We are a group of concerned citizens – drawn from the world of scholarship, writing, law, administration and activism – with some experience in fields such as health, education, environment, social inclusion, transparency and accountability. Some of us have worked in the media and some have held positions in the judiciary, government and institutions of accountability. We have varied political opinions and affiliations, but are united in our trust in democratic institutions, in our adherence to the philosophy of the Constitution and belief in the idea of a plural, democratic Republic of India.
Deeply concerned, of late, about the multiple challenges to that Republic, we have undertaken to examine these challenges in some depth, and to propose to our fellow citizens means to protect and strengthen the Constitutional safeguards for our democratic polity and composite society. We see the forthcoming Lok Sabha election as an opportunity to retrieve and, indeed, reclaim from manipulation and subversion, our legacy of the Republic.
The Republic of India was founded on our Constitution’s resolve to secure justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity for all its citizens. While, over the last seven decades, we cannot claim to have succeeded in ‘redeeming this pledge’, we were strengthened by the conviction that the foundations for the realization of these goals were being laid. There could be and there were, wrong steps, false moves, stumbles. But there was, nonetheless, a sense of our country moving, broadly, on a path shown to it by its founders.
Over the last five years, however, we have witnessed and indeed have felt in our experience of public life and in our personal preoccupations, an onslaught at full throttle on these foundational and core principles of citizenship. We have seen, clearly and unmistakably, the institutional pillars of the Republic being dismantled.
Even as India was beginning to be recognized as a vibrant democracy, with free and fair elections as its crowning achievement, we have experienced inroads into democracy’s most cherished attribute: freedom of thought and expression, with the integrity of the election process being undermined by the juggernaut of money and multiple manipulations. And as India was being acknowledged as a nation that believes in the rule of law, we have seen violations of the rule of law, apprehensions about judicial independence and attacks on the autonomy of institutions. Likewise, we thought open and large-scale caste and communal violence were behind us. But no, we have been shown to be wrong, our confidence woefully misplaced. We have seen the rise of something that was practically unknown in India- lynch mobs, caste violence and hate-mongering enjoying what seems like immunity from the law of a kind that can only come from state patronage. Just when we seemed to have acquired the resources to address endemic poverty and inequalities, we have been subjected to an accentuation of cronyism and monopolistic control over resources with a resultant weakening of peoples’ livelihoods. And overarching all this, we have regressed to a condition of induced collective insecurity and jingoism, contrary to the spirit of universalism which was never removed from Indian nationalism.
All this calls for urgent reforms in law, policies and institutions for saving and reclaiming our republic. This involves, first of all, restoration or undoing the damages inflicted by the current ruling establishment by ensuring: proper operation of the rule of law in our country; non-interference with judiciary and anti-corruption institutions; the integrity and fairness of our administrative structures and, last but not least; the vigorous energy of our media in reporting national events with freedom, accuracy and responsibility. But undoing the damage is not about a simple roll back. The roots of some of these challenges go back to the earlier times. We require reconstruction and substantial measures to ensure that similar damage cannot be done in the future. Unless we reignite the spirit of the Constitutional resolve to secure justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity and carry out programmes in that direction, we cannot hope to involve a majority of Indians in this national duty.
Accordingly, we place before the country specific ideas and measures for recovery, reconstruction and reorientation. These have been presented in the form of actionable programmes so that these could shape the agenda for the forthcoming elections. We do hope that political parties, candidates, campaign organisations, the media and, above all, citizens will take note of the agenda.
The range of reforms that we propose include:
- Doing away with several antiquated and draconian laws which have been widely misused to curtail personal liberties and intimidate political activists;
- Reforms to repair the damage done to anti-corruption institutions and putting in place a functional law and institutions to deal with public grievances;
- Judicial reforms aimed at making the judiciary more independent, accessible, efficient and accountable;
- Reforming the implementation of law through a set of police reforms in accordance with the Supreme Court’s judgment;
- Electoral reforms aimed at reducing the influence of money power in elections and making the electoral system more democratic;
- Media reforms aimed at making the media freer, more diverse and accountable through an independent regulator;
- Health reforms to ensure that the public health delivery system is put in place across the country and health care is affordable and accessible to all;
- Educational reforms to ensure properly staffed and funded government schools and better endowed, oriented and regulated higher educational institutions;
- Agricultural reforms to ensure that farmers receive remunerative prices for their produce, are freed from indebtedness and that we move towards more healthy and sustainable farm practices;
- Environmental reforms to ensure that environmental costs and benefits of every developmental project is examined by proper, independent regulatory bodies, especially if it involves the destruction of forests, coasts and other eco sensitive zones.
- Policies and programmes to ensure health, education, employment and social security to especially disadvantaged groups such as the disabled, SC/STs, women, Muslims, etc.
- Extension and expansion of MNREGS to guarantee to every adult at least 150 days of work a year at minimum wages; and
- Universal basic services for all citizens, including universal pension for the aged and special provisions for specially disadvantaged groups.
- Enactment of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law and establishing independent commissions for looking into systemic injustice meted out to vulnerable groups.
These proposed policies and programmes are neither optional, nor unaffordable for an economy of our size. We have examined the financial costs involved in providing for such welfare measures and are of the opinion that additional costs involved can be mobilised with the help of small turnover tax, wealth tax and inheritance tax, besides doing away with many irrational corporate subsidies. A substantial part of this additional spending is likely to come back to the government as indirect tax revenue.
Members of Reclaiming the Republic
February 1, 2019