Many Indians have been quite thrilled these past few day. On January 19, the Indian cricket team won a Test series against the Australian team. They played brilliantly, fighting back a terrible Australian onslaught. It was the first loss in Gabba for the Aussies in 32 years, and arguably the biggest comeback in a test series for India since the famous 2001 series at home versus Australia. In all this, while the Indian team was lauded world-wide, the Aussies came under harsh criticism for playing against the “spirit” or the “principles” of the game.
So, what exactly was wrong with what the Aussies did? Firstly, they mounted a shocking bodyline attack. The motive was not only to take a wicket but to physically intimidate the batsman by targeting his body. Cheteshwar Pujara faced 221 balls of which 72 were bodyline – that’s every 3rd ball. Then, the tailenders faced almost twice the bodyline bowling as the main batsmen. This was technically correct but against the sporting spirit or fair principles of this gentleman’s game.
All this has left many Indians foaming in the mouth – and rightly so. Yet, when a similar thing happens in governance and law making, do we recognise the violation of the spirit and principles of our Constitution?
The most important principle of the Constitution is the democratic principle: that people’s voice is considered in decision making. At the heart of this principle is consultation; with the people who are affected by the decision and more broadly with the various stakeholders who are concerned with that decision.
But this principle has been called into question several times. The revocation of Article 370 of the Constitution and the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir is a case in point. Clause 1(d) of Article 370 was used to amend another Article 367 to then revoke the special status accorded to the territory under the Constitution. The same route was taken to re-organise Jammu and Kashmir, revoke its statehood and turn it into a Union territory.
This was done without any consultation with the citizens or citizen groups of the territory – nor with the people’s representatives as the Legislative Assembly was suspended due to President’s rule.
The more recent case is of the farm laws. They were passed in Parliament in September apparently without adequate pre-legislative consultation. In the response to a Right to Information application seeking records of consultation conducted about these laws, it is clear that there are no records of the draft laws being put in public domain as per the norms of the Pre-Legislative Consultation policy.
Further, it was not sent to a committee for review before being passed, despite the demand of the Opposition. These Parliamentary committees usually provide opportunities for deeper deliberation and consultation with a wide range of stakeholders affected by the laws.
Given this cricketing episode, it is clear that we understand how to recognise and speak up when we see technically correct but principally wrong behavior. It is important then that we apply this same understanding to every aspect of how things work. It is even more important to be able to use the same “principles” lens to speak up when the spirit of the Constitution is shaken.
In the final analysis, while the technical aspects are critical, the spirit is what ultimately counts.
Vinita Gursahani Singh works with We, the People Abhiyan, a non-profit committed to spreading awareness of the Constitution of India and our role as citizens.