The Narendra Modi government will survive its second no-trust motion as it did in 2018 because it has 303 MPs in Parliament. But governments are elected to uphold law and order. When they do not, it subverts the basic structure of the Constitution. So, the genocide in Manipur is no longer India’s “internal matter” but becomes a global concern, symbolised by the European Parliament discussing it. For the right to life of the tribals in Manipur is guaranteed by Article 21.
This is why when two women were recorded on a video being paraded naked, the 50th CJI Dhananjaya Chandrachud was forced to warn the government to arrest the culprits. The 20-year-old woman who was raped told the media the police handed both women to the mob to be raped and brutalised making a mockery of their right to life.
Opposition leader Mallikarjun Kharge accused the government of turning off his microphone when he rises to speak which is a serious charge. The authorities have been accused of charging a Manipuri Ph.D student with sedition for accusing the N. Biren Singh government of complicity in the riots. It cannot take a government 85 days to curb the mayhem in Manipur which again proves those who have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution have destroyed its basic structure.
The N. Biren Singh government has been accused of planning a demographic experiment to replace the tribals, (most of whom are Christians) with an influx of migrants, according to critics and clerics who have written about this. Most riots are state-sponsored.
Like the 1992 Mumbai riots resulting in the deaths of 575 Muslims and 275 Hindus, followed by the Gujarat riots in 2002 culminating in over 1000 Muslims being killed and the Delhi riots in 1984 and 2020 in which Sikhs and Muslims died alongside Hindus, riots erupt because of state complicity.
This is why the Opposition raised slogans throughout the fifth day of Parliament’s monsoon session demanding a discussion on Manipur after two no-confidence resolutions were admitted by the Speaker against the Modi government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to remain in Parliament to reply to the I.N.D.I.A alliance’s charges, leaving home minister Amit Shah to do so.
Some months ago, an 18-year-old woman was raped and brutally assaulted after a group of women whom the victim identified as Meira Paibis (women torchbearers or Mothers of Manipur) handed her over to four men dressed in black who brutally raped and assaulted her on May 15 at Imphal (East), according to media reports. A zero FIR was registered on July 21. There are innumerable cases of Kuki women being sexually abused during the riots.
Prime Minister Modi said the rape of the two women and parading them naked on the street was a shame for 1.4 crore Indians but his statement came too late. Justice eludes the Manipuri people just as it eluded the victims of the riots in Mumbai, Gujarat and Delhi.
With police armouries being looted in Manipur and bunkers being put up between the Kukis and Meiteis, it looks like a civil war raging between Indian citizens sparked off by an order of the Manipur high court which was not liked by the Kuki tribals. The conflict has spread to nearby Mizoram so that Article 342 which deals with the unique culture of the tribes has been reduced to a farce like its counterpart, Article 21 which declares even aliens cannot be deprived of their right to life without following the legal process.
The Opposition uses the no-confidence motion as a strategic tool to highlight the BJP government’s failures in Parliament. These two no-trust motions of the Congress and the BRS will show how united the Opposition is. The Modi government survived the last no-confidence motion in 2018 by 199 votes unlike the Atal Behari Vajpayee government which fell in 1996 for want of a single vote. The Constitution will continue to be a dead letter as the government is sure to survive the latest no-trust motion.
The government has denied the people the right to know what is happening on the border with China on grounds of national security but allowed the marauders in Manipur to wreak mayhem so that the right to life which was pronounced as an integral part of Article 21 has been negated. Article 21 like the independence of the judiciary is an integral part of the basic structure of the Constitution. It is this very same Constitution which stands defiled and destroyed by the ongoing riots in Manipur.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly iterated that “informed consent” is a facet of democracy which like judicial independence forms a part of the basic structure. The mass destruction of churches and homes in Manipur with marauding mobs entering a women’s hostel in search of victims to rape have buried the basic structure doctrine.
Last year, Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar asked whether the Supreme Court had acted within its jurisdiction when it put fetters on Parliament by evolving the basic structure doctrine in the 1973 Kesavananda Bharati case, stating there were certain inalienable rights which Parliament could not abrogate. By imposing such fetters on Parliament, the Vice President raised doubts as to whether we really are a democracy.
Again last year, in a speech the Vice President criticised the judiciary for striking down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2015 and the 99th amendment which was ratified by 16 out of 29 state legislatures. Parliament represents the people and the judiciary should not put fetters on it by evolving the basic structure doctrine, feels Dhankar.
The Bombay Lawyers’ Association had moved a PIL in the Supreme Court to disqualify both Vice President Dhankar and the former law minister Kiren Rijiju for flaying the judiciary because it evolved the basic structure doctrine. Predictably, the Supreme Court dismissed this PIL proving the government runs the country even if democracy turns into a mobocracy as in Manipur.
So our Constitution – like the basic structure doctrine – lies in tatters, destroyed by the ongoing mayhem in Manipur.
Olav Albuquerque holds a PhD in law and is a senior journalist and advocate at the Bombay High Court.