Home arrow Archives arrow Political Diary arrow Political Diary 2007 arrow Karunandhi Has Lost It:POLITY PLAYS FOOTBALL WITH CONSTITUTION, By Poonam I Kaushish;19 October 2007
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Karunandhi Has Lost It:POLITY PLAYS FOOTBALL WITH CONSTITUTION, By Poonam I Kaushish;19 October 2007 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 19 October 2007

Karunandhi Has Lost It

Polity Plays Football With Constitution

By Poonam I Kaushish


India’s top leaders seem to have developed an uncanny knack of making confusion worse confounded. First we had Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh bombarding us about the great benefits of the Indo-US nuclear deal. Then we were suddenly lectured on the coalition dharma and how the survival of the Government was more important than the ‘nuclear’ good of the country. Now we have the DMK supremo Karunanidhi shooting his mouth off on the Constitution. Leaving one wondering whether he should at all be taken seriously.


On Monday last, the octogarian Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu asserted out of the blue: “Our Constitution has been changed many times…We need a new Constitution in the era of coalitions…The country should look towards a federal form of government in the true sense….. What should be done is that all shortcomings of the Constitution should be addressed in one sitting. That is what I feel.”


Clearly, Karunanidhi seems to have gone senile and lost it, as some of his leading critics are saying. There are no other words to describe this ridiculous and asinine suggestion. Which sensible, mature and responsible leader would speak in such a highly immature and irresponsible manner on the Constitution which is the bedrock of our parliamentary democracy? And demand that India should get a new Constitution in one sitting! Never before has anyone heard something so stupid and shocking.


Is the Constitution a football which can be kicked around here, there and anywhere? And, pray, by whom? Our self-serving and opportunistic polity? Can it be mindlessly dumped, if it does not fit into our rulers’ scheme of things? Or, rewritten, reconsidered and amended yet again? Why? Just because the Constitution does not fit into Karunanidhi’s latest agenda? Or just because he has mastered the art of blackmailing and arm-twisting his UPA allies to get his way even at the cost of the country.


What “federal structure” is he talking about? Does he know that the word “federal” does not occur anywhere in the Constitution? Does he know that India is a Union of States and an amendment changing it to a “federation of States” was promptly rejected by the Constituent Assembly. India’s founding fathers, unlike Karunanidhi, had but one concern: how to ensure the country’s unity?


Look at the ludicrousness of his suggestion. “It would take one sitting of a Constituent Assembly.” Really? Does the DMK supremo have a clue abut what it means to frame a Constitution? That India’s Constitution took over five years to frame and that too when it had the benefit of the advice of top constitutional experts. Who racked their brain and spent minutes, hours and days debating on where even a comma should be placed in a particular clause, leave alone the Article itself. Placement of a mere comma can change the entire meaning and emphasis of what is sought to be done.


Moreover, Karunanidhi has forgotten that the erstwhile BJP-led NDA Government had set up a 11-member National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution headed by former Chief Justice of India Venkatachaliah in 2000. Does he remember that he and his DMK were part and parcel of the Vajpayee Government? And that the Union Cabinet, which included DMK Ministers, had also considered its voluminous 1976 pages report, in two volumes, containing 249 recommendations.


The Justice Venkatachaliah Commission could not have been weightier. Others included the then Law Commission Chairman B.P. Jeevan Reddy, Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee, former Supreme Court Judge who headed a Commission on Centre-State relations R.S. Sarkaria, former Attorney-General K. Parasaran, former Speaker of the Lok Sabha P.A. Sangma, former Secretary-General of the Lok Sabha Subhash Kashyap and former Ambassador to the United States Abid Hussain.


The objective of the exercise was to ensure that the tenets of democracy --- government of the people, by the people and for the people --- were practiced in letter and in spirit. Encompassing stable governments both at the Centre and in the States, improving the quality of our netagan, ensuring that the Executive was strong, capable and willing to resolve major problems, and, most important, to establish the Rule of Law and usher in transparency and accountability.


The Commission made many good recommendations. It wanted the Fundamental Rights to be enlarged to include the freedom of the Press, the right to elementary education, the right to privacy and the right against torture. The right to religious freedom was made “non-suspendable.” It favoured greater decentralization in Centre-State relations and recommended minimum use of Article 356. It also mooted the setting up of a National Judicial Commission to oversee the conduct of  judges.

Importantly, it advocated that the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister be directly elected by the Lok Sabha and the Assembly to obviate the need to test majorities in the Rashtrapati Bhawan or in a Raj Bhawan and combat horsetrading. It also mooted changes in laws governing elections and political parties. It wanted that only candidates who secured 50 per cent plus one vote of the popular mandate should stand elected. If necessary, another poll should be held between the first two.


Tragically, the Commission’s recommendations were never brought before Parliament and were consigned to the dustbin of history. What the NDA and Vajpayee needed to do was to convene a special session of both Houses of Parliament, akin to a full-fledged Constituent Assembly to debate and dissect the Commission’s report. Following which, the recommendations should have been thrown for a national debate, involving legal luminaries and thinking public. Crib all one might but sadly, the same fate was meted out to the Sarkaria Committee report on Centre-State Relations by the then Congress regime. It too was dumped.


Now adding insult to injury, the Congress-led UPA Government, comprising again the DMK, set up in May last yet another Commission to review the entire gamut of Centre-State relations. The three-member panel is headed by former Chief Justice of India MM Punchhi. No matter that the Sarkaria Commission had undertaken the same exercise two decades ago.


This new Commission will not only examine and review the existing arrangements between the Union and the States but also go into a highly controversial areas: (i) the role, responsibility and jurisdiction of the Centre vis-à-vis States during major and prolonged outbreaks of communal and caste violence. (ii) setting up a Central Law Enforcement Agency to take up suo moto investigation of serious crimes that have serious inter-state/ international national security implications.


That apart, Karunanidhi has gone wholly wrong when he advocates that the Constitution should provide for a “true federal form.” He needs to remember some basics facts. India is an independent sovereign republic and a Union of States, not a federal republic like Germany or a federal state like the USA. The Constituent Assembly rejected a motion seeking to designate India as a “Federation of States”. The reason? The Indian Union is indestructible but not its constituent states; their identity can be altered and even obliterated. This is a crucial departure from a classical federal feature.


India’s largely uninformed leaders, including Karunanidhi and Union Ministers, do not seem to understand a basic difference between a classical federal set-up and one that is not. The word “federal” implies a polity in which sovereign independent states voluntarily surrender a defined part of their sovereignty to forge a federation for larger collective good, even as they retain control over their own affairs and their political identity and integrity through a perpetual covenant. Moreover, the constituent states often retain constitution-making rights of their own.


This is simply not the case with India, which was one whole under the British Raj. True, there were 500 and more princely states. But, as we all know, they were indirectly ruled by the British under the overall umbrella of paramountcy. Thus, what we witnessed in India was not a case of sovereign states coming together to form a federation. But just the obverse. We were one country, the Union of India, dividing its vast territory into provinces, redesignated as states.


All in all, we must stop talking mindlessly of a new Constitution and India as a federal polity and federalism. The next time Karunanidhi chooses to shoot his mouth, he would be well advised to heed the Father of the Constitution Ambedkar’s pertinent observation: “A good Constitution in the hands of bad people becomes a bad Constitution. A bad Constitution in the hands of good people becomes a good Constitution.” Much ultimately depends upon how “We the People”, who gave ourselves the Constitution, choose to work it. ----- INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)                      

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