No, Minister, No: What Maneka Gandhi and Amit Shah too must be reminded about the Indian Constitution

Opposition leaders should call out both leaders' statements and reassure anxious voters that it's not so easy to just take away people’s rights.

 |  6-minute read |   21-04-2019
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Maneka Gandhi, Minister for Women and Child Development, recently issued a veiled threat to Muslims that if they don’t vote for her, she will not to do anything for them. The speech was caught on camera — the video went viral. The minister reportedly said that she is certainly winning the 2019 Lok Sabha election, but if her win is secured without Muslim votes, her heart would turn sour against Muslims, and thereafter, if they come to her for some work, she would not do it, because after all, nobody is the ‘child of Mahatma Gandhi’, everything is quid pro quo.  

Her statement caused nationwide social media outrage, with opposition leaders across the board condemning her. The district election officer of Sultanpur, where the speech was made, served a notice to the minister and she was barred from campaigning for 48 hours. On Sunday though, she made another veiled threat, this time profiling each village on the basis of how many votes she receives from there and accordingly, whichever village will cast maximum votes in her favour would apparently receive the maximum development work.

It remains to be seen whether the Election Commission would issue another notice to her — and what would be the outcome of these notices. Earlier this month, the EC had found both UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath and Niti Aayog vice chairman Rajiv Kumar guilty of violating the MCC. In terms of penalty, the EC expressed “displeasure” and told them to “exercise caution in future”.

Maneka Gandhi therefore need not worry too much about the EC, since the worst that can possibly happen is that the EC would be displeased.

maneka-690_041619043827.jpgAfter Making a Threat: The EC banned Maneka Gandhi from making speeches for 48 hours. (Source: India Today)

In this web of blatant communal threats and hate speeches, the farcical MCC, the seemingly toothless EC and the ritualistic outrage by opposition leaders, where do common citizens stand?

How are those who are at the receiving end of these threats and hate speeches supposed to interpret the situation?

First, we should understand the purpose behind these statements. Both the statements by Maneka Gandhi are targeted at undecided voters who usually tend to vote for the winning side. Her attempt is to pull the fence sitters towards her by creating an impression that she is winning. Technically, the claim, “I am winning” has no basis. We have a secret ballot system and unless the last vote is cast, nobody knows who is winning — yet, this impression is created because there is a section of the Indian electorate which does not like to be seen standing with the losing side.

Much of the BJP’s campaign is also designed to achieve this purpose.

On social media, there are thousands of profiles and pages, some carrying fake names, fake display photographs and so on, all of them sharing and resharing each other’s content, running Twitter trends and creating an impression that the BJP’s popularity is at its peak and organic. However, according to a recent media report, the entire perception is created by a handful of keyboard warriors, employed by a lesser known women’s NGO turned digital media company.

Baseless statement like, “I am wining, so you better vote for me”, therefore, best be ignored.  

ec-690_041619044013.jpgEC action against Maneka Gandhi is welcome but a lot more should have been done. (Source: India Today)

Second, it is time a large majority of Indian voters grow up to be what professor Upendra Baxi called ‘negotiating citizens’, from being ‘subject citizens’. According to professor Baxi, there is a hierarchy of citizenship, at the top of which is the ‘super citizen’ who is beyond the law. Then there are the ‘subject citizens’ who merely follow laws and often are the law's victims as well — the presumption of guilt is inverted for them, they are the poor and illiterates who languish in jails without trial, who do not get any benefits of government schemes started for them and so on.

In the middle is the ‘negotiating citizen’ who can use and misuse the law as per their interest.

It is time each one of us becomes the negotiating citizen — not to misuse the law but to use it to secure our rights. A sitting Union minister dares to make an illegal threat of not doing anything for citizens because even today, the citizen’s mindset is that ministers are our rulers and we must live at their mercy. The statement reveals her feudal mindset where she imagines a queue of poor citizens with folded hands lining up in front of her office.

In ‘digital India’, when most government services are online with complete transparency on timelines, status, reasons of delay, estimated time of completion, etc., how dare she even imagine that she has the power to deny citizens their rights? What makes her imagine that such citizens will merely stand around with folded hands and not file RTI applications and even take her to the courts?

Unfortunately, she dares this because it is true that a vast majority of Indian citizens have not learnt to negotiate and demand their rights using the laws.

We merely moved from being ‘ruled by bullets’ of the colonial era to ‘ruled by ballots’. We enacted a Constitution — but we never learnt to use it.

An elected representative is a service provider, not a ruler, and as such, duty-bound to do her job. In case any minister acts like a feudal lord, there are enough provisions in the Constitution and subsequent social legislations, like the Right to Information Act, which empower Indian citizens to demand probity and accountability from government officials and ministers.

Instead of outraging over why Maneka Gandhi made a threatening statement, if every opposition leader would have reminded her that what work will be done and not done would not depend on her whims and fancies, that would have gone a long way in empowering the minority community — which is increasingly feeling disenfranchised by repeated hate speeches this election season.

Similarly, it would help a great deal in conducting a free and fair election if all the opposition leaders were to remind Amit Shah that even if the BJP forms the government, they alone will have no power to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC) all over India.

amit-shah-690_041619043611.jpgNo, you can't: Amit Shah reportedly said if BJP comes to power, the govt will implement an NRC model across India. (Source: PTI)

The NRC process in Assam is being done under a particular Supreme Court order — it is not a model that can be replicated across India without following a Parliamentary process which will be subject to judicial review.

Opposition leaders therefore should call Amit Shah’s bluff and reassure the voters that it is not so easy to take away people’s rights — and that we still have a Constitution and an independent judiciary.

Also read: No, Home Minister: Why Rajnath Singh's promise of BJP strengthening sedition law instantly reminds me of Jallianwala Bagh

Writer

Sanjukta Basu Sanjukta Basu @sanjukta

Freelance writer, photographer and women studies scholar, and a part of the Karwan E Mohabbat group. She writes on social marginalisation, minority rights and women issues.

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