Rather suddenly, this somewhat exotic word 'sovereignty' has assumed center stage in Indian politics.
Both the Congress party and BJP have invoked it during the Karnataka campaign; the former rather alarmingly terming a constituent state of India as ‘sovereign’, followed by the latter, led by PM Narendra Modi, sharply rebutting this description.
Almost uncannily, a new “sovereign” was crowned in far away England during the same time.
What exactly does it mean to term something, or someone, as ‘sovereign’?
Or does this word merely refer to a ceremonial gold coin, with the profile of this above-mentioned monarch and his ancestors? One might even see this quaint coin here and there in India today, weighing all of 8g of 22 carat gold!
At its most basic level, the word ‘sovereignty’ means supremacy: of power, of will, and of unquestionable writ.
The word almost implies purity derived from strength. What is sovereign is irreproachable, and unshakeable; sovereignty is both the might of a country as well as the foundation from which this might arises. In a political context, sovereignty is associated only with a country.
The Congress’s description of Sonia Gandhi’s speech, thus, was a secessionist slogan which claims that there exists a Karnataka devoid of India, which may do as it pleases.
It is not possible that this statement was tweeted by her party’s official handle with gusto, without prior application of mind. A word pregnant with constitutional meaning should not be thrown about in a language which only the elite of this country understands. The statement is not just a deliberate disturbance, but an insight into what the tukde tukde gang wish to do to India.
By no means was this statement out of the blue. Rahul Gandhi, the disqualified former MP, had recently given his own nefarious spin to India being a “Union of States”.
In his view, nothing more than India’s sundry states exist, and ‘India’ in his view is a ramshackle agglomeration of the same, our millenia old civilizational continuity be damned. He even spoke about a continuing "negotiation" between his 'union' and his 'states', as if the two can be held as equals.
How can such utterances not be intentional? Unsurprisingly, the well-known gaggle of irritants and saboteurs of this country parrot Churchill, when he had dismissed all of Indian civilization along with its terrific history of resilience in the face of invasions by declaring that “India is a geographical term. It is no more a united nation than the equator.” Even though the British have long left our shores, this ideology appears embedded in this country’s institutions.
It is indeed true that India is a Union of states: an indivisible, indestructible, ancient Union, Bhāratavarsha, which has, from time to time, arranged itself into smaller subdivisions.
Today, post 1947, these subdivisions are known as states. Many states which existed as on 15 August 1947 are but faint memories, and many states have emerged as novel constructions based on the Union’s wisdom conjoined with local demands.
Any student of India’s Constitution knows that with the operational simplicity of Article 3, states can be created, merged, reduced, made into Union Territories, or even made to disappear, at the behest of Parliament, regardless of the wishes of the state itself; whither 'sovereignty' when your very existence is beholden to a higher power, i.e. the Union?
To call India federal is an imperfect analogy at best, even incorrect, hence the “quasi” appendage is often tagged on to it. India is what it is, and descriptions, arising from a Western lens, and which try to cope ineffectually with India’s unique civilisational setup, cannot be allowed to define what or who we are.
While India and the Indian civilisation have persisted in the face of repeated attacks, they are being summarily dismissed by the upper echelons of India’s largest opposition party.
For petty electoral concerns and a galaxy of vested interests, domestic and foreign, the beautiful diversities within the country which are products of a timeless civilization, are being deformed into fault lines of a type that have weakened India before in its long history, with devastating consequences. Naturally, these tukde-tukde gangs are the same people who have consternation writ large on their faces when the cry of “Bharat Mata ki jai” resounds.
The makers of the Constitution had utmost clarity when they discussed what sovereignty meant in the Indian context.
Acharya J. B. Kriplani, a member of the Constituent Assembly, asserted: “it is necessary to lay down clearly and distinctly, that sovereignty resides in and flows from the people.” The same statement found resonance with Bhimrao Ambedkar, when he said: “I say that this Preamble embodies what is the desire of every Member of the House that this Constitution should have its root, its authority, its sovereignty, from the people. That it has.”
