Today, we celebrate the 60th anniversary of India's coming into existence as a "Republic", a date that many consider to be as important as the 15th of August 1947, when India finally shook off the last vestiges of foreign domination and went on to fulfill its tryst with destiny.
As a friend of mine, Gopal Sankaranarayanan writes in the Hindu:
"In many ways, August 15 would have little meaning if not for January 26. For, although independent, the vast land that formed colonial India was peopled by a multitude, divided by language, religion and ethnicity, and still treated as a Dominion of Britain, with George VI continuing as the Head of State.
Scarred by partition and rendered rudderless with the passing of its foremost leader, they sought a rallying point — one that would bring them together, not merely symbolically, but as a living truth.
That succour was the Constitution of India, signed in after two years of debate among the most outstanding minds of the time. The adoption of the Constitution on that momentous day marked the actual setting of the sun on the British Empire in India."
The birth of the world's longest constitution sixty years ago, when "we the people of India solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic" requires celebration. But more importantly, it requires reflection. For it is more than a mere parchment stamped with the erudite words of a diverse set of visionaries.
It lives, it breathes..and most importantly, it has a soul. That elusive thing, the quest for which burnt up entire (and perhaps multiple) life-spans of some of our ancestors. Little wonder then that our dear country has turned out to be one of the cheapest shrinks the world over...a country that offers spiritual solace to many that coming knocking on its doors.
Anyway, given the paucity of time and attention span in this day and age, let me not meander through spiritual meadows. Rather, let me try and focus on the word "republic", a word that derives its origin from the Latin phrase "res publica", which roughly translates as "a public affair".
Though there is considerable disagreement on the import of the term "republic" and some have even gone to the extent of labeling it a redundancy in a modern day constitutional democracy, many are likely to converge around the notion that it is a form of government that places more emphasis on a polity governed in accordance with the wishes of the public, as opposed to an arbitrary and perhaps hereditary monarch.
Given that the term "republic" places some emphasis on "public", it is a shame that our law making continues to pace ahead with scant public input. The Indian "Bayh Dole" bill is an excellent case in point, where a bill was drafted in complete secrecy and then made its through various government agencies, law firms and private industry in secrecy. We documented this shameful state of affairs several times on this blog.
It now turns out that the Parliamentary select committee chosen for the arduous task of collecting inputs from various stakeholders and presenting a well rounded picture to our Parliamentarians also chose to respect this tradition of secrecy. None of their hearings were made public. In fact, barring a select few that were invited to present their views before this Committee, no member of the public even knew that this Committee was considering a grave issue likely to impact the very future of science and research in this country.
What is most lamentable is that the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), perhaps India's leading institution of learning and research, was not so much as invited to present their views. See this Times of India piece which states:
"...scientists seem far from thrilled. In fact, they are rather uncomplimentary in describing the bill — ‘‘useless, poorly drafted, burdensome, potentially coercible, most abusable piece of legislation’’. And, public interest seems heavily compromised in the bill. The bill is before a standing committee of Parliament after being introduced in the Rajya Sabha. The standing committee has been hearing various stakeholders and has to submit a report to Parliament by March this year...
Interestingly, a premier institution like the IISc was not specifically asked to make a presentation before the standing committee of Parliament looking into the bill. When, upon learning of the hearings from an NGO, the institute requested permission to make an oral presentation, permission was refused as the request was late and, instead, a written submission was asked for."
(For those interested, I have a draft paper (along with Shouvik Guha) on some of the critical drawbacks in this badly conceptualised and drafted Bill. We also suggest some tentative solutions that might help frame better policy in this regard.)
On the 60th anniversary of a day when some of our finest minds put their heads and hearts together to craft a commendable document that has time and again protected the public from the tyrannies of government power, we have much to be proud of. Unfortunately, in so far as law making is concerned, I chose to hang my head in shame.
I do hope however that the next decade sees a government that takes law making more seriously and pays more than lip service to the "public" within this republic. And on that optimistic note, let me wish you all a wonderful republic day.
ps: For those hoping to take a musical break from this rather heavy and depressing post, see this years' rendition of "Mile Sur Mera Tumhara", where our solemnly conceived republic is worryingly represented by an over abundance of Bollywood.
pps: For excellent pieces commemorating the 60th anniversary, see Vikram Raghavan's piece and this LAOT post documenting other pieces.
ppps: image from here.