BJP amend Constitution

Amiri hatao? Cong mustn’t go back to old ways

It has not amended its own party constitution to disavow secularism and create a Hindu state.
Will BJP change the Constitution to abandon secularism if it wins a massive Lok Sabha victory? Very unlikely. It already has what many call a de facto Hindu state, while formally sticking to secularism. Why abandon a formula that has succeeded in practical politics and is an internationally workable fudge?Though BJP has officially dissociated itself from Karnataka MP Anantkumar Hegde who reportedly said the party would change the Constitution if it won 400 seats and even sought a clarification from him, Opposition parties claim the cat is out of the bag.
They have warned that BJP might not just make India a Hindu state but eliminate job reservations for various castes enshrined in the Constitution.Addressing a rally in Gaya, Bihar, PM Narendra Modi hit back, saying, “The Congress spread the narrative that if BJP comes to power, it will change the Constitution. I want to tell them, what to talk of Modi or BJP, even architect of the Constitution Babasaheb Ambedkar cannot change the Constitution. Therefore, they must stop spreading lies.” Modi went on to remind the audience that BJP had instituted Constitution Day, reflecting its highest respect for constitutional principles.
However, the fact is that India probably has the most-amended Constitution in the world, with 106 amendments in 76 years. Nothing is commoner than amending the Constitution — Congress and BJP have done it on average more than once a year. BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has amended the Constitution no less than 22 times under AB Vajpayee and Modi.Under Vajpayee, the NDA enacted 14 constitutional amendments, from the 79th to the 92nd. Modi has enacted eight amendments from the 99th to the 106th. Since amendments require approval of two-thirds of the two Houses of Parliament and a majority of state govts, these amendments were backed by the vast majority of Opposition parties, without whom the NDA would have lacked the required numbers.

Nothing is commoner than amending the Constitution — Congress and BJP have done it on average more than once a year.

Constitutional amendments occur regularly with a political consensus. In the Vajpayee era, the amendments included the pooling and sharing of all central taxes with states as suggested by the Tenth Finance Commission; restricting the size of the central council of ministers to check defections; bifurcating the National Commission on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes; protecting SC/ST reservations in filling the backlog of vacancies; relaxing the qualifying mark for SC/ST candidates in promotions; and including Bodo, Dogri, Santhali and Maithili as official languages. More routine amendments included extending SC/ST reservations, that have been extended repeatedly whenever they are about to expire.In the Modi years, the amendments included the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax, the exchange of enclaves between India and Bangladesh, 10% reservations in govt jobs and educational positions for economically weaker sections not already enjoying quotas, and reservation of seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women.Another significant one was its abolition of Article 370 of the Constitution that gave autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir. Given this long history of amendments, what Modi presumably meant was that the Constitution could not be changed to do away with reservations and secularism.Both of these are part of the basic structure of the Constitution, which the Supreme Court says cannot be altered.

Is this too generous an interpretation for the party? After all, its trolls are known for spreading communal hate and championing a Hindu state. Is it only a matter of time before BJP formally abandons secularism? Many in the party would want that, but others are happy to have a de facto Hindu state with a secular veneer.In his book, ‘Our Hindu Rashtra’, Aakar Patel writes that BJP’s membership form requires the pledge: “I subscribe to the concept of a secular state and nation not based on religion.” Indeed, the beginning of BJP’s own party constitution promises to “bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established and to the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy.”If BJP has not amended its own party constitution to disavow secularism and create a Hindu state, will it so amend the Indian Constitution? I think not. BJP manifesto promises more of the same strategies that have served the party so well. That includes the fudge on secularism.
This article was originally published by The Times of India on April 20, 2024.

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