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The 104th Constitution Amendment Bill is dangerous
December 27, 2005
The supposedly liberal values that are the driving force behind politics in India -- especially of the United Progressive Alliance government -- are shrinking the public space for autonomy and free association.
The road to hell and to serfdom is paved with good intentions and great slogans. The 104th Constitution Amendment Bill, passed almost unanimously, ostensibly to help the underprivileged, will end up effectively bringing under the control of the government bureaucracy a major portion of the private education sector.
Rather than open more schools and increase the investment in education, the government wants to micromanage private schools.
Educational institutions, whether they receive aid from the government or not, so long as they are supposedly run by those who belong to the 'majority,' will have to set aside half of the seats for people from certain communities.
Watching over their shoulders will be the Big Brother, and one presumes if the ethnic background of students does not satisfy the bureaucrats, the schools would be shut down!
This is an assault on the principles of private initiative and voluntary association. The government is insisting that association even in the privacy of one's own property is disallowed unless this association includes members of certain groups.
This Amendment also contravenes one of the founding principles of any democracy, that all citizens be treated on the same basis. It creates two classes of citizens: minority and non-minority. The right of voluntary association is maintained for the minority, and denied to the non-minority.
The famous poem by Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) about accumulation of State power by the targeting of specific groups one at a time captures the slippery slope of the law very well:
First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Amendment 104 should be seen as further march of a polity that has nationalized temples, taking away the right of free religious expression. It requires legislators to vote as the leader commands, under pain of expulsion if they refuse.
The liberals and leftists in the Indian polity, who have pushed this constitutional amendment, are in the mold of the 19th century liberals like John Stuart Mill, who spoke of tolerance and the rule of law, but were ardent supporters of European colonization. Mill believed that India like other 'barbarous' nations had 'not got beyond the period during which it is likely to be to their benefit that they should be conquered and held in subjection by foreigners.'
The liberals' embrace of universal human liberty contained a Eurocentric and potentially racist view of what society should be like, and communism was born out of this impulse. It is a strange irony that the only ones holding on to this Eurocentric program are the Indian Marxists and liberals.
There is no space for libertarians in Indian polity: no one speaks for the rights to privacy and voluntary association. But guarantee of such privacy is essential in the development of a knowledge society that is to be internationally competitive. Both the Left and the Right have used euphemisms such as 'social control' to increase the power of the State.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Indian political system seems to be becoming more and more like the mansabdar system of the Mughals. Then the emperor granted revenue rights to a mansabdar in exchange for promises of soldiers in war-time. Now the leader grants tickets and money to run for political office in exchange for unconditional support later. The mansab was both revocable and non-hereditary exactly like the parliament seat now.
This is the only explanation why there was no real opposition to the passage of the Amendment in both the Lok and Rajya Sabhas, why no one brought up Constitutional questions related to individual freedom and privacy.
If there is a law that needs to be resisted, it is this one.