In an apparent indictment of Hindutva politics, former Chief Justice of India (CJI) Jagdish Singh Khehar said such politics will be counterproductive for India's aspiration to become a global power.
“India is aspiring to be a global power. In a global scenario, if you want to befriend Muslim countries, you can’t afford to be anti-Muslim back in your country. If you want strong ties with Christian nations, you can’t be anti-Christian,” Khehar said while delivering the 24th Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial Lecture here.
“Whatever is happening today is not in the interest of India, especially if we are projecting a communal bend of mind,” Khehar said as he emphasised that India consciously chose to be secular in 1947 when the neighbouring Pakistan decided to become an Islamic Republic.
Khehar underlined the importance of secularism as an ideal in Shastri’s life as he quoted Shastri — the second Prime Minister of India who successfully steered the nation during the 1965 India-Pakistan war — as saying that “India does not bring religion into politics”.
Shastri had once observed: “The unique thing about our country is that we have Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis and people of all other religions. We have temples and mosques, gurdwaras and churches. But we do not bring all this into politics… So far as politics is concerned, each of us is as much an Indian as the other.”
The former CJI recalled how Shastri had moved a Bill for addition of Section 153A to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for making acts of promoting enmity between different groups, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc., and acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony, as penal offences.
“For me, as a man of law, his quote which attracted me the most was, “the rule of law should be respected, so that the basic structure of our democracy is maintained and further strengthened’.
“I must therefore acknowledge, that he (Shastri) may have been one of the first to have recognized the ‘basic structure’ ethos contained in the Constitution, and certainly well before the Supreme Court recognised it in Kesavananda Bharati Vs. State of Kerala (1973).
“For him, the way was straight and clear…the building up of a socialist democracy at home with freedom and prosperity for all, and the maintenance of world peace and friendship with all nations’,” Khehar said.
The former CJI acknowledged that Shastri was the first Prime Minister of India to wage a war against corruption, which had started showing its ugly face by the late 1950s, and took effective measures to tackle it.
“Lal Bahadur Shastri recognised how corruption could sap the vitals of India, and negate all efforts at socio-economic transformation. Accordingly, as Prime Minister of India, Shastriji established a Code of Conduct for Ministers, and his efforts led to the establishment of the now well known Central Vigilance Commission CVC) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI),” Khehar said.
Earlier, as a Minister in the Jawaharlal Nehru Cabinet, Shastri was instrumental in appointing a committee on “prevention of corruption”. The report of the K. Santhanam Committee was still a benchmark for any discussion or solution to the evil phenomenon (corruption), Khehar said.
“This compels us to ask ourselves the question, as to what is lacking, and why we have not been able to fulfil the constitutional mandate, which promises to secure all citizens’ justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, projected in the Preamble of the Constitution itself,” Khehar said.
Meanwhile, another former Chief Justice of India K. G. Balakrishnan said there will be constant threat to constitutional institutions in majoritarian rule and called upon people to protect the Constitution and democracy.
Underlining the need to protect constitutional morality of the people, he also cautioned against a system in which ruling majority lays infallibility for itself.
“We should not only protect our Constitution, our democracy forever but also guard against the temptation to transform itself into a system under which ruling majority lays infallibility for itself,” he said while speaking at a seminar on ‘Ambedkar and constitutionalism’ at Osmania University in Hyderabad.
“All over the world, leaders are making statements. They feel infallible. When majority feels infallible, then it is very difficult,” he said.
Balakrishnan observed that the principle of the constitution is a legal principle which requires control over exercise of governmental power to ensure it does not destroy the democratic principle on which it is based.
The former CJI said India had got a beautiful Constitution drafted carefully by B.R. Ambedkar for which the nation would ever remain grateful to him. He said the basic principles of the Constitution including supremacy of the constitution, rule of law, federalism, secularism, fundamental rights, principle of equality, concept of social justice, separation of powers and independent judiciary should be protected.
“We should not only give powers to democratic institutions but should be capable of empowering the common man to protect them,” he said.
Stating that constitutions in many neighboring countries withered away, he said the Indian Constitution survived for 67 years because basic principles of the constitution are deeply embedded.
R. Venkat Rao, Vice Chancellor, National Law School of India University, mooted the idea that recitation of the preamble of the constitution is made compulsory in all schools for students from class 6 onwards.
He said the preamble should be made compulsory like national anthem and this would be the best tribute to Ambedkar, the architect of the constitution. (IANS)