December 28, 2017

Anant Hegde’s comment on the Constitution was designed to provoke and earn political brownie points | Editorial, Hindustan Times

Editorial, Hindustan Times,Dec 28, 2017

Those who are quick to condemn the majoritarian theocracy in our neighbourhood should pause to consider where we would be headed with the glue of secularism holding us together.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often said that the only holy book in his eyes is the Constitution of India. Clearly, his junior minister for skill development, Anant Kumar Hegde, is not on the same page. Hegde recently said that his government is “here to change the Constitution” and that it would, pointedly referring to the use of the term secular, which is one of the adjectives used to define India in the Constitution. He also made some disparaing remarks about secular people. He has since apologised after even his party distanced itself from his unwarranted remarks.

The fringe right-wing, even some members of the BJP have been talking about this change of the Constitution for some time using sly arguments about how it should be based on the ethos of society. The ethos often referred to reflects a majoritarian approach that seems to involve stamping out individualism, circumventing civil liberties, erasing socialism ,and eliminating all vestiges of secularism.

Mr Hegde, as a parliamentarian, ought to have known that a 13-judge bench of the Supreme Court in the Kesavananda Bharati case in 1973 had clearly stated that the basic structure of the Constitution could not be altered in exercise of the constituent powers of Parliament to amend the Constitution.

The Constitution should be changed only if a cataclysmic event, geo-political, economic, maybe technological, necessitates it . That too would have to pass the scrutiny of the judiciary. To be sure, people opposed to the terms socialist and secular in the Constitution often refer to the 42nd amendment which introduced these words into the document in 1975. The amendment also made a lot of other changes (including reducing the powers of the courts to rule on the constitutionality of laws) , and it was enacted at a horrible time in India’s history, but that doesn’t change the fact that it isn’t easy to take offence at the two terms in a poor country with a pluralistic society. Indeed, no government since has sought to remove the terms.

The BJP leadership should make it clear to its ministers to not use the Constitution to make political points, as was obviously Mr Hegde’s intent. If indeed Mr Hedge wants to be seen as a radical thinker, then he should perhaps start closer home -- with his own ministry, for instance. India’s skills development ministry has a big task in hand -- ensuring that people acquire the kind of skills that are in demand in the job market. It’s leadership was changed a few months ago, and a new senior minister and junior minister (that’s Mr Hegde) appointed to address the challenge. His job, presumably, is to do just that and leave the worrying about the Constitution to others

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