Politics

RSS and the Constitution: Ram Bahadur Rai’s Comments Come at An Inopportune Moment

Ram Bahadur Rai’s dismissal of the Constitution is not new, what is new is his attack on Ambedkar.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Ambedkar Memorial in London. Credit: PIB/Twitter

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Ambedkar Memorial in London. Credit: PIB/Twitter

The Taj Mahal was not built by Shah Jahan. It was in fact an ancient Shiva temple called Tejo Mahalaya. The Qutb Minar was not erected by Qutb-ud-Din Aibak and Shams-ud-Din Iltutmish, it was actually an astronomical observation tower known as Vishnu Dhwaj built many centuries earlier. Even the Kaba, the holiest of Muslim shrines, was a Shiva temple built by King Vikramaditya whose empire included the Arabian peninsula.

These are some of the “historical discoveries” made by the late Purushottam Nagesh Oak, a revered name in RSS circles. Another discovery has now been added to this list, albeit it relates to more recent history.

In an interview with Outlook, Ram Bahadur Rai, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) chairman, senior Hindi journalist and lifelong RSS worker who served as Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad’s (ABVP) organising secretary in the early 1970s, has made a startling claim. According to him, it’s a myth that B.R. Ambedkar framed the country’s Constitution. In fact, it was B.N. Rau who did the actual drafting, while Ambedkar corrected the language. “B.R. Ambedkar’s role was limited,” said Rai, “so that whatever material B.N. Rau gave him, he would correct its language. It was like RAW or IB, where foot soldiers write reports in broken English and IPS officers turn it into good English, capable of being presented to the PM. So, Ambedkar did not write the Constitution.”

It’s ironical that Rai should reduce Rau to the level of a foot soldier whose language needed Ambedkar’s corrections. He forgets that Rau was an alumnus of the Trinity College, Cambridge University and an Indian civil service officer. His command over the English language was second to none.

However, what Rai says about Ambedkar is in perfect tune with the RSS position. In its March 6, 2011 issue, the RSS mouthpiece Organiser had stated: “The credit for drawing up the draft [of the Constitution] is generally attributed to Dr B.R. Ambedkar and it has seldom been questioned. What is not generally known, even among the literati, is that most of the work was done by Rau who had been appointed by the Viceroy to be the Advisor to the Constituent Assembly”.

That the RSS has perfected the art of speaking in many tongues simultaneously is a well-known fact. Therefore, it is not surprising that on the occasion of the 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar on April 14, Narendra Modi, the RSS pracharak-turned-prime minister, thanked the Dalit icon and gave him full credit for creating the constitutional framework that allowed “the son of a poor mother who washed dishes in other people’s houses to become the country’s prime minister”. However, the fact remains that it is not very easy for the RSS, and its affiliates like the BJP, to swallow and digest Ambedkar, as the two represent completely antithetical social viewpoints. Yet, serious attempts have been made to incorporate Ambedkar’s legacy, similar to how the RSS has successfully appropriated the legacy of Dayanand Saraswati – founder of the Arya Samaj, who was an implacable enemy of superstition, domination of the so-called sants and mahants over Hindu society, and un-Vedic idol worship. This resulted in the incredible spectacle of Arya Samajists leading the Ramjanmabhoomi movement for building a temple in place of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya and installing an idol of Ram there. The RSS thinks that the same strategy will work in the case of Ambedkar, conveniently forgetting their political ideology of Hindutva. Their optimism is based on the supposedly anti-Muslim views of Ambedkar and his preference for Buddhism – a religion born in India – over Islam and Christianity. It glosses over Ambedkar’s iconoclastic views about Brahmanism, the caste system and Hindu beliefs. As then Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Ashok Singhal said in an interview to Frontline (December 31, 1993), the RSS took ‘Hindu’ to mean all religions which have come up from this soil of Hindustan. Ambedkar had stopped the flow of Dalits towards Christianity and Islam by embracing Buddhism.

Not stopping there, Singhal also tried to reconcile two irreconcilable positions: support and opposition to the Manusmriti. In the same interview, Singhal said, “It is absolutely wrong to interpret Manu as a man who created differences in society… It is here we see the importance of Dr Ambedkar’s work. His preachings would become part of a new Manusmriti for a modern Hindu society. In this modern society there would be no place for untouchability”. Singhal conveniently forgets that it was the RSS that had burnt an effigy of Ambedkar in 1949 for his attempt to bring forth the Hindu code bills.

