The ancient India may give us things to admire, but constitutional stability is not one of them, and filled with other social ills.
Over the past four years, India has been in the midst of a tug of war. This tug of war is less in the form of political adversaries fighting for seats or attempting to win elections, but is more in the nature of a fight for India’s conscience. On one side of this battle are the forces of Hindutva and on the other is the Constitution of India. I will look at some of the spheres where the battle between the values espouses by the RSS/BJP and the values encompassed in our Constitution have come to the fore and how we as Indians must recognise the crossroads our country stands at and decide which way we will decide to go.
The RSS was founded in 1925 and represents itself as a cultural organisation. However, only the wilfully blind can really believe this to be true. The fact is that right from its inception in 1925, the RSS has been a very visible player in the political and social field. The RSS and its workers are often the foot-soldiers of the BJP during elections and it is not uncommon to find BJP leaders praise the RSS and attend their functions. The Prime Minister himself is a former worker of the RSS and it is obvious that Narendra Modi’s views on political and social issues are shaped significantly by the RSS. Therefore, for the RSS to continue to claim that it stays within the “sandbox” of a cultural organisation is to give very little credit to the intelligence of India’s populace. The fact is that the RSS has consistently shaped the BJP’s views on crucial national issues and I want to highlight some of these issues and request the BJP to clarify which side of the debate the current Government is.
The RSS has an uncomfortable history of admiration for fascists. From VD Savarkar who said, “The very fact that Germany or Italy has so wonderfully recovered and grown so powerful as never before at the touch of Nazi or Fascist magical wand is enough to prove that those political ‘isms’ were the most congenial tonics their health demanded”, to MS Gowalkar, affectionately called “Guruji” by RSS workers, who echoed similar views. In his book, “We, or our Nationhood Defined”, Guruji stated: “There are only two courses open to the foreign elements, either to merge themselves in the national race and adopt its culture, or to live at its mercy so long as the national race may allow them to do so and to quit the country at the sweet will of the national race.” He went on to say that “the foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture…or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even citizen’s rights.” What is meant by “national race and its culture”? The question is whether this includes people from the South? Does it include people from the North-East? Does it include the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes? Do we need the permission of the RSS to be considered a citizen of India? These are the uncomfortable questions the RSS needs to address.
Instead of taking these questions head on, we have to hear the RSS’ language of division and parochialism. India is fortunate to be blessed with different races, different religions, different cuisines and different people. What MS Gowalkar identifies as a problem or a weakness is actually a Courtesy of strength. From Dr APJ Abdul Kalam to Dr Homi Bhabha, India’s varied diaspora have helped her take great strides towards the respected status it occupies today. Do we think that the next Homi Bhabha will be allowed to thrive, succeed and contribute to our country’s prosperity he is looked upon as an outsider? Of course not. This brings us to the tone of politics today. If the BJP does not share the view of India espoused by Gowalkar, should it not come out unequivocally against it? Instead, what we find the Prime Minister who on the birth centenary of Deendayal Upadhyaya, a man who considered secularism as an attack on the soul of India, offer tributes to these ideologues. It is possible that the BJP no longer subscribes to such views but by offering tributes, naming programmes and institutions after such individuals, you would forgive me for thinking otherwise. The fact is that irrespective of religion, race, gender, caste et al, we as Indians owe duty to the country and not just to our communities. The Constitution, which in its preamble talks about a “secular, democratic republic”, acts as our North Star and guiding light in this respect and reminds us that our true affiliations lie with the rule of law and the values prescribed by our Constitution.
If you’ve tuned into speeches by members of the BJP or the RSS, you will invariably have heard how things were in the good old days. It is amusing to hear fantastical stories of how ancient India already had nuclear weapons and wi-fi and while we should all be grateful to these leaders for providing the Internet with a gold mine of memes, the underlying sentiment behind these views does not inspire laughter or levity. The fact is that the RSS often waxes lyrical about ancient India and in some cases even about the Manusmriti, which according to some leaders of the organisation should override provisions of our Constitution. This betrays an ominous outlook for India. We must remember that while there may be things to admire about ancient India, the idea of India which the RSS wants to go back to, was rife with social ills. The Manusmriti, for example, essentially prescribes privileges for Brahmins and only “duties” for the ‘lower’ castes and untouchables.
While discussing caste, Gowalkar said: “Castes, there were in those ancient times too, continuing for thousands of years of our glorious national life. There is nowhere any instance of its having hampered the progress or disrupted the unity of society. It, in fact, served as a great bond of social cohesion.” Terming the caste system as a “great bond of social cohesion” is akin to saying dowry enables women to show how much they value their husband. It’s just as ridiculous and there should be no half-measures in condemning it. Similarly, ancient India was not particularly wonderful for women either. Women in ancient India had no right to get an education, to practice a vocation and to establish their own, independent identity. They had no agency and were subject to unfair social rules of conduct that have no place in a modern democracy. Is this the vision of India we should aspire to?
The Constitution, on the other hand, is antithetical to such views. It, inter alia, provides for abolishment of untouchability, guarantees certain fundamental rights such as the right to be treated equally before the law, right to life and also crystallises crucial freedoms like the freedom of free speech and expression. There is no denying that at times these freedoms and rights guaranteed by the Constitution are not enforced in the most ideal manner. However, this is an issue with implementation of these prescribed rights and freedoms. It does not, however, in any way take away from the noble objectives outlined in the text. This is primarily why the RSS had issues with the Constitution. In 1949, while speaking about the Constitution, the Organiser (an RSS newspaper) stated: “But in our Constitution, there is no mention of the unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing.”
The RSS’ problem with the Constitution is that it embodies a vision of India that is inclusive, equal and strives towards a modern democratic society. For the RSS, however, India is only a Hindu State. As a Hindu myself, I am affronted by this idea because there is no doubt in my mind that the Constitution represents the best parts of all religions like inclusiveness and compassion and rejects the worst parts of ourselves, like discrimination and hate. The ongoing fight, therefore, between the idea of India envisioned in the Constitution and the one advocated by the RSS, is increasingly becoming a fight for India’s conscience. Let’s hope she makes the right decision.
(The writer is Jharkhand PCC president, former MP and IPS officer. Views expressed are entirely personal)
Writer: Ajoy Kumar
Courtesy: The Pioneer