The Government of India has appointed a Constitutional Review Committee headed by former Chief Justice and head of the government human rights commission, Venkatachelliah. Its terms include review of the functioning of the Constitution in the past 5 decades and suggesting changes, while keeping its "basic structure" intact. This follows the widespread debate that has been going on for some time now about the need for constitutional changes.
The constitution of a country is the fundamental law of the land. On this fundamental law, so to speak, are formulated all other laws. The Constitution represents the legalization of the rule of the class in power. It deprives certain classes of power and formalizes the power of the ruling class. In India, our constitution formalizes the power of the big bourgeoisie and deprives the workers and peasants of all nations, nationalities and tribes of power. This is the "basic structure" of the constitution, which is to be defended.
The opportunists in the working class movement create a lot of hullabaloo that there is something positive for the working class in the Indian Constitution that the BJP allegedly wants to remove. That is why they make a lot of noise about defending its "basic structure". The Indian Constitution declares in its preamble that it is a secular democratic socialist republic. The secular, socialist, and democratic content are obviously not part of the "basic structure". This is what the practice of the past 50 years shows in terms of communal violence against Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and other religious and national minorities, the increase at one pole of wealth and at the other pole of poverty. The Directive Principles of governance of the Indian Constitution do not constitute, obviously, the "basic structure", as they have been violated more often then not. What remains and is the basic structure is that the state power, the armed might of the state has been, is and will continue to be used to suppress the revolt of the toiling masses against the unjust system, to preserve the rule of the capitalists and landlords and imperialists. On this there is complete agreement between the bourgeois parties and amongst the opportunists in the working class movement.
Why has the bourgeoisie unleashed a discussion on changing the Constitution at the present time? The fact that the 1950 Constitution is designed to uphold and defend the class interests of the bourgeoisie does not mean however that this bourgeoisie can have no interest in changing it. The deepening political crisis of the bourgeois rule, reflected in the growing use of state terrorism and in the inability of any single party to maintain itself in power for long, is a development of some concern to the bourgeoisie. Another development is the requirements of globalisation of the economy. Over the past 50 years, the Constitution has been amended about 80 times by the bourgeoisie to serve its needs at different times. But now there is a push for a more comprehensive restructuring to meet the needs of the bourgeoisie in the present conditions.
Under these circumstances, the working class and people should not have the slightest illusion that what is being contemplated by the bourgeoisie now in the name of constitutional reform can be in any way in the people’s interests. At the same time, the working class and people must not fall into the trap of opposing any new moves by the bourgeoisie to strengthen its rule, from the standpoint of defending the existing thoroughly anti-people Constitution or any part of it. What the bourgeoisie wants the people to do is precisely this: either line up behind the bourgeois agenda for political change, or else line up behind the slogan of ‘defending the 1950 Constitution’. Both courses of action hold absolutely nothing for the masses of people. What is worse, the bourgeoisie hopes to engender more divisions in the ranks of the working people on these lines. Already, there are signs that in some areas, the ruling class agenda of reviewing the Constitution has become a divisive factor among sections of the working people.
What the ruling bourgeoisie does not want is that the working class and people move resolutely ahead on the only path that can lead the country out of the present situation of political crisis and deadlock arising out of its bankrupt and self-serving rule. This is the path of the working class and people developing and uniting around their own clear and independent agenda for political change, which will open the way for the people to take power in their own hands away from the hands of the bourgeoisie. Only this path will put an end to poverty and the exploitation and oppression of the toiling people. Only this will ensure a decent livelihood, human dignity and security of life for all, as well as rights for all those who are denied equality and justice under the existing system, including the various nations and nationalities, the tribal peoples, dalits, women, minorities, and others.
The communists and workers are by no means indifferent to the debate on the Constitution. On the contrary, they can and must use the occasion to further expose the present system, further expose how the Indian Constitution reflects the class rule of the big bourgeoisie that came to power in August of 1947. They must expose the kind of changes that are being proposed to the Constitution and show how they are once again dictated only by the class needs of the bourgeoisie today. Fighting the tendency within the communist movement to conciliate with social-democratic illusion mongering about the Constitution, they must compare and contrast the present constitution with one that could be the fundamental law of the land if state power was in the hands of workers and peasants. While doing so, they must clearly put forth that it is only when the workers, in alliance with the peasants and other toiling people, succeed in taking power in their own hands, that they will give rise to their own Constitution which will proclaim to the whole world the dawn of a New India.