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Testing the Waters

Testing the Waters

A few weeks ago, I was invited by the  India Today  group to attend a conference on skill development, the flagship programme of the Narendra Modi government started, however, by the UPA government. Several ministers and officials from various states in the North addressed the elite gathering at a five-star hotel in New Delhi. They vied with one another in claiming that tens of thousands of young people have been given skill training and many of them are now gainfully employed.

I was happy to hear that Modi’s “Make in India” programme was doing well, though my own impressions were not in sync with the boastful claims made at the conference. Let me confess, this may be because I am an incorrigible critic of all governments and I do not swallow the claims made by any government except with a pinch of salt. I would rather keep my ear to the ground.

The one-day conference concluded with the valedictory address delivered by Union Minister for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Anantkumar Hegde. He was introduced to the audience by Raj Chengappa, editorial director of the  India Today  group. He described the MP from Uttara Kannada, represented earlier by Margaret Alva, as a dynamic young leader who was a “sixth-term” MP. His attire was that of a banker or a bureaucrat. He wore a colourful shirt with a matching jacket.

Since he was from Karnataka, I expected him to speak in English, the language in which Chengappa, also from the state, introduced the minister. Instead, he spoke in Hindi with fewer words of Urdu than Sanskrit. I understand Hindi better when it is Sanskritised and divorced from Urdu. 

He claimed that he preferred to speak in Hindi, rather than in English, little knowing that Hindi was also developed by  the British officials and Christian missionaries as a replacement for Persian, the official court language.

When I heard him with great attention, what I realised was that he was totally rooted in Hindutva. No, he did not speak about Ayodhya, Article 370 and the need for a common civil code. It is a different matter that he had once threatened to convert a Sufi shrine in Chikmagalur, represented once by Indira Gandhi, into an Ayodhya and opined that terrorism would not be eliminated as long as a particular religion was not eliminated. 

What he spoke was about the past glory of the nation. He said Indians were the most skilful persons in the world. He blamed the foreigners for all the ills of the nation.

The Moghuls stopped being the rulers nearly 300 years ago and the British 70 years ago. During these 70 years countries like China, Japan, Germany and South Korea have become world leaders, despite the havocs like cultural revolutions and wars that they had to face. Does any Chinese today blame the Mongols for wasting Chinese resources to build the Great Wall? The wall was built to insulate China from Mongolian invasion.

Similarly, does any Japanese or German blame the Americans or the Allied forces for reducing their countries to pulp during the Second World War? Will any Japanese minister claim that the Japanese are the most skilful people who can run the world? No, their ministers do not have to make such claims because they have proved that they can overcome adversities and reach the top.

In the year 2000, the American magazine  Time  published a list of 100 inventions which changed the world during the second millennium. Not one was by an Indian. There is a saying that pride goes before a fall. Excessive pride in one’s own abilities is a sure sign of disaster. While the person sitting next to me was clapping exuberantly every time the minister mentioned about the glories of India, I wished he had told us how we should adopt the best practices in the rest of the world to develop India.

What was clear in his talk was his worldview. He is of the same age as Yogi Adityanath and both are steeped in Hindutva. While one wears the robes of a Swami, the other wears the Western attire of an executive. It is wrong to believe that they are loners in the BJP. No, they are not and they speak with a purpose. Yogi Adityanath was notorious for his speeches. I heard some of his speeches on YouTube which were out and out communal and inflammatory in character. Yet, when the BJP got a huge majority in the UP Vidhan Sabha elections, it was Yogi who was chosen as the CM, though he did not contest the election.

They speak with a purpose. They are testing the waters. I was not surprised by what Hegde said while addressing a gathering of the Brahmin Yuva Parishad in Karnataka. He said he could understand a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or a Shudra or a Brahmin or a Kshatriya but not a secular person. He even questioned the parentage of the secular person.

When I visited Pakistan a decade ago, what I learnt from the ordinary people there was that they could not understand the phenomenon of secularism. They equated secularism with atheism. They said they could understand a party like the BJP which was a Hindu party or the Muslim League which was a Muslim party but they could not understand a party like the Congress which claimed to be secular. 

For the ordinary Pakistani, you are a temple-going Hindu or a church-going Christian or a mosque-going Muslim. He can’t accept someone who is secular and would like to meet a human being, rather than a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian.

When I read about Hegde’s speech, I remembered the Pakistanis whose worldview was not any different. Hegde also said that the BJP had come to power to change the Constitution and not to follow it. He said the word “secularism” would be removed from the preamble of the Constitution. Should he be blamed for saying this? 

