OPINION: India stares at stormy days ahead

vhp-pti [File] Representational image | PTI

The founding fathers of the Indian Constitution had drafted our Constitution on Western models. They borrowed the concepts of parliamentary system of democracy and an independent judiciary from England, the fundamental rights and the federal structure from the US Constitution, the directive principles from Ireland, Article 301 (which provides for free trade and commerce throughout the country, thereby ensuring the economic unity of India) from Article 92 of the Australian Constitution, among others.

Thus, a modern Western-style Constitution was borrowed from the West and transplanted and imposed from above on our backward, semi-feudal society, probably with the thought that this would pull our society into the modern age. And to some extent, it did. After the Constitution was promulgated in 1950, a heavy industrial base was set up in India (the British policy had been not to allow us to set up heavy industries, obviously thinking that this may result in creation of a strong Indian industry, which may become a powerful rival to British industry), many new engineering colleges like the IITs were set up, education (including girls' education) became widespread, among other developments.

However, there was a basic flaw in this thinking: Great historical changes cannot be brought about by just promulgating Constitutions. That requires historical struggles by the masses and a revolution. For, after all, what is a historical transition? It is a period when the old feudal society is totally uprooted and torn apart, old values destroyed and replaced by new ones, and a new modern society created. Is this possible without a mighty people's struggle? The vested interests in the old order will put up a fierce resistance to such changes.

If we study the history of Europe from the 16th to the 19th centuries, when Europe was passing through its transition from a feudal agricultural to a modern industrial society, we find that this period was full of turbulence, turmoil, chaos, wars, revolutions, social churning and intellectual ferment—examples include the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, Civil War and Glorious Revolution in England in the 17th century; the French Revolution of 1789 and Napoleonic wars thereafter; the theories of Hobbes, Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau and the French Encyclopedists. It was only after going through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe.

Similarly, India has to go through this fire before a modern society like the ones presently existing in Western countries can be created here. A Constitution is just a piece of paper and by itself cannot bring about great historical changes without a mighty people's struggle.

Today, we still have widespread poverty, massive (and rising) unemployment (as confirmed by the recent NSSO report), abysmal level of child malnourishment (47 per cent of our children are malnourished as per the Global Hunger Index), almost total lack of proper healthcare and good education for the masses and so forth. There is also discrimination against minorities and dalits (including the recent phenomenon of lynching of Muslims by gau rakshaks).

Our parliamentary democracy is largely based on caste and communal vote banks. Casteism and communalism are feudal forces that have to be destroyed if India is to progress, but parliamentary democracy further entrenches them. While China, which has no parliamentary democracy, has rapidly moved ahead and has almost become a superpower, we are still embroiled in issues such as the Ram mandir and cow protection.

As I said in my article OPINION: Why celebrate Republic Day when Constitution has become a scarecrow?, today, the Indian Constitution lies torn to shreds and has become a scarecrow. All our state institutions have become hollow and empty shells. Our politicians today are only interested in power and pelf and have no genuine love for the country. Do they not deserve to go the way of the aristocrats in the French Revolution?

Our national aim must be to create a social and political order in India where all our people enjoy a high standard of living and decent lives. But to achieve that requires a huge historical people's upheaval, which to my mind is now inevitable, and the coming Lok Sabha elections will be the catalyst.

After the death of Aurangzeb, the last strong Mughal Emperor, in 1707, India witnessed a period of tremendous turmoil under the later Mughals (who were emperors only in name) until 1857, when the Sepoy Mutiny was suppressed and British rule in India was consolidated. Thereafter, we have had relative peace and stability till now (the Partition riots, Indo-China and Indo-Pak wars, etc. were of short durations).

Now, we are entering another era of turbulence and instability akin to that of the days of the later Mughals, which I believe will last for 10-15 years (if not more), until an alternative just system emerges.

Clearly, a storm is approaching in India.

Justice Markandey Katju retired from the Supreme Court in 2011

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK