IOS online Lecture on Constitution, Democracy and Participation in India: A Citizenship Initiative

IOS online Lecture on Constitution, Democracy and Participation in India: A Citizenship Initiative 

New Delhi: An online lecture on “Constitution, Democracy and Participation in India: A Citizenship Initiative” was organized by the Institute of Objective Studies on January 8, 2022.

The lecture began with the recitation of a Qur’anic verse by Naseem Ahsan, IOS. The Assistant Secretary General, IOS, Prof. Hasina Hashia, who introduced the topic, said that this was the first lecture of a series started by the IOS. She observed that India adopted democracy soon after its Independence and the leaders of the freedom struggle had made all efforts for democratic governance even during the colonial rule. The major purpose before the leaders was to take up the responsibilities and administer power without any discrimination and exclusiveness. She held that this was well documented in the debates held in the constituent assembly of India, which prepared a blueprint for political equality, freedom, justice and fraternity in the country. It was in this context that the IOS took the national initiative to provide a meaningful and deliberative platform of academicians and intellectuals to deliberate on the challenges, issues and problems and to find out achievement solutions, she added.

Delivering the lecture, Professor, department of political science, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, Prof. Arshi Khan, said that the topic was contemporary and a part of the syllabus in universities. Quoting the Chinese philosopher, Confucius, he observed that laws were unnecessary unless they were strictly enforced. He discussed briefly the political and social situation that prevailed during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment in Europe. Then happened the French Revolution that paved the way for the voice of freedom and human rights. India was colonized by the Britishers, who ruled it for two centuries, and the end came only after resistance by the united political community. It became possible after a long-drawn-out freedom struggle with the participation of all the Indians. He said that India was a multi-cultural society and its demographic composition differed from the west as it was religious. Religion played an important role in the socio-political life of the country. It was unique in the sense that federalism, democracy and electoral manifestations contributed to the country’s strength. The relationship between people reflected the true spirit of a plural society, he remarked. 

Prof. Khan observed that double safeguards to multi-cultural society had been provided in the Constitution by way of the reservation to OBCs and SCs/STs. While recognition of regional languages had been restricted, Article 15 prohibited discrimination against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, etc. There were a number of good things in the Indian Constitution that made it one of the best Constitutions of the world. He said that though the first elections to the Indian parliament took place in 1952, majoritarianism stared ever since the Indian National Congress was founded. Democracy gave power to parliament to pass laws, but there too, the majority ruled. India was fortunate that the transfer of power from the British rule was peaceful. He noted that for most of the time, the Congress was in power and during its rule, majoritarianism grew. Owing to its departure from the path it adopted during the national movement, Congress became weak. By 1978, it became more vulnerable, and after 1985, it was further weakened in the wake of the emergence of Hindu religious fanaticism. The year 1989 marked the second departure of the party when VP Singh left the party to become the Prime Minister with the help of some opposition group. He was followed by Chandra Shekhar, who had a stork term as the country’s premier. He maintained that corruption and family rule weakened the Congress party exhaustively. Mandal and Kamandal issue marked the emergence of new political alignment and area of coalition governments in states started, he added.

Prof. Khan observed that the phase of coalition governments dominated the political scene till the BJP emerged as the single largest party in 2014. Riding the crest of Hindutva mobilization, BJP became a force to reckon with. It called the change the beginning of a new era. A new wave of violence against Muslims started, and dozens of them were brutally killed in lynching by Hindutva goons. Open humiliation of Mahatma Gandhi and anti-conversion laws were some of the steps of the new dispensation to write a new narrative. While OBC, SC/ST had certain safeguards against their victimization, Muslims had none. This raised question as to who were the beneficiaries of government largesse in a multi-cultural society where Hindus constituted 90 percent of the total population. He referred to the Gopal Singh Committee Report, 1983, which was a grim reminder of the educational and economic conditions of Indian Muslims. In this connection, he also mentioned the Sachar Committee Report, which declared that Muslims were worse than Dalits as they were under-represented in every walk of life. Rang Nath Misra Commission also concluded that Muslims needed more empowerment. He said that democracy in a multi-cultural society demanded more participation of the minorities and other weaker sections.

Commenting on the role of the ruling party in a democracy, Prof. Khan said that everything was decided by the party. Democracy is based on progress and development, equality and civil rights. Currently, the country is governed by the dictum-Hindi, Hindu and Hindustan. The ruling BJP was busy implementing its agenda. Today’s India was identified with one country and one religion in a multi-cultural society. Thus the legitimacy of such a government was in question because the participation of all did not exist. One did not find health centres, schools and community centres, parks, etc., in Muslim dominated areas. He said that due to the lack of infrastructure, Muslims lived in slums. Since Muslims were not a bargaining community, they were not given facilities like the ones available in other countries. They were also not a participating community. Referring to the rule of law, he said that an independent judiciary could uphold the majesty of law by interpretation and playing the role of a guardian to safeguard the rights of citizens. Mutual consultation, which was one of the features of the British parliament, did not exist in India. Certain questions regarding the proportionate representation of minorities in various institutions arose. Their representation proportionate to the population was a necessity in vibrant nation-building. He opined that India was a society of communities, and the majority was not a threat unless there were religious considerations. He held that Indians were pre-political and pre-constitutional, and India could not be understood by ideology. The majority was not the people, and hence, they could not call to change the Constitution. Constitution was not a problem but the mind was certainly a problem, he concluded.

In his presidential remarks, the Secretary General, IOS, Prof. Z. M. Khan, said that the country was passing through a transitional phase with trials and tribulations. This was reflective of governance with regard to secularism and human rights. Democracy could not be understood in a particular perspective where only the majority dominated. The context in which democracy functioned was important. Unfortunately, the democracy was losing its colour as envisaged by its protagonists. He observed that the right of a citizen in a democracy should be protected at all costs. The idea of equality should be cultivated and shared by all groups. The current political leadership was not conducive to India’s composite culture. India was a very peaceful society, and while focusing on other issues, this fact should be taken into account. He concluded that big business houses were also involved in mobilizing people along religious and caste lines.

At the end of the lecture, Assistant Secretary General, IOS, Prof. Hasina Hashia, extended a vote of thanks to the attendees. 


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