The Rashtra is what lends authority to, organizes, and vests power into the Rajya. At the most fundamental level, and as voiced by the people who engineered our Constitution, this is the foundational and overriding dictum.
Unfortunately, the long rule of Macaulay’s spoilt children is what is responsible for the destabilizing decrees coming not just from the Gandhi-Vadras, but the broader Lutyens leftist disruptionist ecosystem, including some opposition governments in larger states.
The governmental institutions of this country, the interpretation of the Constitution, and how we understand rights and duties are far removed from the civilizational ontology which is the very basis for the noble edifice of this country.
A system of law flowing from distant England, peppered with whatever new Western fad with which the elite of this country are currently flirting, ensure that the voices of the true and only sovereigns of India, the people of this country, are consistently suppressed.
In the name of protecting democracy, the popular will (which democracy ought to subserve) is often lampooned, discredited, or outright ignored by those who think they know better, based on the crispness of their English accents, their Lahori kebabs, or their lavish Ghazal soirees.
Parts of the Rajya, which includes not just the State apparatus but all institutions which influence decision-making, have even shown outright hostility and contempt for the Rashtra. Certain individuals, platforms, and cliques in this country have come to view themselves as sovereign. Why is the State silent? Above all, it should be the State that is the most sensitive to encroachments on its sovereignty.
These tukde-tukde entities understand that their intoxication with power can only continue if they continuously keep attacking the Rashtra, denigrate the civilizational basis for this country, and maintain India in a divided, disorderly state. Hence, The Kashmir Files or The Kerala Story receive sudden and acerbic backlash from repeat offenders, who go as far as to condone violence against it or ban it outright.
They wish to take us back to the pre-2014 era, where corruption and mismanagement fueled debauchery in gated environs, while ‘coalition dharma’ would override rajdharma. Even foreign policy was not spared; anything concerning Sri Lanka would be held ransom to the vagaries of the DMK, an essential coalition partner in the hotchpotch waterloo of indecision known as the UPA-2.
The fault, unfortunately, lies at the doors of the makers of the Constitution. They presumed that something so sacrosanct a postulate as the supremacy of the people of India, and hence its will, would never be questioned. They could have never foreseen the oddity of judicial inventions such as the basic structure doctrine, nor could they have predicted the greed of their political successors.
The Constitution, thus, does not emphasise or even talk about the organic and essential basis of the Indian State: popular sovereignty, the indivisibility of India, and parliamentary supremacy.
A brief perusal of the Constitution Assembly Debates is sufficient proof that all of these elements were inseparable from the Constitution—in the words of its makers—no less.
The foundational scheme of the Constitution itself is found lacking in this regard.
As India hurtles towards a century of independence, the fact that statements such as those made by the Gandhi-Vadras go unpunished is deeply distressing. Even administratively, the British-era Government of India Act, 1935, forms the backbone of the Constitution—a scheme which has long outlived its utility. If 105 amendments cannot fix it, nothing will; with all due respect, for the sake of the Rashtra, a new constitutional scheme appears to be an imperative.
A Constitution in a civilizational State such as India ought to carry instructions from the Rashtra to the Rajya. The bare basics of the organization of the Rajya, the overriding values which it must serve, and a charter of duties to enforce as well as the rights it ought to ensure should be the essentials of any decent Constitution.
The organization of the State, in particular, has to be in line with the civilizational characteristics of the Rashtra. If only the present Constitution had exercised abundant caution, the Rashtra would have been able to effectively respond and deter those who dare to subvert the unity and continuity of this civilization. A Dharmic Constitution, where Dharma and the popular mandate are enshrined as non-negotiable, is the natural starting point for the conversation. What that may look like is explored in the book Bhārat: India 2.0 by Gautam R. Desiraju (Vitasta, 2022).
Gautam R. Desiraju is in the Solid State and Structural Chemistry Unit, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.
Deekhit Bhattacharya is a student in the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.
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