The Constitution under Threat: A tale of manifestoes

May 01, 2024
By PUCL Bulletin Editorial Board

Manifestoes have been thrust into the electoral limelight after Prime Minister’s  attack on the Congress manifesto saying it has the ‘stamp of the Muslim League and the Left’, and stating that the manifesto had the potential to ‘divide the country into fragments’. The Prime Minister went on to accuse the Congress of wanting to ‘extort gold and take the mangalsutra of Hindu women.’ In the same speech, the Prime Minister, ominously  referred to the Muslim minority as ‘infiltrators’, thereby instigating Hindus against Muslims and setting the stage for even more aggressive attacks against the minorities in the remaining phases of the election campaign.

Human rights groups including the PUCL have filed complaints against the hate speech by the Prime Minister with the Election Commission of India as well as a complaint with the police to register an FIR.  Unfortunately, in spite of the seriousness of the violation of the Model Code of Conduct as well as the provisions of the Representation of Peoples Act and the Indian Penal Code, no action has been forthcoming from any constitutional authority.

While we must continue to press constitutional authorities to make the Prime Minister accountable for his reprehensible speech, which marks a new low in stigmatizing an entire community, the question is what is it about the Congress Manifesto which triggered this particularly vituperative speech ?

Even a cursory reading of the Congress manifesto indicates that it is anchored in the values of the Indian Constitution. Reassuringly, it affirms a commitment to social justice, liberty and fraternity. What  lifts this otherwise seemingly obvious statement of values into the domain of politics is the fact that under the rule of the BJP, as far as the Congress is concerned, it is these values which are under grave threat.

The Congress manifesto is not alone in deeming the Constitution to be under threat. The manifestoes of the main opposition parties including the  CPM, DMK, CPI (ML) and the Trinamool Congress which are all based on a constitutional faith, expressly recognise  that the Constitution is in danger and articulate a vision and policies which derive from the Constitution.

The manifesto of the BJP by contrast, sidelines the Constitution in its vision. The BJP  manifesto, which is called Modi’s guarantee, is an articulation of a range of schemes for different groups combined with a dose of Hindu cultural pride topped with nationalism. The vision of development be it building world class infrastructure,  a global manufacturing hub etc, floats free of any constitutional commitments.  


The Congress manifesto foregrounds the Constitution and its values as a critique of inequitable (unconstitutional) development under the BJP. The model of development followed by the BJP in the Congress’s document has resulted in extreme inequality. It cites a 2024 study by well known economist , Thomas Piketty , that ‘India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is more unequal than even under the British Raj’, with the rise of inequality becoming ‘particularly pronounced between 2014 and 2023.’

It is this critique  of unequal development as followed by the BJP in the last ten years which leads the Congress manifesto to state that it will ‘address the growing inequality in wealth and income through suitable changes in policies’, without quite specifying the policies.

In fact, the CPI (M) manifesto clearly states that the policy measures to address inequity in development will include, ‘A tax on the super-rich along with a general wealth tax and an inheritance tax’. The CPI (ML) manifesto also notes that, ‘there must be a mandatory wealth and inheritance tax of 1 percent on the super-rich and increase corporate tax rates.’

Modi’s guarantee does not acknowledge any threat to the Constitution. It is on this point that all the other manifestos are very eloquent. The Congress manifesto phrases the threat as a ‘climate of fear, intimidation and hatred’. For the CPI(M) it is ‘effort of the BJP to transform the secular, democratic character of the Indian republic into a rabidly intolerant, hate and violence based authoritarianism and fascistic Hindutva rashtra’. For the CPI(ML), it is the concern that, ‘the Modi government is bent upon converting India into a one party state’.  For the DMK, ‘if the BJP comes to power again, they will do anything to destroy the nation’s secular fabric and cooperative federal structure’.  For the Trinamool Congress,  when the India alliance comes to power, ‘The federal rights of all Indian states will be firmly preserved.’

To briefly mention some of the ways that the different political parties propose to deal with the threat to the Constitution. The Congress Manifesto promises, ‘not to interfere with personal choices of food and dress, to love and marry, and to travel and reside in any part of India’. It also promises to strengthen the autonomy of the Election Commission, Central Information Commission, Human Rights Commission’ and other constitutional bodies’.

The CPI(M) promises to  ‘banning of all illegal private armies and vigilante groups like the various ‘senas’ that are attacking dalits and minorities in the name of cow protection and spreading communal hatred.’The CPI (ML) promises to strictly implement  ‘The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. 

The DMK proposes that, ‘the Union government should appoint state Governors through consultation with the respective state Chief Ministers. The new government will undertake actions to appoint Governors with the consultation of state Chief Ministers as recommended.’ The Trinamool Congress, promises to bring a  ‘Constitutional Amendment to Article 155 to ensure that Governors are appointed in consultation with state legislatures.’

Modi’s guarantee  does not merely ignore the Constitution, but actively violates its core protections. As much as the CPI(M) puts out a call for ‘an uncompromising adherence to the principle that religion is separated from politics’, the BJP manifesto repeatedly violates that constitutional demarcation  by stating that,  ‘People’s dream of 5 centuries of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya has become a reality.’ The manifesto is filled with pictures of the Prime Minister in religious attire, making a mockery of his party’s own slogan, ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’.

From the perspective of human rights on one side we have the manifestoes of the opposition parties which have the outlines of a human rights vision grounded in the constitution. (From the perspective of a human rights group there are still many gaps – failure to mention the human rights violations in Chhattisgarh, Kashmir/ no mention of repeal of CAA in Congress manifesto/ no recognition of marriage equality etc)  On the other hand we have a Modi’s guarantee which sidelines the Constitution in theory and violates it in practice.

In a deeply consequential election, it is up to the voter to decide which of these visions appeals to her-  A vision rooted in the Constitution or a vision which aims to destroy the Constitution? 

Therein lies the real guarantee of civil liberties of all citizens!