The BJP is nothing but the political wing of the RSS. The RSS has never accepted the Indian Constitution. It stoutly opposed the selection of the tricolour as the national flag.  It wanted the saffron flag as the national flag. It also opposed Rabindranath Tagore’s Janagana Mana as the national anthem. The back issues of the  Panchjanya  and the  Organiser , the mouthpieces of the RSS, have innumerable articles espousing the RSS viewpoint on all the three — the Constitution, the national flag and the national anthem.

Incidentally, the RSS did not have a constitution till Home Minister Sardar Patel forced it to produce one to enable him to lift the ban imposed on the organisation following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. The RSS hastily drafted a haphazard constitution for itself to comply with the government regulation. It does not hold elections in a democratic way. Before the RSS chief abdicates or is unable to hold the post for reasons of health, he nominates his successor. That is the kind of constitution the RSS has.

What the RSS believes in is  Manusmriti  (Laws of Manu), a Hindu law book that is a monument to Brahmin superiority and prescribes sub-human status to women, the so-called “lower castes” and “untouchables”. I recently heard an RSS leader say that the Indian Constitution is not rooted in Indian ethos as it is a cut and paste of various constitutions in the world. In fact, this is what many in the BJP say.

Hegde reportedly referred to the Constitution as Ambedkarsmriti. True, Ambedkar once burnt Manusmriti because it symbolised to him all the injustices that prevailed in the Indian society that kept a large section of the people at bay. What the likes of Hegde cannot appreciate is Ambedkar’s contributions to the making of the Indian Constitution. 

It is not for no reason that Arun Shourie wrote a book to denigrate Ambedkar and titled it “Worshipping False Gods”. The father of the Indian Constitution is portrayed as a self-centred, unpatriotic, power-hungry anti-national, stooge of the British. The truth is that while the RSS can get away with denigrating Jawaharlal Nehru, it cannot speak in the same vein against Ambedkar. Why? This is because more and more people have begun to realise that Ambedkar was a great leader who understood India better than many of his contemporaries. He knew the Indian scriptures better than any other political leader India produced.

There may not be many roads and buildings named after Ambedkar but there are more statues of him in India than all the statures of other leaders like Gandhi and Nehru put together. Why is that so? 

It is because Ambedkar lives in the hearts of millions of people. Hegde is right when he said that secularism was not in the preamble of the Constitution till it was incorporated in it during the Emergency. In fact, that is one good thing that happened during Indira Gandhi’s hateful rule following the imposition of the Emergency which was mainly to save her chair. By the way, the then RSS chief wrote several letters of apology to Indira Gandhi during the same Emergency.

What is noteworthy is that the Janata Party, which came to power in 1977 trouncing Indira Gandhi’s Congress, undid everything that she did during the Emergency. But it did not deem it necessary to amend the Constitution and remove the word “secularism” from its preamble. When the BJP came to power in 2000, it appointed a nine-member national commission to review the working of the Constitution. It  was headed by Justice MN Venkatachaliah, former Chief Justice of India.

Far from suggesting removal of the word secularism from the preamble, the commission reiterated the point that secularism formed part of the basic structure of the Constitution. During the debate on the Constitution in the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar had made it clear that the Constitution was totally secular. It mentions “liberty, of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship”. The Supreme Court had mentioned that the basic structure of the Constitution could not be altered.

True, the likes of Hegde want India to become a theocratic state like Pakistan is and Nepal was. I saw the video of a public meeting where Yogi Adityanath was present. The speaker explained what Hindu Rashtra meant. He said the Muslims would not even have voting rights. He went on saying many unprintable things without being contradicted by the person who now rules the state.

In the case of Hege and the Yogi, they assumed office only after taking an oath that “I do swear in the name of God/solemnly affirm that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established”. Ordinarily, Hegde should have been sacked from the ministry for speaking against the Constitution. Everybody expected Modi to step in and ask him to apologise.

Finally, he made a concocted apology only after the Lok Sabha Speaker gently persuaded him to do so when she found that it was difficult for her to conduct the business of the House with the Opposition agitated over Hegde’s statement. But Hegde knows full well that his views on the Constitution is the same as that of those who sit in the Hedgewar Bhavan at Nagpur.

He shares the belief with his RSS bosses that India’s Constitution is not Indian. That raises the question, how much Indian is India’s constitution? The great jurists NA Palkhiwala and Justice HR Khanna had shown that our constitutional values are those human values evolved in India through her crowded history of 5000 years.

My friend and expert on the Constitution M.P. Raju has in a recent book titled  India’s Constitution: Roots, Values and Wrongs  (Media House, Delhi-91) traced the Constitutional values to the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, to name just a few to argue that the Constitutional values are intrinsically Indian. I wish Hegde and the like had found time to read Raju’s book to change their opinion that the Indian Constitution was a  mishmash of many constitutions.

(Published on 01th January 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 01)