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regular-article-logo Thursday, 30 May 2024

Fear not: Editorial on PM Narendra Modi’s guarantees and their meanings

An objective measure of the gap between Mr Modi’s word and deed when it comes to upholding constitutional values could be a reliable indicator of the nature of the prime minister’s guarantees

The Editorial Board Published 19.04.24, 07:54 AM
Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi File Photo

The Constitution is the foundation of the Indian republic. So it is a bit absurd that the prime minister has to ‘guarantee’ that he will not change it days before the general election that begins today. But Narendra Modi’s guarantees are never absurd; they have their meanings. The response to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s high-pitched election slogan declaring that it will get over 400 seats may not have been universally joyous, especially from minority castes and communities. The smug comments of certain party leaders explaining that 400 seats were necessary to change the Constitution have not helped. Fear that the need for ‘hard decisions’ may include the withdrawal of reservations have dismayed Dalits and Adivasis. The BJP officially dissociated itself from such remarks but without admonishing the speakers — a practice typical of its double messages of threat and reassurance.

How reassuring has the constitutional spirit been under Mr Modi’s watch? Silencing dissidence and wiping out opposition violate all notions of democracy. Does Mr Modi’s guarantee then turn on erasing the constitutional right to freedom of expression? Mr Modi’s sense of freedom of religion is novel too: he declared that the Constitution is a document of faith, to be believed in as the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Gita, and not a ‘political tool’. That both freedom of expression and of religion have been endangered in the last decade is clear from arrests, policies, even laws — the anti-conversion laws in BJP-ruled states are one example. All this happened without changing the Constitution, some­thing that the prime minister has now assured. Cooperative federalism, central to the Con­stitution’s vision, has been severely damaged by the Centre’s treatment of states under Opposition governments and its use of governors who unconstitutionally disrupt, hinder and hijack the state government’s functions. Overturning Opposition governments through subterfuge is another aspect of this. Nothing could be further from the ‘dream’ that Mr Modi described the Constitution to be than the prevalent culture of divisiveness, mistrust and hatred. Will Mr Modi’s guarantee change all this? An objective measure of the gap between Mr Modi’s word and deed when it comes to upholding constitutional values could be a reliable indicator of the nature of the prime minister’s guarantees.

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