October 25, 2015

Fight the Attack on Constitutional Values

C P Bhambhri

THE constitutional head of the Indian State Pranab Mukherjee on October 7, 2015 observed that “we can’t allow the core values of our civilization to be wasted.” The president further elaborated that “…..the core value is what over the years civilization celebrated diversity, promoted and advocated tolerance, and plurality.” This statement or warning of President Mukherjee has been made in a specific context of the role of Sangh Parivar and the BJP government which is leading to a complete polarisation of society on religious basis, a phenomenon which is spreading hatred and instilling intolerance in society. The Sangh Parivar and BJP while making every effort to push their project of Hinduisation of society and marginalisation of religious minorities has led to the erosion of basic values enshrined in the republican constitution of India, like democracy based on tolerance of dissent and respect for plurality of opinions and viewpoints as guaranteed in the chapter on fundamental rights of the constitution. Why has the president of India thought it appropriate to remind Indians about the civilizational values of plurality and tolerance as enshrined in the constitution?

These constitutional values should have become integral to the way of life of every Indian during the last seventy years of the functioning of competitive parliamentary democracy based on universal adult franchise. A country which is never tired of proclaiming from housetop at the global level that it has held sixteen free and fair Lok Sabha elections and the voters have freely exercised their right to vote and elected and rejected political parties. The verdict of the votes has been accepted by every competing party and governments have changed on the basis of voters’ choice. The need to defend the “basic structure of the Indian Constitution” and the freedom guaranteed by the constitution to every citizen of India has arisen because the Sangh Parivar and BJP while pursuing their ideologies of hindutva are subverting the democratic institutional and value system of the constitution. While winning the elections, the focus of Hindutva in government, is inherently the “agenda” of Hindu Rashtravad which is a complete “negation” of the basic values of the constitution. Democracy is threatened by forces which are using democracy to come to power and work against the letter and spirit of democracy. The longest serving RSS supremo MS Golwalkar, addressed as “Guruji” by all RSS swayam sevaks including present chief ministers, ministers and prime ministers, had defined in 1940 that the goal is “One flag, one leader, and one ideology of Hindutva”. Golwalkar to Bhagwat, Vajpayee to Modi are pursuing this definition of India and this goal of Hindutva as defined here has something to do with the constitution of India. The high ideological priest of the RSS, Golwalkar, while defining the essence of Hindu Rashtra, has emphasized on homogeneity, uniformity and unity.

In respect of diversity and plurality, the objective resolution moved by Jawaharlal Nehru himself on the floor of the Constituent Assembly while concretising the “objectives” of the constitution of India, and the preamble of the constitution, stands for a complete rejection of the idea of Hindutva and Hindu State. The preamble begins with “We the people of India….secure to all its citizens justice, liberty, equality and fraternity.” Not only this, “We the people, in our constituent assembly this twenty-sixth day of November 1949, do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this constitution.”  Is this constitution of the people of India, in letter and spirit, acceptable to the votaries of ‘One Nation’ minus plurality and diversity of the people inhabiting this country? The answer is a big NO. A few facts need to be mentioned here to substantiate the argument that the ideology of Hindutva of RSS-BJP in government is not at all in tune with the philosophy of the constitution and this is the reason that a time has come to defend the democratic values in the constitution from its enemies who are fundamentally opposed to such values enshrined in the constitution. First, the RSS established in 1925 kept itself completely away from anti-colonial struggles whether led by the Indian National Congress or Socialists or Communists and the RSS did not associate itself with peasant struggles or working class movements which were launched during the 1920’s to 1940’s in opposition to offensive laws made by the colonial rulers to extract “rent” from the labouring and toiling masses of India. Anti-colonialism was not the agenda of the RSS and VD Savarkar, a great inspirer of RSS’s Hindutva ideology, offered “apologies” to the colonial rulers and begged for his release from prison. Savarkar and Hindu Mahasabha leaders were the only “apologist collaborators” of the British Raj while other leaders, groups and sections of society were fighting for freedom from the oppressive colonial rulers and their beneficiaries the Zamindars, money lenders et al. These were not the concerns of their founder, KB Hedgewar. How can RSS accept the letter and spirit of the constitution which had the imprint of “struggles for independence” when it has not at all been a part of those struggles?

