11 Jan 2011

Bhagat Singh's definition of "revolution": Supreme Court quotes

In an apt tribute to the legends who have strived to make India a country which it is, the Supreme Court of India in a recently reported decision [Bhanumati v. State of U.P., AIR 2010 SC 3796] has inter alia quoted the legendary freedom fighter Bhagat Singh to justify a constitutional amendment and to determine its contours. Speaking in the context of the Panchayati-Raj-institutions introduced under 73rd Amendment to the Constitution, the Supreme Court took judicial notice of the speech made by Bhagat Singh in his trial for crimes against the State and went on to hold that the definition of 'revolution' made by him aptly fitted in the regime introduced to revolutnize the Indian masses who stayed in villages and thus garnered an opportunity to include them within the legal main-stream through the empowerment of the institutions at the panchayat level.

The Bench inter alia observed as under;
26. In other representative democracies of the world committed to a written Constitution and rule of law, the principles of self Government are also part of the Constitutional doctrine. It has been accepted in the American Constitution that the right to local self-Government is treated as inherent in cities and towns. Such rights cannot be taken away even by legislature. The following excerpts from American Jurisprudence are very instructive: 
Stated differently, it has been laid down as a binding principle of law in these jurisdictions that a statute which attempts to take away from a municipal corporation its power of self-Government, except as to matters which are of concern to the State as a whole, is in excess of the power of the legislature and is consequently void. Under this theory, the principle of home rule, or the right of self-Government as to local affairs, is deemed to have existed before the constitution. (Volume 56, American Jurisprudence, Article 125.)  
27. Under 73rd Amendment of the Constitution, Panchayat became an 'institution of self governance' which was previously a mere unit, under Article 40.
28. 73rd Amendment heralded a new era but it took nearly more than four decades for our Parliament to pass this epoch making 73rd Constitution Amendment - a turning point in the history of local self-governance with sweeping consequences in view of decentralization, grass root democracy, people's participation, gender equality and social justice.
29. Decentralization is perceived as a precondition for preservation of the basic values of a free society. Republicanism which is the 'sine qua non' of this amendment is compatible both with democratic socialism and radical liberalism. Republicanism presupposes that laws should be made by active citizens working in concert. Price of freedom is not merely eternal vigilance but perpetual and creative citizen's activity.
30. This 73rd Amendment is a very powerful 'tool of social engineering' and has unleashed, tremendous potential of social transformation to bring about a seachange in the age-old, oppressive, anti human and status quoist traditions of Indian society. It may be true that this amendment will not see a quantum jump but it will certainly initiate a thaw and pioneer a major change, may be in a painfully slow process.
32. What was in a nebulous state as one of Directive Principles under Article 40, through 73rd Constitutional Amendment metamorphosed to a distinct part of Constitutional dispensation with detailed, provision for functioning of Panchayat. The main purpose behind this is to ensure democratic decentralization on the Gandhian principle of participatory democracy so that the Panchayat may become viable and responsive people's bodies as an institution of governance and thus it may acquire the necessary status and function with dignity by inspiring respect of common man.
37. India has been and continues to be a predominantly rural country. There are 5 lakh 78 thousand 430 villages in which 74% of her people, which is about 750 million, live. Out of this village population 48% live below poverty line. Though our Constitution professes to be a democratic republic but our rural set up is largely feudal. The agrarian relationship of the majority of the people is very weak and helpless compared with few land holding families which control economic interest of larger sections of village society. Unfortunately our independence has not been able to change our political priorities and dynastic democratic pattern is the order of the day.
38. The vast majority of the rural masses still have to obey decisions taken by few people living in metropolitan centers representing an alien culture and ethos. 
39. Here it may not be out of context to remember what was said by Bhagat  Singh and Batukeshwar Dutta on 6th June, 1929 in their joint statement in connection with the criminal trial they faced in Crown v. Bhagat Singh. In paragraphs 7 and 8 of their joint statement, the great martyr Bhagat Singh said
