How Rahul Gandhi’s Parliament speech betrays misreading of Constitution and misunderstanding of governance

In his latest speech in Parliament, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said, among other things, that India is described in the Constituti...

In his latest speech in Parliament, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said, among other things, that India is described in the Constitution as a “union of states” and not as a nation. There can be no quarrels with the first part of his assertion: Article 1(1) of the Constitution states precisely that. The first sub-clause reads: India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.

What, however, did Rahul Gandhi mean when he also added that India is not a nation? He seemed to give some explanation by going on to say that someone from Tamil Nadu should have the same rights as someone from Maharashtra. This begs a question: If someone from Tamil Nadu should have the same rights as someone from Maharashtra, doesn’t that necessitate that India be a nation with some level of homogeneity?

And the fact that India is a nation is precisely what can be found in the very Constitution Rahul Gandhi referenced in his speech. The Preamble resolves to constitute India into a republic to secure to all its citizens fraternity, “assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation”.

So, did Rahul Gandhi stop reading the Constitution after the first sub-clause of the first Article? Because it speaks volumes that the vice-president (and former president) of a party credited with playing a major role in India’s national freedom struggle would contrive these distinctions.

And it isn’t that the Constitution of India does not acknowledge the fact that the Union consists of individual states. It purposefully gives states exclusive powers in several areas. Out of the three lists — the Union List, the State List and the Concurrent List — the second contains areas where only the states which form a part of our Union can legislate on, without interference from the Union.

As if that wasn’t enough, Rahul Gandhi, thereafter, went on to present another contrast to the Union of States principle enshrined in our Constitution. He insinuated that the current Modi government operates like a kingdom, imposing one homogenised view on the states which form our Union. That was a continuation of his apparent opposition to the idea of India being one nation.

What he fails to realise is that, in certain matters, the Union is required to step in to ensure homogeneity. His party has run governments for over six decades! The vice-president of the Congress party should have known better.

Only seven months ago, Rahul Gandhi’s party announced on its official Twitter handle that India is “one nation” with “one people” and, therefore, there should be “one price” for vaccination. It was attacking the Modi government for the fact that some states were required to pay a higher price for vaccines. And this price differential was because the Central government allowed states and private entities to buy vaccine doses directly from vaccine-makers. Yet, at that time, the Congress wanted homogeneity for India — “one nation” with “one people”.

And, moreover, the insinuation that the Modi government operates like a kingdom isn’t without its problems. One of the things Modi did within the first year of his tenure as India’s Prime Minister was to set up ‘Team India’ as a model of cooperative federalism to have an effective mechanism to resolve inter-state differences and chart a common course to progress and prosperity.

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Even during the COVID-19 crisis, after the initial few months when the Centre took reins, it was pretty quickly left to the discretion of states to decide their own response and measures they deemed fit.

It’s not entirely clear why Rahul Gandhi brought up this distinction when his party’s own track record in stifling states is still fresh in many memories. Starting from the Emergency to imposition of President’s rule — the Congress government prior to Modi imposed it twelve times whereas the Modi government has only imposed it five times thus far.

He repeatedly mentioned Tamil Nadu in his rather angry and passionate attacks on the government. Is it that the developing politics in Tamil Nadu is making the Congress insecure? Is the party then, in response, dusting off an old trick in its playbook to see if it still works? The trick that the Britishers perfected to impact us till date – the trick of divide and rule?

Time alone shall tell.

The author is an immigration lawyer who writes on current affairs, law and politics. Views expressed are personal.

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