It is indeed paradoxical that the celebration of the Constitution Day on November 26 every year – made possible by an announcement by the Narendra Modi government in 2015 – is accompanied by an unleashing of forces and creation of conditions by the NDA government for the all-around assault on the constitution itself.
The ominous developments in this regard are best represented by vicious and violent targeting of those who dissent and protest against numerous policies and legislations compromising the rights enshrined in the constitution, and particularly the rights of minorities and Muslims to lead a dignified life.
The strategy to polarise society by employing majoritarianism and slogans invoking majoritarian images and sentiments grimly remind warnings of Dr B.R. Ambedkar that India would face calamities if the idea of ‘Hindu rashtra’ were to become a reality. He, therefore, advocated measures to resist and defeat the idea of Hindu rashtra.
Distorting Hindu-Muslim relations
On this Constitution Day, while recalling the historic and revolutionary significance of the adoption of the constitution on November 26, 1949, one is reminded of the words of Ambedkar who referred to the alarming articulations of leaders who spoke of waging a war against Muslims, and thought of giving it a spin as a war against Britishers. These remarks relate to Ambedkar made during the discussion on December 17, 1946, on the Objectives Resolution moved by Jawaharlal Nehru in the Constituent Assembly.
He sternly cautioned that “…if war comes in this country and if that war has any relation to the issue with which we are confronted today, it will not be a war on the British. It will be a war on the Muslims”.
Voicing anxiety and fear that “…if there is anybody who has in his mind the project of solving the Hindu-Muslim problem by force, which is another name of solving it by war… in order that the Muslims may be subjugated”, he feared in such context ” [t]his country would be involved in perpetually conquering, them”.
Muslim ‘othering’, reminiscent of pre-Partition days
From 2014 onwards numerous attempts have been made to project Muslims as the ‘other’ and to spread poison in the society to disturb communal amity, deliberately promoting discord in the society.
Many of them have been lynched for their so-called ‘beef-eating’ habits. They have been targeted violently for their dress and even some people of other faiths have also faced violence from police just because they sported a beard and ‘looked like’ Muslims.
The use of the term “termite” by none other than the home minister of India to describe illegal people entering India from across the border has the subtext of pointing an accusing finger at the Muslims of our country.
And now, the criminalisation of love of an interfaith couple, especially that of Hindu and Muslim communities, by invoking Love Jihad in spite of the overwhelming absence of evidence to corroborate such manufactured toxicity clearly constitutes an attack on the life and liberty, which are at the core of the constitution.
Attacking Muslims relentlessly to make them feel that they are not equal citizens is nothing but a war that has to be continued on a sustained basis, and in the words of Ambedkar, ” to perpetually conquering them”.
Such an approach is manifested in the menacing statement of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath who said that Muslim men would have to “embrace death” in case the Hindu women they marry converts to Islam.
A few days back he said, “I warn those who conceal their identity and play with our sisters’ respect – if you don’t mend your ways, your Ram naam saty‘ (invocation of Lord Ram’s name when a dead body is taken for cremation) journey will begin.”
The chilling death threat is evocative of a declaration of war which Ambedkar had seen unfolding in the pre-partition days of 1946. Such hateful utterances of an elected chief minister 71 years after the adoption of the constitution is a replay of tragic times when the Constituent Assembly had just embarked on the audacious adventure of framing the constitution. In fact, Mahatma Gandhi saw in the work of constitution-making a remedy to the problem of communalism.
The draconian ordinance Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion, 2020, promulgated just a few days before the Constitution Day this year has the sole intention of criminalising interfaith marriage and love. This is a direct assault on Article 21 of the constitution, which guarantees the fundamental right to life and liberty. Many other BJP-ruled states have declared that such legislations would be introduced to counter Love Jihad.
Equally tragic is to dub the selection of students professing Islamic faith to civil service based on merit and rational criteria being described by a TV channel as UPSC Jihad. Thankfully courts have imposed restrictions on the telecast of such programmes, while the Centre did not impose any ban despite pointing out the objectionable content.
Calls for revenge
When protests erupted against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) involving Muslims and people of various faiths across the country including Uttar Pradesh, it was quite bizarre to note the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh vowing to take revenge against protestors. Such calls of retribution for exercising the constitutional right of protest is a war on people, and therefore, war on the constitution itself.
Ambedkar had expressed consternation in 1946 in the Constituent Assembly by saying that “I am appalled at the idea that anybody in this country should think of solving the political problems of this country by the method of war”.
He would have been more appalled and outraged at the way in which elected leaders and occupants of high constitutional offices in India of 2020 are waging war against the constitution by violently targeting Muslims, students, and those who question the government.
Use of force condemned
It would be instructive to note that Ambedkar had invoked Edmund Burke who disapproved of the British efforts to apply force against the rebellious colonies of the United States to forcibly bring them under their hegemony.
Burke had said, “First, … permit me to observe, that the use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment, but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again; and a nation is not governed, which is perpetually to be conquered.”
He continued, ” My next objection is its uncertainty. Terror is not always the effect of force, an amendment is not a victory. If you do not succeed, you are without resource for, conciliation failing, force remains; but, force failing, no further hope of reconciliation is left. Power and authority are sometimes bought by kindness; but they can never be begged as alms by impoverished and defeated violence….”
Ambedkar’s sage counsel on power
Those words of Burke quoted by Ambedkar in the constituent assembly in 1946 assume deeper relevance for our time marked by a pursuit of aggressive majoritarianism by those who have the mandate to govern the country based on the constitution.
Further drawing on Burke, Ambedkar further said, “It is easy to give power, it is difficult to give wisdom.” Therefore, Ambedkar reminded the constituent assembly that sovereign power should be exercised with wisdom.
He then asserted, “That is the only way by which we which we can carry with us all sections of the country. There is no other way that can lead us to unity.”
Those with the mandate to govern the country by following the constitution and constitutional methods should ask themselves if the majoritarian approach followed by them is consistent with the exercise of power with wisdom.
Their entire muscular method of treating Muslims as the ‘other’ is unconstitutional and would not help them to carry all sections of the country with them. The sage counsel of Ambedkar to combine power with wisdom for governance means to uphold the constitution eschewing retribution in the name of religion or any other identity.
Let the powers that be in 21st first century India be guided by that vision of Ambedkar by steering clear of Love Jihad and other divisive agenda. That would be a fitting tribute to the constitution on Constitution Day to defend the idea of India.
S.N. Sahu served as an officer on special duty and press secretary to former President of India, K.R. Narayanan.