Despite three years of strong BJP government under Narendra Modi, it seems that the country has still not got over its baggage of secularist notions. The most classic example of this would be the twisted reaction to BJP leader Ananth Kumar Hegde’s comments on secularists and the Constitution. Without a doubt every word of what the minister said was absolutely correct and well-intentioned. Yet, instead of fighting for him, the BJP – fearing a setback to its electoral ambitions in poll-bound Karnataka – chose to make him apologize for the truth he had stated.
In the process, the BJP will end up hurting its own political prospects, unless it rectifies its present ways. In the times to come, a change in the direction of a unifying and assertive national consciousness is taking place, and BJP under Modi, guided by the steering role of the RSS, was to be nothing but an instrument of this change. But if – at this late stage – the party turns political instead of remaining a nationalist force, it will be staring at its own imminent defeat.
What Hegde had argued for was a strong assertion of national and religious identity of communities whose roots are ancient – and India providing ground for a spiritual amalgam and synthesis of this diversity. He had further stated that secularism – which is not even akin to atheism, for which Indian spirit has provided space and synthesis – is something that cannot be accounted for in the Indian spirit. What this means is that there is nothing cultural about secularism. It is a purely political subject – in fact, it is a political import from the West.
In fact, well-known ‘secularists’ like Ashis Nandy have even documented – with evidence – how secularism, in India and the world, has led to more death and destruction and communal violence than the ‘pre-modern’, religious era ever did. Secularism was, indeed, the parent that spawned communalism. It emerged as a political revolt in Europe against the papal authority and ultimately its hard state-religion divide degenerated into an abolishing of religion altogether.
So, when Hegde says that secularists’ ancestry is unaccounted for, it is absolutely rooted in correct reading of historical facts. For, secularism was nothing but a recent political phenomenon, born as a reaction. It could never even come to India the way it did in West after decimating the Church – in India, it remained limited to a crafty set of manipulating politicians and intellectuals who could conveniently make it into a creed and use it as per their convenience. But, indeed, it has no ancestry whatsoever – least of all any remote trace anywhere in Indian history.
Yet, Hegde was forced to backtrack on the facts that he had correctly stated – and which were in keeping with how the Indian political and cultural spirit has evolved. What’s more – nobody actually bothered to listen fully to what he said, simply latching onto the secularism and Constitution comments, like a pack of wolves would attack a lamb.
If we read what he actually said, his remarks on secularism leading to his comment on changing the Constitution would become crystal clear. So, to quote from his misconstrued speech,
“In this country, there are myriads of traditions, faiths, belief systems etc. Some people wrongly attribute this intellectual diversity in our Hindu society to the reason why Hindu society can’t be organized. We are not among the Chamchas, who just adhere to someone’s ideas and opinions. Our system has evolved over thousands of years. We accept that what appeals to us. We don’t care who said that. We don’t know the names of most authors of our Vedas, Upanishads and the Puranas. Those authors too chose to remain unnamed, as name and fame was not the part of their agenda. Those unnamed authors wanted this society to be happy and prosperous.
Caste is an abomination, which has a very recent history. The man who divided the Vedas into four was not a Brahmin by birth. He was born in a Boatman’s family. Valmiki, who wrote the Ramayana was not a Brahmin by birth, he was a hunter. It was Vishwakarma community, that gave us Bharadwaja Samhita. This community built our cities and were pioneers in Engineering in this world. Vishwakarma community is not considered as a Brahmin community. Most of the authors of our Suktas and Samhitas too were not Brahmins by birth.
Dvija means born-again, not Brahmin. People, who don’t know Sanskrit deliberately mislead people into believing that words like Dvija and Vipra means Brahmins. By birth all of us are like animals. Our Karma makes us what we are.
Smritis have been changing all our history. Some people want to beat us with the Manusmriti. They must know better than that. Manusmriti is no longer relevant. Today’s Smriti is Ambedkar Smriti. Those who still poke us with Manusmriti are real “sampradayavadis”. They are fools. These Smritis are only historical footsteps. They (pseudo-secularists/Leftists) are only accusing us of mistakes committed by them.
If some Muslim calls himself a Muslim. I feel happy for him. I feel happy for a Christian, who calls himself a Christian. I also feel happy for those who claim to be Lingayats, Brahmins or Hindus. Because these people are aware of their ancestry. But, I am confused and skeptical of those who call themselves jDtyDtita (Kannada word for secular, which means someone beyond jDti or identity by birth). Those who can’t identify their ancestors call themselves jDtyDtitas. One might say, secularism is an ideal from the Constitution. I too respect Constitution. But, this Constitution has been changed many times in the past in accordance with changing time and it shall be changed even in future.”
In this speech, which contains the so-called ‘controversial’ comments on secularism and Constitution, was there anything at all to generate so much ire? It is apparent, after reading this, that everything implied by Hegde was correct in spirit. Yet the pervasive influence of false secularism – politically imported and imposed on the country out of opportunistic convenience – has provoked a hostile reaction which has led everyone to misread Hegde’s remarks on the Constitution. Of the Constitution, Hegde had simply said, “One might say, secularism is an ideal from the Constitution. I too respect Constitution. But, this Constitution has been changed many times in the past in accordance with changing time and it shall be changed even in future.”