7. I, Bhagat Singh was asked in the lower Court as to what we meant by the word 'Revolution'. In answer to that question, I would say that Revolution does not necessarily involve a sanguinery strife, nor is there any place in it for individual vendetta. It is not the cult of the bomb and the pistol. By Revolution we mean that the present order of things which is based on manifest injustice must change. The producers or the labourers, inspite of being the most necessary element of society are robbed by their exploiters of the fruits of their labour and deprived of their elementary right. On the one hand the peasant who grows corn for all starves with his family, the weaver who supplies world markets with textile fabrics cannot find enough to cover his own and his children's bodies; the masons, the smith and the carpenters who rear magnificent palaces live and perish in slums; and on the other the capitalists exploiters, the parasites of society squander millions on their whims. These terrible inequalities and forced disparity of chances are heading towards chaos. This state of affairs cannot last; and it, is obvious that the present order of Society is merrymaking on the brink of a volcano and the innocent children of the Exploiters no less than millions of the exploited are walking on the edge of a dangerous precipice. The whole edifice of this civilization, if not saved in time, shall crumble. A radical change, therefore is necessary; and it is the duty of those who realize this to reorganize society on the socialistic basis. 
Unless this is done and the exploitation of man by man and of nations by nations, which goes marquerading as Imperialism, is brought to end, the sufferings and carnage with which humanity is threatened today cannot be prevented and all talks of ending wars and ushering in an era of universal peace is undisguised hypocricy. By revolution we mean the ultimate establishment of an order of society which may not be threatened by such a breakdown; and in which the sovereignty of the Proletariat should be recognized; and as the result of which a world-federation should redeem humanity from the bondage of capitalism and the misery of imperial wars.
8. xxx xxxx
Revolution is the inalienable right of mankind. Freedom is, the imprescriptable birth right of all. The labourer is the real sustainers of society. The Soverignty of the people is the ultimate destiny of the workers.
For these ideals, and for these faith, we shall welcome any suffering to which we may be condemned. To the altar of this revolution we have brought our youth as incense; for no sacrifice is too great for so magnificent a cause.
We are content; we await the advent of  the Revolution "Long live the Revolution'.
40. The ideas of Bhagat Singh, even if not wholly but substantially have been incorporated in the preambular vision of our Constitution. But the dream for which he sacrifised his life has not been fulfilled and the relevance of what he said can hardly be ignored. The ground realities, if at all, changed only marginally.
41. Let these momentous words of a convict in British India form part of the judicial record in the last Court of our Democratic Republic, the largest democracy in the world.
42. The 73rd Amendment of the Constitution, this Court thinks, is a forward step to bring about the radical changes in our social structure which inspired the struggle of Bhagat Singh, the great martyr. 
43. When faced with a challenge to interpret such laws, Courts have to discharge a duty. The Judge cannot act like a phonographic recorder but he must act as an interpreter of the social context articulated in the legal text. The Judge must be, in the words of Justice Krishna Iyer, "animated by a goal oriented approach" because the judiciary is not a "mere umpire, as some assume, but an active catalyst in the Constitutional scheme" See Authorized Officer, Thanjavur and Anr. v. S. Naganatha Ayyar and Ors. (1979) 3 SCC 466.
44. The Panchayati Raj Institutions structured under the said amendment are meant to initiate changes so that the rural feudal oligarchy lose their ascendancy in village affairs and the voiceless masses, who have been rather amorphous, may realize their growing strength. Unfortunately, effect of these changes by way of Constitutional Amendment has not been fully realized in the semi-feudal set up of Indian politics in which still voice of reason is drowned in an uneven conflict with the mythology of individual infallibility and omniscience. Despite high ideals of Constitutional philosophy, rationality in our polity is still subordinated to political exhibitionism, intellectual timidity and petty manipulation. The 73rd Amendment of the Constitution is addressed to remedy these evils. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Truly inspiring.This brave man did wonders in his very limited life.I suspect that if he would have lived longer,the scenario of independent India would have changed drastically.We still need a revolution and a fighter like you to save India from the dangerous cluthes of corruption.
Hats off to you Sir.Bhagat Singh.