In earth science, the Coriolis effect explains why mega storms rotate in reverse directions in the two hemispheres. The political storms brewing over India and Chile seem to be under the same influence.
One is trying to move away from the long shadow of the Augusto Pinochet era, a period of market fundamentalism and authoritarian repression, towards a pluralistic, intercultural, regional and ecological republic. At the same time, we in India, are moving backward from a secular, socialist and democratic republic to one that is majoritarian, unitary and grotesquely unequal.
Chile is going to hold a plebiscite on the September 4 to bury the Pinochet Constitution in favour of one that is plurilingual, which guarantees dignity and right to all, which recognises differencs and believes in co-existence. It is a Constitution that prioritises social security and recognises the right to care.
It comes on the heels of one of most acrimonious and polarised elections in the history of Chile in November 2021, which was essentially a contest between the legacies of the left-liberal Salvador Allende and that of General Pinnochet who ousted Allende in a US-backed military coup in 1973.
Last year, Gabriel Boric garnered more votes than any Chilean president in history to defeat his far right opponent Jose Antonio Kast. The draft Constitution is an extension of the same battle of ideas.
Simultaneously in India, a group of 30 seers and scholars is preparing a draft of the Constitution of India as a Hindu nation. The drafters include members of Shankaracharya Parishad, Hindu Rashtra Nirman Samiti, World Hindu Federation, experts on sanatan dharma, defence and a senior Supreme Court lawyer. It will eventually become a 750-page document, half of which will be released in a Dharam Sansad at the Magh Mela 2023 in the city known until recently as Allahabad.
While the draft in Chile promises a “solidarity republic” with its democracy being “inclusive” and egalitarian”, the draft in India speaks of stripping the Muslims and Christians of voting rights. This, of course, is an old battle-line. It is in keeping with the idea of citizenship based on lex sanguinis or “the law according to blood” as against the idea of lex soli or the “law of the place of birth”.
In the pitched Constituent Assembly debates in India of the late 1940s, the collective wisdom of the house prevailed over the doctrine based on narrow sectarian ideas based on blood, race or religion. But they are ascendant again today as they aim to amend the criteria for Indian citizenship.
“It would be simply preposterous to endow the Muslim minority with the right of exercising a practical veto on the legitimate rights and privileges of the majority and call it a Swarajya,” said VD Savarkar in his presidential speech at the 1939 Calcutta session of Hindu Mahasabha, the hero of the present ruling dispensation.
The draft Constitution of the Hindu rashtra is based on ideas that were conclusively discarded 75 years ago – but now, its foundational philosophy is already in motion.
The draft in Chile speaks of cross-border contact and cooperation across Latin America; the draft in India speaks of a belligerent Akhand Bharat. The draft in Chile vouches for “no privileged person or group”, while the one being drafted here wishes to replace existing jurisprudence with the Varna system.
In Chile, the proposed Constitution speaks of the “right to memory” of brutalised communities. It says that the “victims and the community have the right to the clarification and knowledge of the truth regarding serious human rights violations, especially when they constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide or territorial dispossession.”
In India, we are erasing and rewriting the history of what they call the “Muslim past”. A 14-member committee has been appointed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the task. The committee’s chairman, KN Dikshit says that he has been “asked to present a report that will help the government rewrite certain aspects of ancient history”.
The Chilean document speaks of media pluralism and critical thinking, but in India, we revel in curbing these things. The power of the money and muscle is harnessed to bury, buy or bully the news.
The proposed Constitution in Chile envisions education to be “governed by the principles of cooperation, non-discrimination, inclusion, justice, participation, solidarity, interculturality, gender focus and pluralism”. Here, the regime is bent upon villainising institutions of higher learning built painstakingly to promote critical thinking. So much so that any dissidence is branded and harangued as “anti-national” and “seditious”.
The draft in Chile envisions a country where even nature has rights. And here we are commissioning studies to criticise judicial efforts at preserving ecology in face of the juggernaut of development. Voices young and old – be it activists Medha Patekar or Disha Ravi – who speak for ecological and climate justice for the people are today being hounded.
I want to tell my friend Umar Khalid who is behind bars for speaking up in favour of equal citizenship that the Chileans are imagining a country where people have the right to compensation for wrongful deprivation of liberty.
I wish I could tell Rohith Vemula, the Dalit student who died by suicide, that the people there are talking about the right to a night sky, full of stars. In India, on our 75th anniversary of freedom, even touching an earthen pot to drink can prove to be a fatal accident for a Dalit school child.
Western publications such as Bloomberg, The Washington Post, The Economist are already up in words against the draft Constitution in Chile, with the last-mentioned going so far as to call it a “fiscally irresponsible left-wing wish list”. And here in India, even to recite the preamble to our Constitution is proving to be an audacious wish.
The writer Isabel Allende recounts how many people in Chile in the early 1970s believed that the military regime would end soon since their country had a solid democratic tradition. But as history would have it, it took 20 years for Pinochet rule to end. Whether the new Constitution gets voted in or out, at least it has a vision worth admiring.
For us in India, it is a testing time, as we dare to dream against the Coriolis spell.
Anirban Bhattacharya is Delhi-based researcher, activist and social commentator.