India's constitutional stability

The political forces in the opposition have added a new shot in their anti-Modi narrative -- contending that the regime was flouting constitutional norms of governance. The Indian Constitution is all about defining democracy, secularism, welfare function of the state, Centre's primary responsibility for the security of the nation in keeping with India's identity as a union of states

The political forces in the opposition have added a new shot in their anti-Modi narrative -- contending that the regime was flouting constitutional norms of governance. The Indian Constitution is all about defining democracy, secularism, welfare function of the state, Centre's primary responsibility for the security of the nation in keeping with India's identity as a union of states and judicial review of legislative and executive decisions by the Supreme Court to keep the power of the elected in check. The rhetoric of the opposition against the alleged flouting of constitutional norms by the Modi government is more of a war of words -- a closer look at each of the above-mentioned paradigms puts the latter in the clean.

So far as the amendments to the Constitution go, should it be said that it is the Congress that in its heydays in power evidently found fault with the Preamble of the Constitution of India -- so famously adopted in 1950 -- for not clearly defining India as a secular state and thus negated the meticulous effort of the Constitution-makers to get the secular thought embedded in the very foundation of the original document? India was to be governed through a transparent electoral process of 'one man one vote' regardless of creed,caste and gender, a provision of equal opportunities for development and same protection of law for all and a clear mandate that the political executive will not have a denominational stamp. This basic framework of secular governance has remained unchanged so far.

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What was the compulsion, therefore, for the then ruling party to introduce the adjective 'secular' in the Constitution as late as in the third decade of its existence? Is this because secularism had now become a political instrument for claiming that the regime was giving special attention to the Muslim minority? Incidentally, India had inherited the legacy of violent communalism but as the democratic assimilation of communities gathered pace, the incidence of communal riots had shown a steady decadal decline. Strangely, however, the communal front registered a deterioration in the latter Seventies in spite of the amendment of the Preamble. Secularism of the state in India is maintained by the principles originally laid down in the Constitution and not because the word has been put into the book subsequently.

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The Constitution underscored the federal character of India by assigning the law and order duties to the states thus getting them to have a feel of the autonomy of governance strengthened by a host of powers granted to them through the delineation of Centre-State responsibilities. However, it was made clear that India was a Union of States conferring the Centre with the duty of safeguarding the security of the country. National Intelligence organisations would work under the Centre and Intelligence function performed by the state machinery would, apart from its importance for maintaining law and order, supplement the charter of the central agencies.

The Directive Principles of the Constitution call upon the state to ensure internal peace and security and handle foreign policy for maintaining international order. The Constitution authorises the Centre to even declare emergency in an extreme case where security of India is threatened by war, external aggression or internal rebellion and assume overriding powers -- the Centre is thus given the total freedom to protect the nation's security. Prime Minister Modi has to be complimented for showing the political will power to order surgical strike at Balakot deep inside Pakistan, to punish the perpetrators behind the suicide bomber attack on a CRPF convoy in Kashmir in early 2019.

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In the wake of the Kargil war that was sparked off by the surreptitious infiltration of commandos by Pakistan in the mountainous Drass region in early 1999, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee established an apex body called National Security Council in November that year with a secretariat headed by the National Security Advisor who was also an ex-officio member of the council. The council chaired by the PM included Ministers of Defence, Home, External Affairs and Finance as members besides the Deputy Chairman of Niti Ayog whose inclusion marked the new doctrine of national security that considered economic security as its integral part. The NSC was to manage national security in its totality and help evolve the security policy and strategy. NSCS ensures Intelligence coordination, preparation of strategic assessment incorporating technical inputs and integral responses to an emerging threat.

The Constitution of India supports a contemporary principle of security vital for a democratic regime that says 'security for all means all for security' and underlines the importance of citizen's conscious contribution to making the nation secure. It defines Fundamental Duties that morally mandate everyone to preserve the sovereignty and integrity of the nation, strengthen the cause of internal peace and security and support the measures of the state to counter the attack of the enemy. In these days of Pak-sponsored proxy war against India in which the Pak ISI has used faith-based terrorism to destabilise this country, the role of our citizens in maintaining vigilance around them -- in streets, localities and places of congregations -- to detect suspicious behaviour of a stranger and report it the nearest authority, has become crucial.

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Well-considered initiatives are necessary to inculcate security awareness amongst government servants, students and local-self bodies about the covert attempts of enemy agencies to recruit supporters and operators often by trapping them through social media. Lobbies exist within the country and outside to promote false narratives against the democratic government of India and influence public opinion against it often by building a narrative of anti-minority ethos, dictatorial outlook and attack on diversity. There is a convenient mutual empathy between these externally inspired elements and many in the opposition here with the result that real political contest is giving way to 'proxy politics' that detracts from the constitutional stability India is known for in the world.

The federal scheme of things laid down by our Constitution should have worked fine as the division of powers between the Centre and the states was meant to be complementary serving the overall national interests. As the primary repository of the responsibility of maintaining law and order states were expected to depoliticise police functioning in the interest of internal security -- state police is often the first responder to a terror threat now -- and make sure that enemy agents were not able to exploit the vulnerability of a weak administrative machinery to create sleeper cells by acquiring fake identities, cover occupation and social mobility. The Centre cannot take care of national security without the wholehearted commitment of the state governments who will have to learn to keep security above politics. Any incident of public violence against an individual or a violent clash is a reflection on the state's law and order management and the critics must target the administration concerned without drawing comparisons or giving a political tint to the happening.

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Violence can easily negate democratic rule and some of the recent incidents in different parts of the country create the concern that the stability of governance provided by our Constitution might be getting sacrificed at the altar of incompetent state administrations. That this should happen when the Modi government on its part was succeeding in establishing the voice of India as a major power on the world scene, is particularly regrettable. The situation demands that the Centre should strengthen its monitoring of the law and order situation in the country by acquiring a bigger say in the appointment of heads of the State Police and State Administration. It is a matter of great satisfaction for all thinking citizens that this idea has already been endorsed by the highest court of the land.

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(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)

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