What constitutes the most sacred duty of the government and citizens in a republic?
The meteoric rise of the Aam Admi Party in Delhi tells us that democracy is alive and well in India. AAP rode on the wave of an anti-corruption sentiment and vanquished a hitherto well-entrenched Congress party from the seat of power in Delhi. However, the party’s use of methods bordering on political vigilantism to address the legitimate concerns of the electorate tells us that while India the democracy is thriving, India the republic is hurting.
In the congress of developing nations, India distinguishes itself for its sustained commitment to pluralistic, democratic traditions. At the same time however, the use of unconstitutional methods for seeking social, economic and political justice continues to be accepted. The degree to which these methods are employed differentiates an unhealthy republic from a healthy one.
Many of us are familiar with B.R. Ambedkar’s concluding speech on the floor of the Constituent Assembly on achieving social and economic justice through methods provided by the Constitution of the land. For any healthy, functioning republic, adherence to these methods is not just important, but essential. The responsibility to ensure the adherence of constitutional methods, then, becomes the duty of both the government and citizens.
Indeed, as Alexander Hamilton explained in a letter in 1794, published in the Federalist Papers, it constitutes the “most sacred duty,” and is the greatest source of security to the republic:
If it were to be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws — the first growing out of the last. It is by this, in a great degree, that the rich and the powerful are to be restrained from enterprises against the common liberty — operated upon by the influence of a general sentiment by their interest in the principle, and by the obstacles which the habit it produces erects against innovation and encroachment. It is by this in a still greater degree, that caballers, intriguers and demagogues, are prevented from climbing on the shoulders of faction to the tempting seats of usurpation and tyranny.
Were it not that it might require too long a discussion, it would not be difficult to demonstrate that a large and well organized Republic can scarcely lose its liberty from any other cause than that of anarchy, to which a contempt of the laws is the high road.
But without entering into so wide a field it is sufficient to present to your view a more simple and a more obvious truth, which is this: that a sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle the sustaining energy of a free government.[Alexander Hamilton, Letter No. III in the American Daily Advertiser, August 28, 1794]
Let us hope this serves as food for thought as India celebrates its 65th Republic Day today.