Herald View: The Constitution question

Our Constitution is a refuge for all Indian citizens. It resists the BJP–Sangh cultural project, which is why they must attack that fortress. Their stated aims and objectives bear this out

Rahul Gandhi shows a copy of the Indian Constitution at a public meeting in Madhya Pradesh on 30 April 2024 (photo: PTI)
Rahul Gandhi shows a copy of the Indian Constitution at a public meeting in Madhya Pradesh on 30 April 2024 (photo: PTI)

Herald View

On 1 May, missing All Fool’s Day by a whole month, the social media handles of Prime Minister Narendra Modi put out a video clip in which he is seen making a case for his unwavering devotion to the Constitution of India.

In that well-worn theatrical mode of communication that seems to have earned him his oratorical reputation, he reminds us of past public performances: in 2010, featuring an elephant and an oversized copy of the Constitution (this was in Surendranagar, Gujarat, when he was the chief minister)—“jab samvidhan haathi par baitha tha aur Modi paidal chal raha tha (when the Constitution sat atop an elephant and Modi walked alongside, he declaims, referring to himself in the third person); then again in 2014, how he bowed at the steps of Parliament, when he was stepping inside for the first time; and something of the sort in 2019 too at the beginning of his second term as prime minister.

The question is: why did he have to find the time in the midst of all the hectic electioneering to broadcast his love for the Constitution? The answer, in the famous words of the bardic poet-singer Bob Dylan, ‘is blowin’ in the wind’.

All the triumphal assertions of a thumping ‘400-paar’ victory, heard in the run-up to the election, seem to have been given a quiet burial. At least, for the nonce. Because it seems the Opposition campaign—led by Rahul Gandhi and forcefully iterated by the likes of M.K. Stalin, Tejashwi Yadav, Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray—that the BJP is eyeing a brute majority because it wants to end reservations and dilute the guarantees in the Constitution for Dalits, for minorities, for scheduled castes and tribes, for OBCs (Other Backward Classes) and other disadvantaged sections of the population seems to have lodged itself in the minds of the voter as a real threat.

And so it is that Modi and his minions—even home minister Amit Shah, the most vociferous advocate of the exclusionary, Muslim-baiting Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)—have been issuing statements that all constitutional protections, including these reservations, will stay. For now, let’s park the argument that they haven’t exactly been waiting for that brute majority to launch their brutish assault on the Constitution.

Let’s just say that the new laws (the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, which replaced the Indian Penal Code, to cite just one) and malevolent amendments in the old citizenship law are tantamount to death by a thousand cuts.

People familiar with the history of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological forebears, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, those acquainted with the pronouncements of their patron saints—Savarkar, Golwalkar, (Deendayal) Upadhyaya et al—know that the Sangh parivar has a tradition of hating the Constitution. It’s no secret. Their stated aims and objectives, as inscribed in their holy books, so to speak, bear this out.

They haven’t outlined the contours of their dream ‘Hindu Rashtra’, but is there any way that the remaking of India as a Hindu Rashtra, a commitment they loudly proclaim, will not violate the Indian Constitution?

You can think of it as a sort of litmus test for their commitment to the Constitution, but we can also thumb through the Sangh literature for some other tell-tale signs. M.S. Golwalkar, the longest serving sarsanghchalak of the RSS (1940–1973) made a scathing reference right after the Constitution was adopted: ‘Our Constitution [is] just a cumbersome and heterogeneous piecing together of various Articles from various constitutions of western countries. It has absolutely nothing which can be called our own. Is there a single word of reference in its guiding principles as to what our national mission is…?’

Golwalkar probably missed reading the Preamble or, in his reckoning, it didn’t count as an articulation of ‘national mission’, but that diatribe set the tone of the parivar’s engagement with the Constitution of India. In his attack on the Congress manifesto released on 5 April, Prime Minister Modi claimed it reeked of a ‘Muslim League mindset’. While campaigning in Bihar the next day, he said the utterances of Congress leaders were hostile to national integrity and Hindu ‘sanatan dharma’.

For people raised in the Sangh environment, this line of attack on the Congress is like a tic, but what’s the source? For Deendayal Upadhyaya, the founding general secretary of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the predecessor of the BJP of today, ‘[the] idea of a federal government was mooted only to accommodate the separatist viewpoint of the Muslim League…

Today, separatism is neither to be accommodated nor appeased.’ He was bitterly opposed to India’s federal constitution, which, for him, was antithetical to the unity and indivisibility of ‘Bharat Mata’.

Upadhyaya wanted a unitary state, not a federal ‘Union of States’, and that fundamental discomfort with India’s linguistic, cultural, religious multiplicity, its commitment to diversity and the autonomy of states is hardwired in the DNA of the BJP.

Our Constitution is a refuge for Indian citizens, all Indian citizens, it resists the BJP–Sangh cultural project, which is why they must attack that fortress.

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