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Quickpost: Thoughts on Republic Day

What constitutes the most sacred duty of the government and citizens in a republic?

The meteoric rise of the Aam Admi Party in Delhi tells us that democracy is alive and well in India.  AAP rode on the wave of an anti-corruption sentiment and vanquished a hitherto well-entrenched Congress party from the seat of power in Delhi.  However, the party’s use of methods bordering on political vigilantism to address the legitimate concerns of the electorate tells us that while India the democracy is thriving, India the republic is hurting.

In the congress of developing nations, India distinguishes itself for its sustained commitment to pluralistic, democratic traditions.  At the same time however, the use of unconstitutional methods for seeking social, economic and political justice continues to be accepted.  The degree to which these methods are employed differentiates an unhealthy republic from a healthy one.

Many of us are familiar with B.R. Ambedkar’s concluding speech on the floor of the Constituent Assembly on achieving social and economic justice through methods provided by the Constitution of the land.  For any healthy, functioning republic, adherence to these methods is not just important, but essential.   The responsibility to ensure the adherence of constitutional methods, then, becomes the duty of both the government and citizens.

Indeed, as Alexander Hamilton, a founding father of the American Republic, explained in a letter in the Federalist Papers, it constitutes the “most sacred duty,” and is the greatest source of security to the republic:

If it were to be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws — the first growing out of the last. It is by this, in a great degree, that the rich and the powerful are to be restrained from enterprises against the common liberty — operated upon by the influence of a general sentiment by their interest in the principle, and by the obstacles which the habit it produces erects against innovation and encroachment. It is by this in a still greater degree, that caballers, intriguers and demagogues, are prevented from climbing on the shoulders of faction to the tempting seats of usurpation and tyranny.

Were it not that it might require too long a discussion, it would not be difficult to demonstrate that a large and well organized Republic can scarcely lose its liberty from any other cause than that of anarchy, to which a contempt of the laws is the high road.

But without entering into so wide a field it is sufficient to present to your view a more simple and a more obvious truth, which is this:  that a sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle the sustaining energy of a free government.

[Alexander Hamilton, Letter No. III in the American Daily Advertiser, August 28, 1794]

Let us hope this serves as food for thought as India celebrates its 65th Republic Day today.

 

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On Anna Hazare’s fast

“Something is rotten in the state, but…”

Anna Hazare’s fast-unto-death campaign against corruption has inspired commentary and discussion in mainstream media and on social media platforms.  NDTV has wholeheartedly thrown its weight behind Mr. Hazare’s campaign.  RTI activist and Magsaysay Award winner Arvind Kejriwal vowed to turn Jantar Mantar into Tahrir Square.  And film actress Priyanka Chopra called the campaign “an uprising.” Jantar Mantar has metamorphosed into a celebrity congregation, just like Wankhede Stadium had on April 2.  But how many have actually read the draft of the Lokpal Bill?  How many really understand what the Lokpal is, and what such an institution means to our democratic republic?

But away from all the demagoguery and rhetoric, writers and bloggers are asking the tough questions that those on the bandwagon have found too inconvenient to address.  Of these, articles and blogposts by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Offstumped and Reality Check India deserve special mention (as does Mr. Mehta’s 2010 essay, “What is Constitutional Morality?”)

The intellectual bedrock to some of this discussion can also be found in Alexander Hamilton’s treatise on the Constitution and the Republic. Below is an excerpt from his writings in 1794:

But, without entering into so wide a field, it is sufficient to present to your view a more simple and a more obvious truth, which is this: that a sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.

Government is frequently and aptly classed under two descriptions—a government of Force, and a government of Laws; the first is the definition of despotism—the last, of liberty. But how can a government of laws exist when the laws are disrespected and disobeyed? Government supposes control. It is that Power by which individuals in society are kept from doing injury to each other, and are brought to co-operate to a common end. The instruments by which it must act are either the Authority of the laws or Force. If the first be destroyed, the last must be substituted; and where this becomes the ordinary instrument of government, there is an end to liberty!

Those, therefore, who preach doctrines, or set examples which undermine or subvert the authority of the laws, lead us from freedom to slavery; they incapacitate us for a Government of Laws, and consequently prepare the way for one of Force, for mankind must have Government Of One Sort Or Another. There are, indeed, great and urgent cases where the bounds of the Constitution are manifestly transgressed, or its constitutional authorities so exercised as to produce unequivocal oppression on the community, and to render resistance justifiable. But such cases can give no color to the resistance by a comparatively inconsiderable part of a community, of constitutional laws distinguished by no extraordinary features of rigor or oppression, and acquiesced in by the body of the community.

Such a resistance is treason against society, against liberty, against every thing that ought to be dear to a free, enlightened, and prudent people. To tolerate it, were to abandon your most precious interests. Not to subdue it, were to tolerate it. Those who openly or covertly dissuade you from exertions adequate to the occasion, are your worst enemies. They treat you either as fools or cowards, too weak to perceive your interest or your duty, or too dastardly to pursue them. They, therefore, merit and will, no doubt, meet your contempt. To the plausible but hollow harangue of such conspirators you cannot fail to reply, How long, ye Catilines, will ye abuse our patience?  [Alexander Hamilton, “Tully Papers, III.” August 28, 1794]

Unquestionably, something is rotten in the state.  That corruption is rampant is undeniable.  The debate here though isn’t whether or not we must fight against corruption, but how we should address it.  It is time for us to step back and reflect on what such an unabated encouragement of moral chauvinism means for the current and future state of our democratic republic.

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Some thoughts on Independence Day

This month’s Pragati carries an excerpt from B.R. Ambedkar’s concluding speech on the floor of the Constituent Assembly on achieving social and economic justice through methods provided by the Constitution of the land.  For any healthy, functioning republic, adherence to these methods is not just important, but essential.

On this Independence Day, we can reflect with some satisfaction on how far India has come in 63 years.  In the congress of developing nations, India distinguishes itself for its sustained commitment to pluralistic, democratic traditions.  At the same time however, the use of unconstitutional methods for seeking social, economic and political justice not only continues to be accepted, but also encouraged.

The degree to which these methods are employed differentiates an unhealthy republic from a healthy one.  The responsibility to respect the Constitution and its methods must be borne by both Government and its citizens.  This is a “sacred duty,” as Alexander Hamilton described it in his letter in 1794 to the Daily Advertiser, and one that provides the greatest source of security to a republic:

If it were to be asked, What is the most sacred duty, and the greatest source of security in a Republic ? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws—the first growing out of the last. It is by this, in a great degree, that the rich and the powerful are to be restrained from enterprises against the common liberty—operated upon by the influence of a general sentiment, by their interest in the principle, and by the obstacles which the habit it produces erects against innovation and encroachment.  It is by this, in a still greater degree, that caballers, intriguers, and demagogues, are prevented from climbing on the shoulders of faction to the tempting seats of usurpation and tyranny.

Were it not that it might require too long a discussion, it would not be difficult to demonstrate that a large and well-organized Republic can scarcely lose its liberty from any other cause than that of anarchy, to which a contempt of the laws is the high road.

But, without entering into so wide a field, it is sufficient to present to your view a more simple and a more obvious truth, which is this: that a sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.

[Alexander Hamilton, Letter No. III in the American Daily Advertiser, August 28, 1794]

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