Even though Rai’s attempt to downplay Ambedkar’s role in the crafting of the Constitution is in conformity with the RSS viewpoint, it has come at an inopportune moment as the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP) are not even a year away. His comments can be compared to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s anti-reservation comments on the eve of the Bihar assembly elections. Little wonder that his interview has created a stir, as the Dalit vote is estimated to be over 28% in UP and the BJP is trying hard to make a dent in Mayawati’s social base. Dalit leaders from the BJP like Dushyant Kumar Gautam have condemned Rai’s comments, saying they amounted to insulting Ambedkar and were a hurdle in Modi’s Dalit outreach. BJP vice-president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe has been quoted as asserting that Ambedkar continues to be a “supremely important icon” for the emancipation of downtrodden sections of society, especially Dalits.

However, there is another aspect of Rai’s interview that deserves serious attention. He has opined that the 16th Lok Sabha should be converted into a Constituent Assembly to draw up a new Constitution that is suited to the present-day needs of the country. He calls the present Constitution “a new testament of our gulaami (slavery)” and questions the representative character of the Constituent Assembly as “it represented only 12 per cent of the people”.

Replacing the secular Constitution by a new Constitution is an integral part of the Hindutva project of turning India into a Hindu rashtra. The RSS had been nursing this ambition almost since its birth, but was able to muster enough courage to put its desire in the public domain only after the demolition of the Babri mosque on December 6, 1992. Less than three weeks later, on December 25, 1992 Swami Muktanand Saraswati and Swami Vamdev Maharaj held a joint press conference at the office of the Vishwa Samvad Kendra (that also happened to be a BJP member of parliament’s flat). They released a booklet that was a veritable ‘white paper’ of the Hindutva brigade, denouncing the Constitution as “anti-Hindu” and putting forward a prototype of the kind of Constitution it desired for the country. Its pink front cover posed two questions: “Who is the destroyer of Bharat’s unity, integrity, brotherhood and community amity? Who has increased starvation, unemployment, corruption and irreligion?”

The Constitution of Mukhtanand Saraswati. Credit: Special Arrangement

The Constitution of Muktanand Saraswati. Credit: Special Arrangement

The answer was also provided on the cover: “Vartman Indian Sanvidhan” (present Indian Constitution). The word Indian was deliberately used along with two Hindi words to convey the foreign roots of our Constitution. This manifesto was published by the Akhil Bharatiya Sant Samiti, Vrindavan along with the Sarvoday Satsang Ashram, Haridwar. Swami Hiranand wrote the manifesto’s preface, declaring: “The present Constitution is against our country’s culture, character, circumstances, soil and climate. It looks towards foreign countries and should be completely discarded”. He added that “the conspiracy to convert Bharat into India continues”.

The manifesto or ‘white paper’ put forth its demand very frankly while, in the typical RSS fashion, hawking a fictional story as historical fact. It claimed that when the draft of independent India’s Constitution was sent to Constituent Assembly president Rajendra Prasad, he refused to sign it because he was dissatisfied with it. However, he relented when Jawaharalal Nehru assured him that it would soon be changed and should be accepted for the time being to facilitate the transfer of power from the British. The booklet went on to say that on August 15, 1947, Hindustan was divided into several countries like Pakistan, Brahmadev (Burma), Sri Lanka and India. The present Constitution pertained only to that region of Hindustan, which is currently known as “India”. It clearly said that Muslims and Christians should enjoy no rights, Vande Mataram must replace Jana Gana Mana, the Ashok Chakra must be removed from the tricolour, no reservation should be given to any caste including scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, and grants and facilities for Anglo-Indians must be abolished.

In January 1993, top RSS leader Rajendra Singh wrote in an article in Indian Express that India’s was “not a composite culture” and “in a very fundamental sense, this country has a unique cultural oneness”. Therefore, he concluded: “A Constitution more suited to the ethos and genius of this country should be adopted in the future”. Ten days later, then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi reiterated the demand for a fresh look at the Constitution. When the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government came to power at the Centre, it appointed a commission to review the Constitution.

So what Rai has said is nothing new. What is new is the way he has chosen to attack Ambedkar at a time when his party is making every effort to woo the Dalits who swear by Ambedkar. One would not be surprised if BJP’s political opponents attempt to take advantage of this faux pas.

Kuldeep Kumar is a senior journalist