Opinion

Aakar Patel: The nightmare republic we are not

The Indian Constitution which was adopted by the Constituent Assembly dominated by the INC is unique. Imagine a situation, post-independence, with no Congress, no Nehru, no Ambedkar and just the RSS

Aakar Patel

The Indian Constitution, which was adopted by a Constituent Assembly dominated by the Indian National Congress, is unique in South Asia. It is the only one that was and has remained pluralist not only in its laws but also in its ambition. This separates India from all of our neighbours and this is the gift to us of the Congress, in particular Jawaharlal Nehru.

What does the word ‘Nehruvian' mean in 2019? To some it might have an economic colouring and the creation of a giant public sector. To others it might mean a fanciful outreach to the world through the period of the Cold War, and the formulation of a ’non-aligned’ policy and the cooperation between post-colonial societies from Africa, Asia and the Arab world. To some it means the ownership of an inclusive secularism, which is what makes India different. Let us focus on that.

The Constitution of Sri Lanka privileges Buddhism. The exact words are: “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)9e).”

In Pakistan, constitutional sovereignty belongs to Allah. No non-Muslim may be appointed President or Prime Minister. There is legislation which comes from religion, both on the side of civil and criminal laws.

Bangladesh has long struggled with its balance between religion and the Bengali nationalism on the basis of which Pakistan was partitioned. Its Constitution originally opened with the words “Bismillah ar Rahman ar Rahim”. The nation’s polity is also divided between two political forces, which fight over whether the nation or not should be anti-minority and more Islamic.

Nepal was till a few years ago the world’s only Hindu state. What made it Hindu specifically was that executive power flowed from a Kshatriya king, as prescribed by Manusmriti. Bhutan’s Constitution specifies that the nation will be led by a Buddhist king.

Myanmar’s Constitution recognises “the special position of Buddhism as the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens of the Union.”

The Maldives Constitution says the country is a republic “based on the principles of Islam” and that “this Constitution guarantees to all persons, in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam, the rights and freedoms contained within this Chapter, subject only to such reasonable limits.”

Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic by law and only Muslims may be appointed president. Iran has an Islamic Constitution also.

It is only India that stands absolutely apart in the entire region and that is because of Nehru and the Congress. Articles 14-17 of the Indian constitution specifically prohibit the practice of doctrinal Hinduism (meaning the practice of caste). Yes, Ambedkar had a major role in all of this, but it is impossible to adopt without the support and enthusiasm of Nehru and the Congress.

The question is: what would the Indian Republic look like if it had not been the Congress and Nehru but the RSS and its Hindutva ideology which had provided the nation direction?

Is the Indian Constitution something that would have come about no matter which political force was in charge?

The answer to that is: No.

We would be a very different Republic under the guidance of the forces of Hindutva. Let us look at how. The fact is that Hindutva has not produced many thinkers and no great texts. It is intellectually underpinned by the thinking of one individual, M S Golwalkar, who led the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for over 30 years from 1940 and is the individual responsible for its ideology and its success.

The Prime Minister has written a fawning biographical sketch of Guruji Golwalkar (whom he never met), comparing him to Buddha, Mahavir and B R Ambedkar. If there is a Hindutva view of our Republic, it comes from Golwalkar and so let us examine it.

Golwalkar’s main work is a book called Bunch of Thoughts. As the name suggests, it is not particularly unified and is scattered, offering his opinion on several things, mostly about how much he dislikes Muslims, who are enemies of India by birth.

He defines Hindus as being those people with the “urge for realisation of God". However, this was not God in the form that most people identified with, Golwalkar wrote, but a living god and not an idol or immaterial form. "Nirakar (formless) and Nirgun (without attribute) and all that leads us nowhere." Idol worship “does not satisfy us who are full of activity”. We want a ‘living’ God, which will engross us in activity and invoke powers within us.”

This living God was the Indian nation, but according to Golwalkar, the nation-god did not include all communities but only one. In his words:

“Our People Are Our God, is what our ancients told us. But not all people. Ramkrishna Paramhans and Vivekanand said ‘Serve man’. But Man in the sense of humanity is too wide and cannot be grasped. It should be an Almighty with certain limitations. Man here means Hindu People. Our ancients did not use the word Hindu but they did say in the Rig Ved that the sun and moon are His eyes, the stars and skies created from his navel and that Brahmin is head, King the hands, Vaishya the thighs and Shudra the feet.”

He continues: “This means that the people who have this fourfold arrangement i.e., the Hindu People, is our God.” Service to this society is the service to God. This caste-based society should be worshipped in place of the self.

To Golwalkar, social order through caste is not discrimination. The feeling of high and low in caste is of recent origin, “scheming Britisher” “divide and rule policy”. The Gita says that individuals who do their assigned caste duty are worshipping God.

Indeed, he saw the caste system as beneficial to India instead of destructive. The Dalit intellectual, Chandra Bhan Prasad has said that for millennia Brahmins alone were in charge of knowledge and India has the most illiterates on earth; that the Kshatriya was in charge of defence but India was one of the most invaded places on earth; and that the Vaishya were in charge of commerce and India is one of the poorest nations on earth.

