ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Democracy and Its Inconvenient Questions

The case of the local people's grievance against the mining of iron ore for the Bhilai steel plant from Rowghat in the reserved forest area of Chhattisgarh, a Fifth Schedule Area, is just one more example of the infringement of constitutional rights and guarantees. It also portends what is to come with the polity poised to take a decisive right-wing turn.

“We, the people as a nation, constituted ourselves as a sovereign democratic republic to conduct our affairs within the four corners of the Constitution, its goals and values. We expect the benefits of democratic participation to flow to us – all of us – so that we can take our rightful place in the league of nations, befitting our heritage and collective genius. Consequently, we must also bear the discipline, and the rigour of constitutionalism, the essence of which is accountability of power, whereby the power of the people vested in any organ of the State, and its agents, can only be used for promotion of constitutional values and vision.” So begins the iconic judgment of the Supreme Court in writ petition (civil) no(s) 250, popularly known as the Salwa Judum petition. Filed against the state of Chhattisgarh in 2007, the petitioners Nandini Sundar, Ramchandra Guha, and E A S Sarma, a senior retired IAS officer, had

alleged inter alia, widespread violation of human rights of the people of Dantewada District, and its neighboring areas in the State of Chhattisgarh, on account of the on-going armed Maoist/Naxalite insurgency, and the counter-insurgency offensives launched by the Government of Chhattisgarh. In this regard, it was also alleged that the State of Chhattisgarh was actively promoting the activities of a group called ‘Salwa Judum’ which was in fact an armed civilian vigilante group, thereby further exacerbating the ongoing struggle, and was leading to further widespread violation of human rights.1

The attempt by the Chhattisgarh police to frame one of the petitioners as having alleged links to the Maoists in the state needs to be understood against the backdrop of the petition and the judgment. The contempt case against the Chhattisgarh government for not following any of the Supreme Court’s orders is awaiting a hearing. It also portends what is to come in the time of flailing neo-liberal policies and slowing growth, with the polity poised to take a decisive right-wing turn. Such attempts also raise serious questions about a fundamental disregard for constitutional guarantees, human rights and democratic values. All the three, incidentally, are woven into the imagination of the republic as it was conceived when the Constitution itself was first discussed and framed. In this article, we illustrate the deeper, immediate and wider context for the latest disturbing turn of events.

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