Reclaiming the Republic – A public Talk by Prashant Bhushan
The following is a transcript of a talk delivered by Shri. Prashant Bhushan eminent Supreme Court Lawyers and Civil Society activist on March 30, 2019, at Press Club Bangalore.
Around 42% of children in India are malnourished and this is more than the rest of the world.
More than 3.5 lakh farmers have committed suicide in the last 20 years.
What kind of democratic participation can we expect from these people in such a situation? The state of inequality is such that the 9 wealthiest persons in this country are said to have more wealth than the bottom 65 crore people of our population. The Gini index, that measures income and wealth inequality, is the highest in India compared to the rest of the world.
The systemic Assault
The Republic of India is in danger. Our fundament rights are under severe assault. The kind of assault that we are today seeing on the right to speech, right to non-discrimination, to religious equality, right to live with dignity, right to live in a corruption free society are all fundamental rights that are guaranteed by the constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court under article 14, 19, and 21. Everything is under serious assault today. All institutions that were established to ensure that democracy continues to function and fundamental rights are protected are under severe attack in our country today. This includes the judiciary, the Election Commission, Comptroller and Auditor General, including the anticorruption institutionsLokpal, CBI, CVC and so on; Reserve Bank, and educational institutions.
On further analyses, the assault is not merely on democracy, it is not merely on our institutions, it is not merely on fundamental rights, but it is an attack on our Civilization itself. We have a situation in our country today where lynch mobs have been given a license if affiliated to the ruling party. They are given full impunity and protected by the police and the government to go about beating anybody they want, especially the minorities, Dalits, and so on. Ironically the victims of lynch mobs are persecuted by the police. The lynch mobs are not merely on the streets. We have lynch mobs on social media. Read the book, “ I am a Troll” by Swati Chaturvedi, a fine journalist. You will realize that the lynch mob on the social media abuses, threatens with the vilest possible abuse that one can imagine. Anybody who criticizes the government or the prime minister is subjected to the filthiest abuses and all kinds of threats, and this whole lynch mob is followed on social media by the prime minister himself.
A repetition of history
It is apt to say that during the emergency democracy was under threat and today Civilization itself is under threat. What is happening today is reminiscent of Nazi Germany of the 1930s when Hitler consolidated his powers, and what he did to the Republic in Germany. Almost each and everything can be seen done here today. The election commission of India for the last 30 years, at least after TN Seshan became the Election Commissioner, questions were never raised about the independence of the Election Commission. But today very serious questions are being raised that the election commission is just closing its eyes to the blatant violation of the model code of conduct by the ruling party.
Similar is the case with the CAG. For many years there were never any questions raised about the independence of the CAG. The Current CAG Maharishi. On the day of his retirement, he was appointed Home Secretary. After his retirement as Home Secretary, he was appointed as CAG. In the Rafael deal, the CAG did some flip flops about the pricing details. Whereas 60 senior bureaucrats had already written to the CAG questioning about it not auditing the Rafael deal. The government finally admitted that the pricing details Rafael have been redacted from the report that was given to the PAC and placed before the parliament. Such as thing has never, ever happened in History before. Over 100 CAG reports about the Defense deals have been given in the last 60 years, and there is not a single case where the pricing details were removed. The CAG report on Rafael deal is the first case of a report without the pricing details. It is evident that the CAG was a caged parrot of the Government like the CBI. Thus institutions after institutions have been destroyed. The Vice Chancellors of every university are now chosen from the bank of RSS people.
Basic guarantee of services: A think tank of intellectuals have gone into the issues on how to deal with this economic distress. First of all, we felt that we need basic services guaranteed for health and education and that there needs to be adequate government health and educational institutions. Only this will guarantee basic healthcare and education. Offering health insurance to people and asking them to seek healthcare from private hospitals is a drain on public money. Some may say that government institutions are corrupt and so on, but we have to reform that. Privatization of these critical sectors has not worked anywhere in the world. The best healthcare services in the world are only from Government institutions. We have to ensure that government institutions function properly as they do in most European Countries. That is the only way those services can be delivered.
Judicial reforms: This is a very serious problem in our country today. Ordinary people do not have access to the judicial system because they cannot afford lawyers. The Gram Nyalaya bill, originally thought of, was supposed to create some kind of informal courts in every Tehsil. Today, the Civil courts are only in the Tehsils. The idea was to have courts at the block level. Having more courts, spread out and functionally informally so that people do not need lawyers in order to seek justice in those courts. With basic paralegal help, somebody can articulate their grievance. There is a need for transparency in the selection of judges.
Media reforms: There are several problems with the media. One of them is most of the mainstream media are under the direct control of the government. The government has brought it under its control using many methods. A couple of them are inducement and coercion. Using public money by way of government advertisement and selectively advertisements are given to those media houses who toe the government’s line and denied to those media houses that are independent. With the result that a lot of them have fallen in line because of this and those that do not fall in line are threatened by the government departments such as CBI, ED, and so on. We need an independent regulator to oversee all this and even complaints against media organizations.
We need very urgent and very, very essential and critical reforms in law, policy, and institutions of this country. Our republic is in serious danger and has never been in such danger of being completely destroyed and India being turned into a fascist state as it happened in Nazi Germany. We are on the brink of that catastrophe. This election is perhaps just one step toward averting that catastrophe. It requires a very active and engaged citizenry to put enough pressure on whichever government comes to power to save our democracy and indeed our civilization itself.
The draft manifesto for reforms in law, policy, and institutions of this country is available online at Reclaimingtherepublic.in