Indian republic @70: Constitutional vision vs. social reality

In the 69 years of journey, India has made considerable progress in democratising the society at large. It is pertinent to look into the aspects of economic performance, political inclusion and social equality.

Nayakara Veeresha | January 25, 2019


#OBC   #ST   #SC   #women   #inequality   #Indian Constitution   #India   #Republic day   #Muslim   #general elections   #democracy  
GN photo
GN photo

This 26th of January earmarks the 70th anniversary of the Indian republic. In the 69 years of journey, India has made considerable progress in democratising the society at large. The Constitution of India has promulgated fundamental rules of governance to the States in the form of Directive Principles of State Policy and it is unique, in laying down a vision of social transformation besides providing a governance framework for the country. At this juncture, it is pertinent to look into the aspects of (i) Economic performance (ii) Political inclusion and (iii) Social equality. These are the three main pillars of social, economic and political democracy. In the concluding session of the constituent assembly, Dr. Rajendra Prasad has said that: “the welfare of the country will depend upon the way in which the country is administered. That will depend upon the man who administers it. If the people who are elected are capable and men of character and integrity, they would be able to make the best even of a defective Constitution. If they are lacking in these, the Constitution cannot help the country”.

 
In the light of the above words of wisdom, it is imperative to ask ourselves; we as citizens are electing the men of character and integrity to govern or not? Before going into the role of individuals as citizens let us see how our parliamentary democracy has performed in three major aspects of nations governance and development:
 
I. Economic performance: Article 39 of the Constitution states that ‘the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment’. During 1950-1980, the GDP growth was 3 percent and crossed 10 only in 2010 to 10.26. In 1947, the per capita income was Rs 247 and in 2017 it is Rs 1,03,219 per year as per current prices. The recent IMF projection and World Economic outlook report forecast a growth rate of 7.4 percent in 2019.
The World Inequality report of 2018 highlighted that inequality in India has been historically high post-1980s. It noted that the income inequality between 1947 and 1977 reduced considerably but increased gradually since the 1980s. Although the growth rate in post-2000 has been high, it has concentrated only among the top 10 percent of the richest people. These top 10 percent people are earning more than five times of national average income. “Since 1980, it is also striking that the top earners captured more of the total growth than the bottom 50 percent”. In spite of impressive growth figures, the worrisome aspects of the economy are income and wage inequality, persisting poverty, malnutrition and lack of infrastructure and labor reforms.
 
II. Political inclusion: In India, historically, women, SC/STs, OBCs, and Muslims are not given primacy in the decision-making process especially in sharing the power and authority. The Indian Constitution, since its inception, has taken initiatives towards protecting the interests of the SCs/STs, who have been granted special privileges in educational, economic and political rungs under the Articles of 338 and 46. The current Lok Sabha consists of 81 MPs constituting 14.9 percent from SC against 16.6 percent of the population, 49 MPs constituting 9 percent from STs against 8.6 percent of the population, 62 women MPs constitute11.4 percent against 49 percent of the population and 23 MPs from Muslim community constituting 4.2 percent against 10.5 percent of the population. It is evident that SCs, women, and Muslims are under-represented in parliament.
The rise Other Backward Classes (hereafter OBCs) in state and national politics is also interesting as they constitute 40 percent of the total population in the country. The single largest political inclusion took place through 73 and 74th amendments to the Constitution in 1992-93. The 73rd amendment act added 2.38 million elected representatives to 2, 46, 690 panchayats including 1.26 million women, who constitute 44.52 percent of the total number of elected representatives. The SC/ST/women representation in panchayats is one of the indicators of inclusiveness in local politics.
 
III. Social equality: In 1947, the literacy rate stood at 12 percent, which rose to 74.04 percent in 2011; life expectancy at birth was 32 years and is 68.34 years in 2015. Jaati (caste) and patriarchy remain critical factors in perpetuating the structural and hierarchical inequalities in the society. In spite of the strong push for egalitarian society through democratic means of participation and Ambedkars powerful call for the ‘annihilation of caste’, it’s still strong with its resilience. Its role and relevance are getting stronger day by day as evident by the recent 10 percent quota in jobs and education for the upper caste poor and the contentious citizenship (amendment) bill. These moves not only threaten the basic fabric of the social justice envisaged in the Constitution, but also risk the democratic stability.
The rise of social and religious violence, sexual violence on women, child, and human trafficking and intolerance are a serious cause of concern. The state is harsh on human rights activists, media, civil society organisations, academicians, researchers and even on its citizens (surveillance state).  The blatant violation of human rights is quite visible in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern (especially Assam, Nagaland) and in Central and Eastern states.  
 
Citizen’s role
186 MPs out of 543 are facing criminal charges in the current Lok Sabha. This means that one in every three MP is charged with criminal cases. It reflects that we, as individuals, are failing to elect the ‘men of character and integrity’ to the legislature. At this historical moment, India is preparing for its 17th general elections in May 2019, the role of individuals as citizens have immense importance in electing those with a commitment to the Constitution and to the people’s welfare. Individual assertion is the basis of all the reforms – be it political or social in the spirit of democratic insurrection and active citizenship. 
 
Veeresha is a PhD fellow, Centre for Political Institutions, Governance and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bengaluru.

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