Ironically, for the secular attackers of Hegde, the above statement is entirely in keeping with the spirit in which the Constitution was drafted. When the Constituent Assembly debates were going on, there were many proponents of secularism – like KT Shah who moved an amendment in November 1948 to introduce that “India shall be a Secular, Federal, Socialist Union of States” – who wanted the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ to figure in the Constitution. Not only were they not part of the Constitution, but also did not feature in the original Preamble. Such proposals were blocked by BR Ambedkar – the father of the Constitution and the Dalit icon whose supporters have misguidedly cornered Hegde.
For Ambedkar, there was no such thing as a fixed ‘sacrosanct spirit’ of the Constitution. For him, the Constitution was only an administrative document to guide the working of the various organs of the state and to ensure fundamental rights of the people.
It is simply a written administrative document, and we cannot bind ourselves and the divinity residing within our hearts to any such set of rules, even if it’s the most divinely inspired and sacred scripture. As Sri Aurobindo pointed out, “Constitutions can only disguise facts, they cannot abrogate them: for whatever ideas the form of the constitution may embody, its working is always that of the actually realized forces which can use it with effect. Most governments either have now or have passed through a democratic form, but nowhere yet has there been a real democracy; it has been everywhere the propertied and professional classes and the bourgeoisie who governed in the name of the people.”1
Therefore, a constitution is no guarantee of the shape that our collective life will take – even democracies with best constitutions and rules have failed their purpose. It is the spirit which shapes the form – the written material document – and not the other way around.
The Constitution should be flexibly used to organize political unity, but must never be allowed to fetter our free self-expression and the free development of our collective political and national life.
The current drama over Hegde’s remarks has completely underlined the current national spirit and character. The way the events unfolded and culminated are testimony to our philistine mentality.
In fact, agitating ‘secular’ supporters of Ambedkar should go back to his original writings to know that he actually opposed the formation of a Constituent Assembly in the first place. All students of Indian Constitution are aware of the common fact that the Constitution had many provisions from the Government of India Act, 1935. Ambedkar felt the same way – and precisely for that reason, he suggested that modifications and additions could be made, instead of going into unnecessary constitutional debates by forming an assembly.
So, indeed, when Ambedkar himself treated the Constitution like an administrative document, it was obvious that he would oppose the fixing of Indian society in any fixed moulds by erecting unchanging ‘systems’ like secularism and socialism. For him, these were ideals to be practiced and imbibed – ideas which can change with time and place – not systems to be fixed. The West had done the opposite. It had done what the proponents of secularism wanted in India also – to fix the Indian polity into the mould of secularism and socialism.
But, as Ambedkar said, “What should be the policy of the State, how the Society should be organised in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances. It cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself, because that is destroying democracy altogether.”
Isn’t this exactly what Hegde also meant when he said that while he respects the Constitution, it has changed many times in the past and will change in future also. Never did he say, ‘We are here to change the Constitution’ – a blatant and false fabrication that has been passed around in his name by the national media, and for which his party, instead of defending him tooth and nail, forced him to apologize.
Indeed, this apology – which arose out of BJP’s selfish calculation of not losing votes – may backfire electorally on the party. It happened in 2006 when one of the BJP ministers in the BJP-JD(S) government in Karnataka spoke against Tipu Sultan and received widespread condemnation at all levels. The BJP forced him to apologize and lost the next election. The BJP must understand that it is not like the Congress – mired in falsehood and opportunism, allowed to languish in the lethargy of power for so many years. The BJP is supposed to uphold the national interest and any opportunism by it will not go unpunished. The stage at which the BJP is today – with millions of people putting blind faith in this government – it cannot afford to be selfish or operate like a normal lethargic Indian political party.
While this entire episode should have been a serious lesson and moment of introspection for the BJP, it should be a bigger lesson for the Indian public. For all those people and activists and so-called Dalit lobbies who have hounded Hegde, they should remember that both Ambedkar and Nehru opposed the inclusion of the term secular in the Constitution. It was Indira Gandhi – who in a stroke of opportunism to appease the poor and the minority – introduced the terms ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ in the Preamble to the Constitution.
What’s more – they were introduced through the inauspicious 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act and by a person who had made a travesty of the same Constitution which the ‘secular’ lobbies are defending today. Forget about introducing these terms – if indeed Constitution is so sacrosanct, how is it that Indira Gandhi has the credit of single-handedly subverting and corrupting every government and institution, right up to making the President and the Chief Justice her puppets?
Obviously, the political opportunists of today will not answer these questions. They accuse Hegde of reading history selectively. But the Constitution they cherish so much had come to incorporate the secular ideal by a virtual dictator who had bulldozed the entire Constitution! Of course, one cannot expect the blind and opinionated masses of today – pretending to be guardians of the Constitution – to react any better. But one has to ask them – even after the introduction of the term ‘secular’ in 1976 by the 42nd amendment, did our country become a secular replica of the West? Did the incorporation of this word lead to any fixed system or practice of secularism?
It did not happen. Not only has the Indian spirit repelled any such gross attempts to rein it in or bind it into a fixed system, but the recent times have proven that Constitution has become a travesty – to be quoted at convenience by opportunists and used like a weapon, while the judiciary that is supposed to administer justice, languishes and keeps falling into further corruption with every passing day.
After going into the real meaning of Hegde’s speech and looking at how he was attacked, it seems even Ambedkar must be turning in his grave at the gross falsehood that is being perpetrated in his name by his self-appointed champions.
- Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol.25, p. 400, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry