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Waging a proxy war on constitution

Gyaneshwar Dayal

Constitution: It is now becoming fashionable to question the basic premise of our democratic constitutional institutions and even the constitution itself. The sad part is it is being questioned by the people who have taken the oath to uphold the Constitution. There have been many instances when the Governors have questioned the established norms of democratic life and enraged the democratically elected government of the state they are the ceremonious head of. The latest Challenger on the block is the Vice President who though a lawyer himself by profession now wants the basic structure being changed by overturning the Kesavananda Bharati judgment which had unequivocally established the norms of the political discourse in the country way back in the year 1973.

Authority of Supreme Court

The Supreme Court judgment by a 13- member bench had said that though the parliament was supreme it was not above the constitution from where it derived its authority and it had the power to amend the Constitution but did not have the authority to change its basic structure. It was a landmark judgment that has kept the sanctity of the constitution intact for so many years. This was the power of the Kesavanada Bharti judgment that even during the Emergency the all-powerful Indira Gandhi could not change it to curb fundamental rights or constitutional guarantees of upholding democratic values. It is sad that it comes from a legal luminary like Mr. Dhankar and in the times when the government is projecting the country as the “mother of democracies” in its presidency of G20. Having said that, there is more to it than meets the eye. It is not just an emotional outburst or a personal opinion. It has a pattern to it. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has always been ill at ease with the Constitution and for that matter with the Supreme Court and would like to have its wings clipped. Mouthing its concerns from the people upholding constitutional posts gives its case weight and attention. And it is no secret that Jagdip Dhankar has had strong RSS support. When Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s name came up, the RSS pushed Jagdeep Dhankar and had its way. A strong link with senior RSS leaders enabled Jagdeep Dhankar to sail through. His RSS friends, Indresh Kumar and Kamlesh Singh were instrumental in lobbying for his nomination.

Role of the Vice President

The office of the vice president is not the only one which is being used for pushing an agenda to subvert the judiciary and constitution itself; many Governors are doing it with missionary zeal. The ones heading the opposition governments are doing it with élan. To begin with, Jagdip Dhankar’s tenure as West Bengal governor was marked by his somewhat queer conduct. West Bengal Governor Dhankhar summoned the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police on a regular basis and when they did not turn up he took the matter to Twitter and tagged the Chief Minister. Dhankhar also had a run-in with Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee on the premises of the State Assembly. He withheld assent to the Howrah Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill 2021, delaying polls to the civic body. And he had company in other states. Kerala Governor, Arif Mohammad Khan is at loggerheads with the Kerala government to the point where he is almost on the verge of breaching his constitutional mandate. He thinks that he has the power to dismiss the ministers. Every school child knows that Governors are supposed to act on the ‘advice’ of the council of ministers, headed by the chief minister. Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, the Governor of Maharashtra didn’t think twice to hurt the Marathi sentiment with his foul-mouthed tirade at Shivaji Maharaj and embarrassing the erstwhile Shiv Sena govt headed by Uddhav Thackeray. Koshyari stalled the election of the Speaker since the post fell vacant in    February 2021.

The Governor’s take

The Governor’s view that the State Assembly cannot decide its own rules was taking his mandate a bit too far. He had refused to accept the recommendation of the Council of Ministers on the nomination of 12 members to the Legislative Council until the matter reached the High Court. The conduct of the Tamil Nadu Governor is no less absurd. Tamil Nadu governor RN Ravi has not acted upon the TN Admission to Undergraduate Medical Degree Courses Bill, adopted by the Assembly in September 2021. But most intriguing is his decision to unilaterally change the name of the state. Not to forget the Delhi LG Vinai Saxena who would like to take all decisions that ought to be taken by the chief minister. The SC judge YS Chandrachud quipped that if the central government is to take all decisions, why have an elected government in the state? Let us face it, the ceremonious offices (of governors, etc.) are manned by people whose political career is all but over and it is their rehabilitation of sorts. They are appointed for being in the good books of the powers that be. So allegiance to their political bosses comes naturally to them. But at the same time, they ought to realise they must hold the sanctity of the institution they man. After all, their first and foremost allegiance should be to the country they belong to.

This piece first appeared in The Pioneer

(The writer is a columnist and a documentary filmmaker. The views expressed are personal)

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