Attack on fraternity is an attack on the Indian Constitution.

One of the hallmarks of Indian public discourse is the inexplicable urge to deflect a sane analysis of the nature of political processes. This doesn’t mean that the political processes are incredibly complex and the public unable to understand it.

Of course, there are many layers to the Indian political process that makes it hard to “analyse” based on a truly cause-effect investigation. I will touch upon that another day. Here, our discussion pertains to how Indians are shielded from the nuances of political process.

To some extent, we see deliberate social designs that prevent us proceeding from an adolescent flux to a stable ‘adult’ existence. The hallmark of this ‘adult’ existence is the agency that comes along with it. One doesn’t have to see it as the severing of an imaginary umbilical cord with the larger society. Rather, it is a place from which the person enjoys relative autonomy over taking life’s most important decisions. That is, things that have a lasting impact on themselves and the community they live in.

If we look at the way children are reared by the parents as well as the community, the dominant theme is to create reluctant decision makers who are primed to live in a heavily controlled environment.

Mind you, this is not an exhortation to create some libertarian utopia devoid of any social sanctions or control. But this is an honest examination to see if the space in which politics operate in our society is fundamentally constrained. This is not an analysis on the impact of different political ideologies. Rather, this is a study of the social space in which all these ideologies are immersed.

For example, if a particular ideology uses a certain set of lexical collections to put forward a doctrine of passion - hatred for example - this study will analyse why that works as a political strategy. Why did that lexical collection resonated with the people? Why didn’t the people reject it as a silly call for pet hatred, that will corrode every aspect of the society as they know it?

Answering these questions requires creating a model of society that will help us test hypotheses of this kind.

Again, the infantilization of the population is only one aspect of the larger question - what is the fundamental nature of politics in our country? Also, what is a feasible political philosophy that we all can take up so that all our lives are better? Some prerequisites to this study are what constitutes our nationhood.

For instance, if someone is to consider only people of a particular religion as belonging to our nation automatically, things will be quite different for her. But we won’t solve this conundrum if we treat her as an object of derision. If you are to ask her if all humans should be treated equally, she will most probably answer that they should be. If you ask her, should all humans be treated with dignity, she will most probably answer with a resounding yes. But if you are to put it this way - “Whether human rights should be applied to all”, they may have a different answer.

This is because “human rights” is a sticky word that comes with a certain amount of baggage. To a liberal minded person, this is a sacrosanct entity that need to be protected at any cost; to some it is a reason why terrorists are able to constantly terrorise us. It prevents legitimate state action that could have saved us from this menace. To them, misuse by human rights activists is a bigger problem than a corporate media be allowed to terrorise us 24x7, warning about enemies within - real or perceived.

In a constitutional scheme of things, we ensure human rights to all. Even our enemies or those who have sworn to kill us. This is because if we don’t do that, there’s a lot of scope for the misuse of those doctrines to usurp those rights away from people who are innocent. It is the people of India, we, who maintain the state here. We pay for its existence. We ensure that it lives on through us. The state derives everything it has from us - “We, The People of India”. Hence, we are responsible for all actions of the state even if we didn’t call the shots. At this juncture, we should also pause to define this “We”, the first word of the Indian Constitution.

The “We” here doesn’t correspond to any community of people that existed at a particular point in time. For example, if it was just the people of India when it got independence, how could the generations that came after it (and those legally migrated into the country) be included in that “We”?

150 years down the line, we all will be dead. Still, the constitution will be expected to represent the people. It should ensure that the same dreams of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and human dignity be protected. This brings us to an unassailable truism that has been neglected for long. That is, the survival of the Constitution hinges on the maintaining of the “national community” as an essential entity that agrees upon the basic precepts of protecting the dignity of all humans - along with dreaming the same dreams of welfare for all. If that is not deeply embedded in the national consciousness, the nation will see its Constitution mauled and disfigured to suit the whims of a few. First in praxis, then in letter and later in spirit.

By then, the national community would have long withered away. Their national imagination would have been corrupted and maligned by an insidious process of long drawn campaigns that attack the very roots of Unity. Every attack on Unity is aimed at ultimately tearing down the Constitution. And hence, if it is liberty, life and dignity that you love - you must resist everything that seeks to undermine the unity of our people and our national imagination.

