Some recent events have once again sharply exposed the faultlines of India’s political economy. What the opposition forces today rhetorically and inconsistently call a communal, right-wing, fascist assault on the fundamentals of the Indian Constitution is in reality a manifestation of the growing constitutional crisis of state power in the context of India’s political economy and class-struggle.
The then President Pranab Mukherjee in his speech delivered on 25th January, 2014 had spoken about the “trust deficit”. It was this “trust deficit” that went on to play a major role in the decline of the Congress led UPA regime, the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party and later catapulting Modi led BJP to government; today’s politics is nothing but the extension and exacerbation of uncertainty and arbitrariness symptomatic of the disjuncture between the constituent power and the constituted power. The we-ness of “We the people of India ” must continually be refounded and harnessed to constitute and legitimise a state formation. It is the mechanism to reproduce itself that is in crisis.
This crisis of managing various socio-economic-political segments of Indian population is one of the primary sources of conflicts between the social and democratic state institutions. Be it the oft occurring tussle between the legislature and the judiciary or the ever-degrading level of debates between the parties in power and those seeking power are all manifestations of the same crisis — the crisis of mobilising and organising anxieties and aspirations of the multitude to manageable identifiable competitive forms that allow the minimalism of citizenship.to prevail which is the basis of state legitimation.
In this connection, it is necessary to recall the historic landmark judgment of the Supreme Court in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala. April 24th of this year was the 50th anniversary of this judgment. Popularly referred to as a fundamental rights case and basic structure doctrine of the Indian Constitution; the case made the record for having the largest bench (13 judges) as well as for the longest argument (67 days) in the history of the Supreme Court. The relevance and importance of this case has only increased in last 50 years and more so recently, when the constitutional institutions are being systematically taken under the control of the executive i.e. the government and fundamental rights are being crushed with impunity. The judgment in this case served to protect the democratic ethos and spirit from the whims and fancies of successive governments by deleberating and establishment of the doctrine of the basic structure of the Constitution, but within 50 years of it’s passing, the case is turning into mere academic interest.
Meanwhile, the liberal system metamorphosed into a neoliberal system, where the state is unable to manage the speed and arbitrariness of the finance capital through the old rule of law. But it is also true that capital needs a smooth judicial system for its reproduction. But the same rule of law on one hand is necessary and on the other creates barriers for it as well .
The challenge of managing India’s vast surplus population—the need for its reproduction, keep it productive, as well as limit its volatility to preserve the property relations—makes legislative arrangements necessary. Autocratic state power also unleashes this huge power for preserving its own rule and also takes measures to keep it under control. The character of this surplus population is just like the mythical character Bhasmasur who went on to destroy the same god who had given him the boon. That is, if the state power loses control over this surplus population, it will pave way for its own destruction by its hands. This surplus population also brings revolutionary changes and the same can also become the foot soldier of fascism and gets transformed into an unruly lumpen marauders. The first stage cannot be allowed and the second stage has to be kept within limits so as not to threaten the state power — that is why Prime Minister Modi after the uproar on the Hindi film Pathan had to intervene and say that protest and violence against films is not right. This in a way was his order to his supporters to control this force before it became uncontrollable.
But at the same time when the Prime Minister was making his statement, the case of Sonu Mansuri also came to the fore. Sonu aged only 23 is a poor Muslim tribal girl, who was pursuing law education from Law College and also was doing her internship with a lady lawyer in Indore District Court, Madhya Pradesh. On January 28, when she was present in the court to observe the court proceedings, some lawyers of Bajrang Dal and other Hindutva organisations surrounded her and charged that she was impersonating as a lawyer in the court and was spying for some banned organization. These rowdies went ahead and lodged an FIR against her. Instead of conducting their investigation, the police took that innocent girl into custody merely on the basis of that false, frivolous FIR that was lodged with nefarious preconceived design. Her bail was rejected in the lower court as no advocate was allowed to appear in her favor. After being in police and judicial custody for 54 days without any crime, Sonu got bail from the Supreme Court when some progressive lawyers took her case, and then senior advocate Dushyant Dave appeared on her behalf in the Supreme Court.
What was the justification for keeping an innocent girl, who was the first child from her entire village to pursue higher education, in custody for 54 days, is beyond comprehension when prima facie it was evident that the FIR registered against her was completely false, frivolous and incorrect?
Though Sonu Mansuri got bail, but there are many such cases in which the poor are behind the bar languishing for years on false charges.
In the Kesavananda Bharti case, the Supreme Court had given a verdict to keep the fundamental rights intact. But even after that decision, how much sanctity is left is not hidden from anyone.
The manner in which Atiq Ahmed was murdered also raises a big question on the rule of law. The government’s emphasis is on speedy action and instant justice rather than the courts and following the due course of law. It has to create spectacles, to keep the public enthralled, so they are oblivious of the wider implications of these instant justices.
Every such action massive army of trolls, social media and mainstream media are unleashed. These actors analyze these incidents so superficially and so many times that the general public cannot form an opinion on it. The public are fed only information devoid of any substance.
In one of the detective novels by the Italian novelist Andrea Camilleri, a character who is a communist journalist says— “The most cunning way to make people forget a scandal is to talk about it as much as possible on television, in newspapers, etc. Again and again You flog the same dead horse, and soon people start getting bored. They say, ‘Really the matter is being dragged on too much now.’ ‘Wasn’t that enough?’ After a couple of weeks the effect of saturation is such that no one wants to hear another word about that scam….On the other hand, if you silence everything, the silence itself starts talking, rumors spread like this. The types get so out of control that you can’t stop them any longer.“
Another significant development of this year is related to the relationship between the Adani group and the Modi government. The Hindenburg Report once again exposed the relationship between private capital and the State in the neoliberal era.
America’s Hindenburg Research released a report after studying the economic activities of Adani Group for 6 months, in which it was alleged that the prices of shares of Adani Group’s listed companies are overvalued by 85 percent. That report also alleged that the Adani group had committed stock manipulation and fraud by creating dozens of shell companies in tax haven countries. In these reports, Adani Group was asked to answer a total of 88 questions but Adani Group did not answer any of them. On the contrary, issuing a 413-page statement, he said that the attack on him is a planned attack on India, its institutions and its growth story. After the release of the Hindenburg report, the economic empire of Gautam Adani, the third richest man in the world, built with the direct backing of the Modi government, started collapsing. This report showed the contribution of the Modi government in the expansion of Adani Group. When this was questioned in Parliament and outside, opposition leaders were harassed in various ways — Rahul Gandhi even lost his membership.
Satyapal Malik’s statement on Pulwama, increasing social dichotomy, government’s attempt to subjugate the judiciary – all these points towards the fact that the deepening crisis is pushing the state towards ‘permanent state of emergency’. It is able to derive its legitimacy only through extra legal coercion. To achieve this legality, the state power also needs the rule of justice and this rule of justice is also proving to be its albatross around the neck.
Gramsci’s statement that we have reached a stage where the old is dying and the new is yet to be born seems to be more relevant today than it was during his time.