Second, the logic of RSS leadership not participating in anti-colonial struggles was that they were not at all represented in the Constituent Assembly and they had no role to play in any activity connected with the making of constitution. It does not mean that fringe Hindutva elements were not present in the Constituent Assembly because Hindu-type Congressmen and fringe Hindu Mahasabha were representing Hindu demands such anti-cow slaughter bill or Hindi as mother tongue of India. This fact was also noticed in 1937 when the Congress ministry was formed in the British Province of UP, a few Hindu minded Congressmen had made anti-cow slaughter, Hindi as national language and Vande Mataram as public issues. However, in spite of these individuals, anti-colonialism was a powerful issue and Congress Mministers resigned in 1939 on the issue of Britain joining war and making India a party to this decision without consulting the Congress.

The fact of the matter is that anti-colonialism was a supreme agenda of freedom fighters in India and RSS was not at all part of this mainstream of Indian struggle. The idea of Hindu nationhood was pursued outside and away from real struggles for freedom from colonial rule and the result is that the RSS-BJP does not share the nationalist sentiment underlying the constitution made by freedom fighters. The RSS cannot appropriate this constitution because upto 1947, it maintained a distance from the focus of nationalism which was: struggle for independence and the right of free Indians to make their own constitution as they desired. Hence this constitution has to be defended from those who have always opposed the basic postulates of Indian nationhood of plurality.

Third, it should be kept in mind that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government from 1998 to 2004 had appointed a National Commission for the review of constitution and if the BJP led government had been formed after the Lok Sabha election of 2004, the BJP would have re-written this constitution of 1950. Anti-republican constitutionalism has been an agenda of the Hindu Rashtravadis and the Vajpayee government had wanted to implement its agenda of “rewriting” the whole constitution on the lines of ‘One Nation, One Flag, and One Hindu religion’ as the essence of New Hindu India.

The Modi government unlike the Vajpayee government has not felt the need to “formally re-write” the constitution of India, because it is using its State power formally under the constitution to achieve its goal of making India a Hindu Rashtra. Every inter-religious community violence or riot is meant to convey a message to Muslims that in Hindu India, Muslims are second-class citizens and they have to live in ghettos. This is the Gujarat model of Narendra Modi and post Godhra riots of February-April 2002 where Muslims were massacred and those who survived were forced to move to refugee camps and made to live in Muslim ghettos in Gujarat and this is an all India agenda of the Sangh Parivar that Muslims have to live separately in ghettos as second-class citizens. The full reading of Article 48 of the constitution is necessary because it states “The State shall endeavour to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improvising the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cow and calf’s and other milk and draught cattle.” Hence anti-cow slaughter as an agenda of Hindutva has nothing to do with the letter and spirit of Article 48 of the constitution where it is linked with agriculture and animal husbandry. The BJP has taken this out of context and has started a movement against “beef eating and cow slaughter” by identifying Muslim community as sole consumers of cows’ beef, a mother to Sakshi Maharaj. What has cow slaughter to do with Indian Muslims? Why pick on anti-cow slaughter as mentioned in Article 48 in isolation and proclaim it as the most important duty of the Indian State? Hence the constitution and legality is being used by Hindu governments to pursue their political agenda of “isolating Muslims” as culprits for cow slaughter. The Constituent Assembly debate on Hindi as national language and the issue of “cow slaughter” clearly shows that a very thoughtful and full of passion was shown by the members while debating these “issues”. The RSS was not part of the Constituent Assembly  and so does not show the arguments for and against which were advanced by members while debating each and every clause of the constitution. Constitution is in the hands of those who were “outside” the four walls of the constituent assembly and were not participants, not only in constitution making but also in struggles of those who were given the tasks of making this constitution. The above discussion clearly reveals that those who never owned the real legacies of anti-colonialism cannot be entrusted for safeguarding the constitution which is a collective effort of freedom fighters excluding the RSS.