It may appear only coincidental that on a day when the country was observing the 70th anniversary of the Constituent Assembly's adoption of India's Constitution, the Supreme Court issued a verdict that held aloft the core spirit of the constitution. Whether the two events were accidental or otherwise to happen on the same day, in current circumstances it needs to be highlighted that the SC order was a moment of pride and relief. Recent events have been moving in such a manner as to prompt an observation that ever since the ultra-Hindutva group captured power under Narendra Modi, every step has either made the constitution a dumb tool or hurt it.
The government has been on a legislative spree which proved that it has the least fidelity to the cornerstones of the constitution like democracy and secularism. After the Hindutva government won an ever stronger majority than last time to come back to power, and thereby to diffuse the Opposition, the regime began its series of actions by annulling the provisions of Article 370 that gave special powers to Jammu-Kashmir, denied civil rights in the state and got a Presidential order issued bifurcating the state into two union territories. Petitions that challenge this order are still being heard by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, thousands of socio-political figures of the state are still in indefinite detention.
Then came the declaration by the home minister that a bill is going to be moved in parliament that will deny citizenship in effect to members of a particular community. Another legislation is on the anvil for a uniform civil code which will overturn the fundamental pluralistic principle of the country of unity in diversity. Amidst these moves, successful attempts were made to saffronise all the key constitutional institutions like Election Commission, office of governor and Reserve Bank of India. Together came also the warning from eminent constitutional jurists that even the judiciary is getting under pressure or being influenced. The Supreme Court verdict on the Babri masjid land dispute case only helped strengthen that notion. Legal experts share the concern that the final verdict, that accorded primacy to faith over facts, will pave way to a plethora of complicated legal issues.
Most recently, when the BJP won a majority in alliance with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and was expected to take office, the latter fell out with it on the issue of chief ministership and when all conciliation attempts failed, the Sena set about forming a cabinet tying up with the Opposition. Stung by the unexpected blow, the Modi-Amit Shah duo lost equanimity and under their direction chief minister Devendra Fadnavis made his shrewd moves. As part of a conspiracy to extract a faction of NCP under Ajit Pawar and thus splitting NCP, the clumpsy exercises made by the BJP's state leadership in collusion with the governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari all turned into a game played behind the cover of darkness.
When the Governor withdrew President's rule in Maharashtra, an act closely followed by swearing in Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister and the defector Ajit Pawar as deputy chief minister, "the entire episode that took place at the night of November 22 and morning of November 23" as Justice (retd) PB Sawant put it, "is political vandalism and social vulgarism". It may be worth recalling that Justice Sawant was on the Supreme Court bench in the landmark SR Bommai case, which had decreed that the majority of the party has to be proved not in Raj Bhavan, but on the floor of the house. Naturally, when when Maharashtra governor's decision was challenged in the apex court, the three-judge bench rejected all claims of the BJP, also ordered that the assembly should be convened on Wednesday and by 5 pm Fadnavis should prove his majority, the voting should be public and be telecast, and that all proceedings should be presidedover by a pro-term speaker. With this, every loophole for a horse-trading was plugged.
Through such steps, the Supreme Court put a brake on a repetition of the objectionable drama that was enacted by the Modi-Amit Shah team in Karnataka - and earlier in Goa - by using loyal governors. The timely intervention by the highest court in the Maharashtra issue thus serves as a strong warning for the governors who become proxies of the central governments and use constitutional provisions applicable for rare emergencies, and for other constitutional figure-heads. The BJP's ambitions to form a government has been stemmed for the time being with the resignations of Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar, but the future moves of the grouping – which has scant regard or loyalty to the spirt of the constitution - are beyond any prediction. The only guarantee against such malicious conspiracies is eternal vigilance on the part of those who guard the constitution and of enlightened citizenry.