The question of national imagination is intricately tied to the ‘maturity’ of a people. This maturity however cannot function if it is a mere legal fiction. The genius of the people is not something that you attribute to them. Neither is it something that you can excavate from society to prove your point. It is something you can appreciate only if you look at people from a non-judgmental and neutral point of view. This is the reason why Indian constitutionalism is inseparably tied to the larger project of decolonisation. Here, the people are no longer treated as subjects. They are thinking entities that can act on their own. A lot of characteristics are attributed to them which may not apply to each and everyone. But that is a given - you cannot generalise anything over the whole population in such a diverse country.

What we seek to achieve is to ensure certain things that make life better for everyone in the long run. A life with dignity, protection to life and liberty etc works to the advantage of the nation and whole of humanity in the long run. Certain life choices that people make - like voting for a certain party - could sabotage this only if the institutional democracy is not strong enough in that country. The Constitution seeks to remedy this by creating an institutional framework that protects human dignity and life quality no matter the transient electoral majorities that the politics of the day manages to produce.

The process of creating an electoral majority is always with an aim to create a monopoly over government. The Constitution acts as a referee that creates a level playing field for all. It also ensures smooth transition of power from one majority to another. If this system is damaged, the fundamental ideal of Constitutionalism - rule of law - will be damaged beyond repair. It is not difficult to see that all these concepts are closely tied to each other.

An attack on Unity - attempts at undermining fraternity - will directly lead to transient electoral majorities that can be sustained only through continuous assault on liberty and equality. This attack on liberty and equality would be sustained at an ideological domain for a long time before it becomes feasible to weaponize the arms of state to attack these prized ideals.

This article is already long, but it is trying to break down these ideas into fine granules that will readily help us see how all these are interconnected.

For example, an autocratic leadership inside a political party (any one of them) is dangerous to the whole of democracy. This is because their ways for the pursuit for power will be different from the rule books of parties that are used to Constitutional contests. These parties will also find it difficult to create pluralistic structures that are aimed at preserving the Unity of India.

Conversely, if the DNA of a political ideology shudders at the thought of collective and democratically elected leadership, it cannot aim to ever uphold the Constitutional safeguards. It will forever be condemned to autocratic leadership that distribute largesses across their patronage networks. These are feed-forward loops that need to be broken if there is any hope for creating an open, free democracy that works for everyone. This is much more than just writing and ‘observing’ the sacred letter of the law. This series (of articles) will touch upon the practical implications of trying to implement such a system.

Another discussion is moot here. An argument of ‘practical difficulties’ in politics or dismissing this as “Idealism” is only counter productive. There should be an agreement within the thinking populace to document all these realities. They should organise effectively to act on this documentation of facts.

Instead of waiting for grand schemes like Revolutions that shake up the entire system and ruin millions of lives (and lead to proliferation of movements that feed on bloodlust under a cloak of “serving the weakest”).

“Serving the weakest” or “ending preferential treatment of X” or “Defeating the malicious neighbour” are tropes that are worse than the ‘Divine right to rule’. These are entities that could be raised to the canon of sacred domain in the society - all talk and no action. Worse, they could be used to suppress dissent and legitimise violence. These are the dangers that everyone should be warned about.

Before I end this, I urge the reader to look for concepts that need to be further deconstructed. Explication of any political philosophy starts with breaking it down and addressing each of the underlying assumptions. Some of these assumptions are inevitable - or are ideological. Some of them will be sacrosanct - like the unity of the nation. But that is the framework under which we operate.

The nation needs to stay together. The political action here would be the desire to make sure that the unity of the nation creates something of value to us and to the rest of humanity.

Reflections on Nationalism and its implications and what we could do (political action) will also be discussed in this series. Suggestions may be left as comments or mailed. I seek to develop this series as a free flowing essay that doesn’t really fit into any structure or organisation.

I admit that this is a lazy decision and may make things hard for a disciplined learner who may want to follow this. My assumption is that the academic value of my work will be scant, but the practical application may add value to the reader. It is easier to apply when the ideas appear as part of discourse. At the least, my aim is to create a workable set of ideas that will improve the human condition in our country upon its application in politics. I know that this is a grand ambition to have. Maybe, the practicality of these will be foiled when it meets the harsh reality of entrenched systems that regulate the pursuit for power. If it may help some of us to crystallise their thought process, I will call it a day.

Thank you for reading. Later instalments will be updated here.

Written on December 13, 2022