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regular-article-logo Monday, 27 May 2024

We do not need a new Constitution: Mamata Banerjee rails against ‘one ruling ideology’

'Someone may say new days are coming and so India needs a new Constitution... If someone says we need a new one, it is to please some ideology or vision. What they want is to changethe spirit of the Constitution,' Mamata said in her keynote address at the Calcutta Club The Telegraph National Debate

Devadeep Purohit Calcutta Published 18.02.24, 06:45 AM
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee delivers the keynote address at the debate on Saturday.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee delivers the keynote address at the debate on Saturday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

Mamata Banerjee is known to speak bluntly and from the heart, even knowing that it may, on occasion, hurt her. The avatar of herself that she put on display as keynote speaker at the Calcutta Club on Saturday night may quite justify going so far as to say: Mamata, subtlety is thy name.

Having railed against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pointedly without taking his name and making a point of it, she brought him down in such fashion towards the end of her stay at the lectern: “I have worked with many Prime Ministers — Rajiv Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, (I.K.) Gujral, even Deve Gowdaji, but never seen such a Prime Minister. So cute and sweet, I am not taking any names, but sweet and cute, I have never seen such cute-sweet PM, so good, very good.”

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Pointedly too, perhaps, Mamata never mentioned Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in whose cabinet she served, perhaps her signal she wasn’t willing to give a penny to the BJP in the runup to the hard battle of 2024.

The chief minister was clear India does not need a new Constitution and that the calls for such a reform were aimed at changing the Constitution’s spirit to promote a particular ideology or vision.

“Someone may say new days are coming and so India needs a new Constitution.... If someone says we need a new one, it is to please some ideology or vision. What they want is to change the spirit of the Constitution,” the chief minister said in her keynote address at the Calcutta Club The Telegraph National Debate.

In her opening remarks, made before eight speakers participated in the debate on “This House believes India does not need a new Constitution” — she alluded without taking names to the saffron ecosystem’s agenda of changing the spirit of the Constitution, enshrined in its Preamble.

“We love our Constitution because its spirit is the Preamble. The Preamble is the guiding spirit of the Indian nation as it ensures justice, liberty, equality, fraternity, opportunity for all, unity in diversity.... India is a vast country and our forefathers drafted the Constitution keeping in mind federalism, secularism and democracy. Now, if someone says that democracy, federalism and secularism are bad, it is not acceptable to us,” Mamata said.

She played a consummate politician, foregrounding her lack of English and “civilised manner” before the elite Calcutta Club audience, but in doing so she may actually have played a meditated card.

Over the last few years, Mamata has spoken at public rallies and closed-door party meetings alike on her fears about the possibility of the BJP changing the Constitution.

Using the platform of Saturday’s debate, she declared: “We do not need a new Constitution.”

Although she was unequivocal about her stand, Mamata — who did not stay back for the debate and left on a tour of Birbhum — encouraged the speakers from both sides to debate the motion thoroughly.

“I don’t attend debates due to a paucity of time but I love to listen and learn from debates,” she said.

After she wrapped up her 36-minute address, some in the audience approached her to compliment her on the presentation. Mamata, who often reminds people that she is a qualified lawyer, smiled and said the motion was one of her “favourite topics”.

From the beginning of her speech, it was clear that the chief minister had come prepared. She spoke of how accomplished minds like Babasaheb Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and Sucheta Kripalani had helped draft the Constitution to protect the rights of every Indian, and how the document offered the necessary checks and balances to bind the diverse country together.

“We have fundamental rights, and at the same time we also have our duties.... We have freedom of speech and individual rights, but at the same time, there cannot be any compromise with our sovereignty. The Constitution has been amended so many times because of the necessities facing the country,” Mamata said.

She did not name the BJP or the RSS but said: “Nowadays, what is going on is horrible and as a human being and a common person, I cannot accept it. What I will eat or wear or what language I will speak in (is controlled). You can control us to silence our voice. If the Constitution is used to silence us, where is democracy?”

She argued that democracy was in danger and provided several examples, from the suspension of 147 Opposition MPs to the passage of new laws without discussion. She also referred to the Centre’s refusal to release funds due to the states — one of her pet peeves — and alleged the GST was undermining the states’ financial independence.

“I am not only talking about my state, I am talking about all the states,” Mamata said.

She dwelt on how media outlets had come under pressure from those in power. “Was the media purchased like this 10 years ago?” she asked.

Mamata expressed shock at the way sections of the media had overlooked the Manipur developments.

“Today, the media is totally controlled by one political party…. Instead of surrendering to the ruling party, can’t you fight?” she said.

She went on to criticise the role of the ED, CBI and other central agencies.

Expressing displeasure at the ruling party’s propaganda dominating the media discourse, she urged fair coverage of the Opposition.

Mamata castigated the trend among the central agencies of raiding journalists, and then trained her guns at the judiciary.

“I have respect for the judiciary, but they are also playing because of pressure.... How many of them have guts?” Mamata said.

She said the vibrancy of a democracy depends on the media, judiciary and the people.

The chief minister mocked the publicity blitzkrieg by the Narendra Modi government without naming him. She referred to how Covid certificates and publicity material for the PDS scheme featured the Prime Minister’s pictures and wondered whether it was fair to project only one person.

“Now the discussion is about one nation, one election. There will be only one party, one leader. They have forgotten the family and they don’t realise that only one person cannot build a family,” Mamata said.

She contested the narrative about a certain BJP victory in the general election — an assessment that she felt had weakened some Opposition parties — and said she would continue her fight. She then held out hope.

“There are some people who are still fighting; they will sacrifice their lives but will not compromise. One day will come and it will emerge that agencies cannot run the country. I am sure there will be an end to autocracy, there will be an end to Hitlerism, Stalinism and agency raj,” she said.

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