Golwalkar takes the opposite view. He says the caste system is not responsible for our downfall, writing: "Prithviraj Chauhan was defeated by his own caste-relation Jayachand. Rana Pratap was hounded by Man Singh. The defeat of the Hindus at Poona in 1818 was under a fellow caste-man of the Peshwas, named Natu who hoisted the British flag."

Golwalkar writes that India was able to withstand the onslaught of Islam. But Afghanistan, which was Buddhist and caste-free, became Muslim. It is caste which has ensured the survival of Hindus.

He felt that the divisions of caste kept economic power (Vaishyas) away from the hands of the state (Kshatriyas). It deprived the people producing the wealth of all political power.

“And above all, these two powers were subjected to the supervision of such selfless men as had no axe to grind.” These selfless men were the Brahmins.

“It is the continuous tradition of such persons, holding the sceptre of spiritual authority, who were ever on the alert to undo any injustice perpetrated by any of these two powers, while they themselves remained above all temptations of power or riches, that formed the real breath of the glory and immortality of our ancient nation.”

Golwalkar had the same views on caste as our middle class does today. For example, he felt that using phrases like Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe produces separatism. Why shouldn't everyone just be called ‘Hindu’?

To Golwalkar, the problem of temple entry was not that of discrimination but of maintaining anonymity. If Dalits do not announce their background, then the priests will let them pray. To him, stories of atrocities on Dalits are exaggerated.

In UP “the papers had flashed that the Harijan community had been attacked by caste Hindus, but not a single family of caste Hindus was residing there. Obviously, the attack of Muslims on the Harijans was given the perverted colour of atrocity. I have a suspicion that some foreign hand is behind this systematic and subtle propaganda. Otherwise, there is no reason why such news items should be played up so prominently.”

Golwalkar did not approve of elections generally speaking. He felt that social order was important to maintain and therefore consensus should be given privilege over contestation. Of course, in traditional societies, consensus could only be built on the existing social order.

Golwalkar also did not want the states to legislate, preferring only a single legislative body, once again the mark of someone who wants laws to remain more or less unchanged.

This then is the sort of Republic we would have had in the absence of Nehru and the Congress. And when the supporters and enthusiasts of the Prime Minister tell us that they want ‘Hindu Rashtra’ in India instead of our secular and democratic Republic, these are the things that they will impose on us.

The Indian Constitution, which was adopted by a Constituent Assembly dominated by the Indian National Congress, is unique in South Asia. It is the only one that was and has remained pluralist not only in its laws but also in its ambition. This separates India from all of our neighbours and this is the gift to us of the Congress, in particular Jawaharlal Nehru.

What does the word ‘Nehruvian' mean in 2019? To some it might have an economic colouring and the creation of a giant public sector. To others it might mean a fanciful outreach to the world through the period of the Cold War, and the formulation of a ’non-aligned’ policy and the cooperation between post-colonial societies from Africa, Asia and the Arab world. To some it means the ownership of an inclusive secularism, which is what makes India different. Let us focus on that.

The Constitution of Sri Lanka privileges Buddhism. The exact words are: “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)9e).”

In Pakistan, constitutional sovereignty belongs to Allah. No non-Muslim may be appointed President or Prime Minister. There is legislation which comes from religion, both on the side of civil and criminal laws.

Bangladesh has long struggled with its balance between religion and the Bengali nationalism on the basis of which Pakistan was partitioned. Its Constitution originally opened with the words “Bismillah ar Rahman ar Rahim”. The nation’s polity is also divided between two political forces, which fight over whether the nation or not should be anti-minority and more Islamic.

Nepal was till a few years ago the world’s only Hindu state. What made it Hindu specifically was that executive power flowed from a Kshatriya king, as prescribed by Manusmriti. Bhutan’s Constitution specifies that the nation will be led by a Buddhist king.

Myanmar’s Constitution recognises “the special position of Buddhism as the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens of the Union.”

The Maldives Constitution says the country is a republic “based on the principles of Islam” and that “this Constitution guarantees to all persons, in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam, the rights and freedoms contained within this Chapter, subject only to such reasonable limits.”

Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic by law and only Muslims may be appointed president. Iran has an Islamic Constitution also.

It is only India that stands absolutely apart in the entire region and that is because of Nehru and the Congress. Articles 14-17 of the Indian constitution specifically prohibit the practice of doctrinal Hinduism (meaning the practice of caste). Yes, Ambedkar had a major role in all of this, but it is impossible to adopt without the support and enthusiasm of Nehru and the Congress.

The question is: what would the Indian Republic look like if it had not been the Congress and Nehru but the RSS and its Hindutva ideology which had provided the nation direction?

Is the Indian Constitution something that would have come about no matter which political force was in charge?

The answer to that is: No.

