The recent announcement of Aatm Nirbhar Bharat, or self-reliant India, by the Indian Prime Minister has reflected a long yearning zeal for reforms in public sector enterprises. The reforms putatively are an extended alter-ego of 1991 liberalization, Privatisation and Globalization (LPG). When it is quite common to relate these to latter, a profound observation could take us back to those rarely-opened pages of Indian constitution where we find sacrosanct Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSPs). These principles, resembling a socio-economic guide for the country, form a blueprint of an India of dreams of the founding fathers of our Republic. Though containing every piece of intellect, DPSPs have consistently been neglected by the governments in power. In this article, the author tries to establish how a vision of socio-economic welfare can relive in these recent reforms of Aatma Nirbhar Bharat.
India as a Socialist State
The preamble envisages India as a socialist country. At the crucial juncture of our independence, we were a nation with a multitude of problems ranging from national integration to armed conflicts, from literacy to linguistic division, from communism to communalism, and from tribes to elites. But the starting of socialist tendency could be estimated to the earliest of 19th century when anti-imperial, anti-feudal and anti-monopoly movements were started by famous political parties deriving strength from the peasant class. The anti-capitalism was later on joined by Indian National Congress preceded by the Communist Party of India. The agenda was to mould, if not reform, the capitalist monopoly to suit the demands of a poor India. Democracy in this respect was the first tool, furthered by food security, freedom of speech and expression, right to education et cetera. It is important to note that socialism, with its nature of high interpretations, meant different things to every sect, religion, cast and class. For Dalits and backwards, it was for emancipation from upper-class high-handedness, for handicraft workers it was an opportunity to safe their exploited profession and for political parties, like Congress, it was to mobilize the disinterested mass of lowest strata to the freedom movement. The challenge obviously continued after independence, and the Constituent Assembly was keenly aware of it. To integrate every faction and to safeguard the very social fabric of India, Directive Principles were inserted into the constitution. There are fundamentally categorized as Socialist, Liberal-Intellectuals and Gandhian. We, here in this article, are taking up the socialist ones.
Contribution of Socialism to India: Why it failed?
It is safe to say that socialism never served the intended purpose anywhere in the world. The aspirations attached are sometimes alien and sometimes excessive. It is influenced by changing milieus; its implications are different depending on geography, history, economy, and most importantly, law, order and governance. The same could said to be true for India. This possibly could be the reason why the Constitution makers negated to insert the word “socialist” into the constitution, something which was later on done by Indira Gandhi government in 1976. Saving this, the Indian executive and judiciary didn’t leave a stone unturned in making socialist India a success. The 25th Constitutional Amendment superseded two DPSPs to the fundamental rights. This was taken as an offence to the constitution in the intellectual corridors but was optimistically upheld by the Supreme Court in Kesvananda Bharti v State of Kerala. This was followed by another famous verdict of State of Kerala v Thomas where “positive effect” of DPSPs was at length discussed. The issue touched every nook and corner of the contemporary milieu and most of the time the Supreme Court took the final call. The court, in Uttar Pradesh v. Electricity Board, even went to the extent of testifying the constitutionality of a section of impugned act on the touchstone of directives. The socio-economic directives soon lost their charisma, of course, due to retardation in socialism in India. The fall of USSR and depredations in its European allies were the greatest contributors. India’s failing economy and leviathan fiscal deficit made us shift from public to private-driven economy in 1991. The has substantially improved the economy but degraded the improvising DPSPs. With the declining role of state in the industrial sector- the most of who were by now ascended by foreign firms- declined the relevance of socio-economic welfare.
Why Aatma Nirbhar Bharat to establish a welfare state?
A welfare state claims nothing but an inclusive membership of every strata of the society to develop together i.e. welfare for all is the theme. Aatma Nirbhar Bharat does the same, it calls for manufacturing in India, satisfying our demands, save for emergencies and then trade internationally. The nation would go from “local to global”. This keenly implies that more jobs for Indians would be created, more innovations in the country shall be encouraged and notion of Indians for India would be furthered. The job-givers and takers both would be Indians. This is in direct conformity with the principle of economic justice prescribed in the preamble. Aatm Nirbhar Bharat, with its construction both on economic and social contours, carries forward the same socio-economic principles as in DPSPs. Although the purpose is tendentious towards saving the economy from immediate leviathan destruction, the social segment automatically gets involved thanks to the involvement of every class of society. Articles 43 and 43A of the constitution encourage the participation of workers in the management of industries and cajole the State to secure them living wages. Nonetheless, the management by workers is a long time goal but securing living wages is necessary to enhance both quality and quantity of the work eventually augmenting the efficacy of industries. The progress of industries shall definitely depend of efficiency of our workforce which can be assured by minimizing the income gaps. In this respect Article 38(2) endeavours that the state should “strive to minimize the inequalities in income” not only amongst individuals “but also amongst groups of different people living in different areas and engaged in different vocations”. Extending this, Article 39(a) directs the state towards securing “that the citizen, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood”. It is important to note here that the loss of employment during COVID-19 also forms the succour behind Aatm Nirbhar Bharat. The suspension of labour laws as a compensatory measure to retrieve the industrial sector was severy criticized. We have to understand that emergency haste does nothing without a proper proactive future plan. Suspension of labour laws can retrieve the industrial sector at the cost of excruciating pains of labour but can never resurrect it. For such a resurrection, labour should be dealt with welfare principles rather than high-handedness.
DPSPs strive for equal pay for equal work for both men and women which is a must look feature looking at the deepening fissures in women participation in industrial work. It is only a few months ago that the government allowed the women induction in coal mining work. Gender justice is something that DPSPs and interpretations always declaimed. The verdict of Supreme Court in Chandra Bhawan v State of Mysore held that the state should not only fix the minimum wages but also ensure work standards thereof and enjoyment of leisure and life. The minimum wages should also be reasonable. It would be better if the nation starts legislating on these subjects and construes them harmoniously with Aatm Nirbhar mission.
A colossal amount of Rs. 20 lakh crore has been allocated to the scheme. It is enough to “shift” the small local market, meaning thereby replacing foreign good with their Indian counterparts, but certainly not enough for to revamp the whole market system. The government should take steps to aid Indian enterprises to grow and flourish. In this manner, the inclusive participation would undoubtedly ameliorate the lowest strata, something speculated by the first five-year plan and the DPSPs. The argument is just to satisfy the motion that socio-economic welfare should be the “intended” outcome of the self-reliance mission, for this is the juncture comes rarely in history. It is safe to say that this is probably the last time to revive these socio-economic principles.
This article has been written by Anirudh Tyagi, author is an undergraduate law student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.