Safar / Rabi-Ul Awwal 1422 H
Volume 15-05 No:185
Rays of hope emerge often from the darkest of clouds. One such occasion and exercise that has gone unnoticed amid the may hem in Gujarat is the report of the National Commission for the Review of the Working of the Constitution. The Panel which was set up by the Bhartiya Janata Party -led National Democratic Alliance government two years ago has come up with a sweeping range of recommendations which only broaden the democratic freedoms, guarantee human rights and further lay down norms to ensure that plural character of the nation would only be strengthened. Much against the fears that the Panel would push the hidden agenda of the BJP, the panel headed by Mr. Justice M. N. Venkatachaliaiah has suggested wide range of measures to democratise the benefits of economic prosperity to all sections of people, effective implementation of fundamental rights and Directive Principles of State Policy inter-alia probity in public life, electoral reforms and union-state relations etc. But perhaps the feature that stands out is that the Panel report does not carry even the remotest hint of fiddling with the secular character of the State, a fear that had been played up at the time of the setting up of the Panel two years ago.
The Panel’s introduction lays down clearly that the “sociology of pluralism is not inimical to the strength of democracy, but on the contrary is in itself a strength and a sustaining factor of democracy. It is essential to promote participatory institutions”. At another place, the Report says: Democracy is not mere majoritarianism. A mere majoritarianism is likely to degenerate into elective despotism. Pluralism is the soul of democracy.” It quotes Benjamin Barber to refute that democracy can succeed only where the composition of the society is homogenous and says that it is by civil education that the people are made capable of common purpose and mutual action by virtue of civil attitudes. In this context, the Panel report cites the example of Kerala where all universalisation of education among the masses has enabled all the three major communities viz, Hindus, Muslims and Christians to adopt Family Planning in equal measure in so far as the growth rate among them is just at replacement level i.e., 1.8 per cent per annum.
The Panel has taken a serious note of under- representation of minorities in Parliament and the Assemblies. Though they constitute 12 to 14 per cent of the national population, at no time their representation exceeded five to six per cent. It has cautioned against the practice of gerrymandering of the minority dominated constituencies in order to deprive minorities of representation. It has suggested the next Delimitation Commission to take a special note of it and ensure that instead of gerrymandering the minority-dominated constituencies, areas of their preponderance should be consolidated for enhancing their representation. While considering the statelessness of several of the native languages (Urdu’s case is a prominent one), the Panel has felt that the Article of 347 does not adequately protect the interests of several native languages. The Article says that the President of India may recognise a language spoken by a section of the people of a state for such purposes as he may specify by ensuring that substantial proportion of population of the state so desires.
The Panel finds that “substantial section” is a subject matter of controversy and should be replaced by “not less than 10 per cent.” It has taken an alarmist view of the appeal to caste and community affiliations in elections and has suggested measures to restrict use of such partisan appeals to mobilise votes by parties and political groups. The Panel has taken due note of popular edginess on the question formulation of Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and the debate within the panelists itself asked if the majority community, i.e., Hindus, were themselves prepared to merge the three distinct schools of family law namely Mithila, Ratnagiri and Madras schools into a uniform Hindu family code. The Panel is understood to have rejected the plea for the uniform civil code on the express plea that the Hindutva lobby used the threat of UCC more to taunt the Muslims and it was less motivated by a desire to reform the community.
The question of integrating various communities into the national mainstream too engaged the attention of the Panel and it has suggested some semblance of affirmative action for minorities too. However, a controversy does exist about the Panel’s debate on Article 30(1) of the Constitution about the establishment and administering the educational and cultural institutions by minorities. A dominant view is that such provisions could be universalised even for those among Majority community which does not hinder the minorities’ interest.
The Constitution Review Panel deserves congratulations for a report that has skirted the momentary issues and campaigns by vested interests and suggesting long term measures to integrate the nation by positive action through the socio-economic route.Top