All Those Demanding a New Constitution Are Fighting for a Less Equal India

In his recent article, Bibek Debroy highlighted the Hindu right's real problem with the Constitution: values of unity, equality, secularism and so on.

Dr Bibek Debroy is the chief of the economic advisory council of the prime minister, obviously very close to the centres of power in more sense than one. He recently (August 15) in an article in Livemint questioned the continuation of the present Constitution. For him this is not the same Constitution which was adopted after Independence as it has been amended many times. As per him, since the Supreme Court has ruled that the executive cannot change its basic structure and it has outlived its time, we should prepare for a new constitution. More importantly he says this Constitution is a colonial legacy and questions various provisions of the same, particularly the values of socialism, secularism, justice, equality and liberty. The advisory council has officially distanced itself from the opinions expressed by Debroy but the purpose of raising doubts and opposition to the Indian Constitution has been raised successfully.

Already the ideologues and leaders from the Hindu right have been asserting that this constitution is a colonial legacy, based on the Government of India Act of 1935 of the British and does not reflect ‘Indian values’. Right-wing Hindu nationalists were never comfortable with this Constitution, which is not a mere continuation of the GOI act of 1935, but prepared after painstaking debates for nearly three years and meticulously put forward by the chief of the drafting committee of Indian Constitution Dr B.R. Ambedkar. The president of the Constituent Assembly Dr Rajendra Prasad and most members were the ones who identified with the anti-colonial struggle of Indian people. It was this struggle which also was crucial in the formation of ‘India as a Nation’.

In contrast to those who stood for plural, inclusive Indian nationalism, the religious nationalists stood away from this great struggle and also opposed the values which emerged with this mass movement. As the Constitution was implemented, the RSS mouthpiece rejected it and demanded the Manusmriti as the Constitution. An editorial in Organiser on Novemner 30, 1949 read: “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 Sparata 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 Constitution pundits that means nothing.”

Also read: Safeguarding Academic Freedom Is the Bedrock of India’s Constitutional Morality

The opposition to the Constitution started being articulated more sternly with the rise of the Hindu right. As Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government came to power in 1998, it appointed the Venkatchaliah Commission for reviewing the Constitution. The strong opposition to the commission was to the detriment to the BJP-led coalition to implement it.

This opposition to the Constitution keeps manifesting itself in diverse ways. When K. Sudarshan became the sarsanghachalak of the RSS, he openly declared that the Indian Constitution is based on Western values and should be replaced by one based on Indian holy books, indicating the Manusmriti. He asserted, “We need not fight shy of altering the constitution completely, having already amended it a hundred times,” and said that France had done the revision four times. “There is nothing sacrosanct about it. In fact, it is the root cause of most of the country’s ills.”

Times and time again, one or the other worthy from the BJP-RSS stable do make statements of this type. Recently, as the opposition alliance formed INDIA, many from the right came to oppose it on the ground that the word was coined by the British. One BJP Rajya Sabha MP, Naresh Bansal, questioned the place of very word India in the Constitution, as it is a symbol of slavery.

It is also related to their concept of decolonisation of minds as put forward by RSS general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale, “The Euro-centric ideas, systems and practices, the western world view were still ruling us for decades. Independent nation didn’t shirk them totally.”

Debroy and the RSS stable merged on the point of opposition to the Constitution. While the RSS combine focuses more on its Western nature, Debroy lets the cat out of the bag when he questions the values of liberty, equality, secularism and the like. The colonial legacy argument is akin to the organisations like that of ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ of West Asian countries, which oppose the values of liberty and equality on the ground that they are Western. Debroy and apologists of the present regime are disturbed by the concept of equality – equality between people of different religions, castes and gender.

Also read: The Constitution and the Wrath of (We) the People

The RSS combine projects the era of the Manusmriti as a Golden Past, as caste and gender hierarchies were the core of the society at the time. It is during the colonial period that caste and gender hierarchies started loosening their grip, it is during this period that workers could make their organisations (Narayan Meghaji Lokhande, Com Singarvelu), it is during this period the likes of Bhagat Singh articulated the exploitation by the ruling classes, which needed to be done away with. Much of this was spearheaded by Indians, while under colonial rule and also struggling against colonial rule.

The colonial period cannot be looked at as black or white. It has shades of grey. While colonial powers plundered our wealth, they also had to open up institutions which were to articulate the “Equality of Man (and Women)”. The RSS combine and the advisor to the prime minister may be giving different arguments for doing away with this constitution, but in essence they are opposed to equality, which was the hallmark of the values propounded by the likes of Bhagat Singh, the struggles launched by Ambedkar and the overarching national movement.

Till the 1990s, the country did try to pursue the path of equality, with the Indian Constitution as the fulcrum and Nehru’s modernisation policies. Now we seem to be moving in the reverse gear. With the temple and the cow dominating the scene, the path towards inequality is being carved by invoking ancient values, a Brahamanical interpretation of the past (labelled as ‘civilisational values’) and undermining what we achieved through the greatest ever mass movement in the world, the Indian freedom struggle.

All opposition to the Indian Constitution is a mere reuse to push the country back to the era where inequality (of caste, class and gender) was sanctified by religion (Brahmanism).

Ram Puniyani is president, Centre of Study of Society and Secularism and has written several books including Communal Politics: Facts Versus Myths (Sage, 2003), Deconstructing Terrorist Violence (Sage 2015), Indian Nationalism versus Hindu Nationalism (Pharos 2014) and Caste and Communalism (Olive 2013).