pledge to constitute India into a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular and Democratic Republic; where dignity, unity and integrity are paramount. The promotion and the protection of human rights for all and the respect for pluralism and diversity, is sine qua non for good governance. Sadly, in the past few years we have witnessed the systematic erosion and the destruction of human rights, by those in power.
It is imperative that we the people, mainstream Constitutionality today, which could include:
  • to promote and protect the Constitution in every way
  • to study the Constitution: developing an ownership of it in letter and spirit; 
  • to organise in-depth training in social analysis and advocacy; 
  • to ensure that all official policies / legislation which are draconian anti- people, anti- poor and anti- Constitutional which go against the democratic and pluralistic fabric of the country be rescinded immediately and unconditionally; 
  • to ensure that all eligible voters are on the electoral rolls and exercise their franchise freely, for democratic, secular parties/individuals. It means that a regime which is fascist, fundamentalist and fanatic and is unable to ensure constitutional rights to all, must be voted out!
Many Constitutional challenges indeed! But only when we the citizens of India realise and exercise our Constitutional mandate will we be able to guarantee to our beloved nation the change we want to see! In the meantime, we need to pray and act in the words of Rabindranath Tagore, “Into that heaven of freedom my Father, let my country awake!”
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*Human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer

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