Constitutional manipulations, kidney scams, debate as US prez poll nears

New Delhi, Feb 21
Read about the brutalisation of the Indian Constitution only months after it was enacted; navigate your way through the innumerable kidney transplant scams that have rocked India over the decades; and finally, learn about the apprehensions of voters as the US heads for a presidential election.

The IANS bookshelf this weekend offers you much to ponder over. Grab the chance!

Sponsored Advertisement

1. Book: Sixteen Stormy Days; Author: Tripurdaman Singh; Publisher: Penguin; Pages: 268; Price: Rs 599.

"The entire Congress programme to remake India and consolidate its position had encountered formidable roadblocks: fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, tenacious citizens, a belligerent press and a resolute judiciary determined to vigorously uphold fundamental freedoms. By early 1951, with elections looming and major initiatives continuing to run afoul of constitutional provisions, Prime Minister (Jawaharlal) Nehru had grown increasingly exasperated with his plans being thwarted. Impatient and stubborn at the best of times, he chafed at the temerity of those that came in his way," writes Tripurdaman Singh, a British Academy postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London.

The upshot? A bill proposing several major modifications. Among others, it sought to introduce new grounds on which freedom of speech could be curbed - public order, in the interests of the security of the state and relations with foreign states. In the original Constitution, these had been limited to libel, slander, defamation, contempt of court and anything that undermined the security of the state or tended to overthrow it.

"With the addition of the three nebulous new provisions, left to the government of the day to define, the right to freedom of speech and expression was to be drastically curtailed," the author writes.

The bill also sought to introduce a special schedule where laws could be placed to make them immune to judicial challenge even if they violated fundamental rights.

The outcome? The First Amendment to the Constitution that was pushed through Parliament after a mere 16 days of debate, albeit stormy.

At that moment Shyama Prasad Mookerji, who had briefly served in the Interim Cabinet but quit over differences with Nehru and went on to form the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the precursor of the Bharatiya Janata Party, cautioned the Prime Minister to stick with the original Constitution, warning that he was creating legal tools that would one day be wielded by his opponents, that his rule or that of his ideological co-travellers, would not be eternal, the book states.

Famous last words!

2. Kidney Transplants & Scams - India's Troublesome Legacy; Author: Dr. Ramesh Kumar; Publisher: Sage/Vitasta; Pages: 227; Price: Rs. 495.

Financial constraints become the foremost consideration in most cases of chronic kidney diseases (CKDs), writes Dr. Ramesh Kumar, a pioneer in the field of nephrology in India and South East Asia.

"In the absence of state-sponsored financial support systems available to all, the meagre help from insurance or employers remains insufficient and the burden falls on the patient. While accepting any treatment modality on a long term basis, the quality of life and the cost of living become a prime consideration for most people. For patients, normal life is changed to just a process of prolonging life for the person - and spouse, parents and others suffer enormously.

Now consider this: Some 2,000 kidney transplants happen in India yearly. Less than half of these comply with the country's legal requirements, leading to a thriving gray market where people are willing to pay anything from a few lakh rupees to funding a foreign holiday for a kidney.

The solution? Harvesting the kidneys of road accident victims, the author states.

"The ideal kidney donor is the victim of fatal traffic accidents on the roads of our country (it is estimated that 17 people die on the road every hour due to an accident). One life lost will save four lives resulting in two kidney transplants," Dr. Ramesh Kumar concludes.

Is anyone listening?

3. Book: How To Save A Constitutional Democracy; Authors: Tom Ginsburg & Aziz Z. Huq; Publisher: Oxford University Press; Pages: 295; Price: Rs. 1,595.

"How would you know your democracy is in peril? The question wracked many Americans - including us - both before and after the November 2016 presidential election. The campaign and assumption of presidential office by Donald J. Trump, a New York real estate magnate new to political office, marked a significant rejection of both principal political parties and their elites, which he tarred as corrupt and out of touch," write Ginsburg and Huq of the University of Chicago.

Among the liberals, the question was not whether the Trump campaign was exceptional but when he had breached the norms of democratic governance in a way that disqualified him as a democratic leader. For some conservatives, the question was why liberals would even ask such questions at all.

Now, with the primaries underway and the presidential election due in November, the debate has revived.

Noting that public faith in democratic institutions "has been damaged incalculably in recent years," the authors write: "When partisan agendas overwhelm commitment to the institutional predicates of democratic competition - where, in effect, one party becomes an anti-system force - erosion becomes substantially more likely."

Till November, this will be blowing in the wind.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at