We would be a very different Republic under the guidance of the forces of Hindutva. Let us look at how. The fact is that Hindutva has not produced many thinkers and no great texts. It is intellectually underpinned by the thinking of one individual, M S Golwalkar, who led the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for over 30 years from 1940 and is the individual responsible for its ideology and its success.

The Prime Minister has written a fawning biographical sketch of Guruji Golwalkar (whom he never met), comparing him to Buddha, Mahavir and B R Ambedkar. If there is a Hindutva view of our Republic, it comes from Golwalkar and so let us examine it.

We would be a very different Republic under the guidance of the forces of Hindutva. Let us look at how. The fact is that Hindutva has not produced many thinkers and no great texts. It is intellectually underpinned by the thinking of one individual, M S Golwalkar, who led the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for over 30 years from 1940 and is the individual responsible for its ideology and its success.

Golwalkar’s main work is a book called Bunch of Thoughts. As the name suggests, it is not particularly unified and is scattered, offering his opinion on several things, mostly about how much he dislikes Muslims, who are enemies of India by birth.

He defines Hindus as being those people with the “urge for realisation of God". However, this was not God in the form that most people identified with, Golwalkar wrote, but a living god and not an idol or immaterial form. "Nirakar (formless) and Nirgun (without attribute) and all that leads us nowhere." Idol worship “does not satisfy us who are full of activity”. We want a ‘living’ God, which will engross us in activity and invoke powers within us.”

This living God was the Indian nation, but according to Golwalkar, the nation-god did not include all communities but only one. In his words:

“Our People Are Our God, is what our ancients told us. But not all people. Ramkrishna Paramhans and Vivekanand said ‘Serve man’. But Man in the sense of humanity is too wide and cannot be grasped. It should be an Almighty with certain limitations. Man here means Hindu People. Our ancients did not use the word Hindu but they did say in the Rig Ved that the sun and moon are His eyes, the stars and skies created from his navel and that Brahmin is head, King the hands, Vaishya the thighs and Shudra the feet.”

He continues: “This means that the people who have this fourfold arrangement i.e., the Hindu People, is our God.” Service to this society is the service to God. This caste-based society should be worshipped in place of the self.

To Golwalkar, social order through caste is not discrimination. The feeling of high and low in caste is of recent origin, “scheming Britisher” “divide and rule policy”. The Gita says that individuals who do their assigned caste duty are worshipping God.

Indeed, he saw the caste system as beneficial to India instead of destructive. The Dalit intellectual, Chandra Bhan Prasad has said that for millennia Brahmins alone were in charge of knowledge and India has the most illiterates on earth; that the Kshatriya was in charge of defence but India was one of the most invaded places on earth; and that the Vaishya were in charge of commerce and India is one of the poorest nations on earth.

Golwalkar takes the opposite view. He says the caste system is not responsible for our downfall, writing: "Prithviraj Chauhan was defeated by his own caste-relation Jayachand. Rana Pratap was hounded by Man Singh. The defeat of the Hindus at Poona in 1818 was under a fellow caste-man of the Peshwas, named Natu who hoisted the British flag."

Golwalkar writes that India was able to withstand the onslaught of Islam. But Afghanistan, which was Buddhist and caste-free, became Muslim. It is caste which has ensured the survival of Hindus.

He felt that the divisions of caste kept economic power (Vaishyas) away from the hands of the state (Kshatriyas). It deprived the people producing the wealth of all political power.

“And above all, these two powers were subjected to the supervision of such selfless men as had no axe to grind.” These selfless men were the Brahmins.

“It is the continuous tradition of such persons, holding the sceptre of spiritual authority, who were ever on the alert to undo any injustice perpetrated by any of these two powers, while they themselves remained above all temptations of power or riches, that formed the real breath of the glory and immortality of our ancient nation.”

Golwalkar had the same views on caste as our middle class does today. For example, he felt that using phrases like Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe produces separatism. Why shouldn't everyone just be called ‘Hindu’?

To Golwalkar, the problem of temple entry was not that of discrimination but of maintaining anonymity. If Dalits do not announce their background, then the priests will let them pray. To him, stories of atrocities on Dalits are exaggerated.

In UP “the papers had flashed that the Harijan community had been attacked by caste Hindus, but not a single family of caste Hindus was residing there. Obviously, the attack of Muslims on the Harijans was given the perverted colour of atrocity. I have a suspicion that some foreign hand is behind this systematic and subtle propaganda. Otherwise, there is no reason why such news items should be played up so prominently.

Golwalkar did not approve of elections generally speaking. He felt that social order was important to maintain and therefore consensus should be given privilege over contestation. Of course, in traditional societies, consensus could only be built on the existing social order.

Golwalkar also did not want the states to legislate, preferring only a single legislative body, once again the mark of someone who wants laws to remain more or less unchanged.

This then is the sort of Republic we would have had in the absence of Nehru and the Congress. And when the supporters and enthusiasts of the Prime Minister tell us that they want ‘Hindu Rashtra’ in India instead of our secular and democratic Republic, these are the things that they will impose on us.

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