No one should be surprised at Union minister of state Anantkumar Hegde’s remark on Sunday that “the BJP had come to power to change the Constitution” and that it would “do so in the near future”.
Hegde, a blunt-speaking politician who has a long record of preferring valour to discretion, has let the proverbial cat out of the bag in which it had been uncomfortably concealed. The Hindutvavadis’ critique of the Constitution is a fundamental one: their idea of its flaws lies in their core belief in the idea of a Hindu Rashtra, as opposed to the civic nationalism enshrined in the Constitution of India.
The RSS sarsangchalak and ideologue M.S. Golwalkar articulated this critique almost as soon as the Constitution was adopted. India’s independence from colonial rule in 1947, Golwalkar argued, did not constitute real freedom because the new leaders held on to the ‘perverted concept of nationalism’ that located all who lived on India’s territory as equal constituents of the nation. ’The concept of territorial nationalism,’ he wrote, ‘has verily emasculated our nation and what more can we expect of a body deprived of its vital energy? …And so it is that we see today the germs of corruption, disintegration and dissipation eating into the vitals of our nation for having given up the natural living nationalism in the pursuit of an unnatural, unscientific and lifeless hybrid concept of territorial nationalism.’
Golwalkar’s Bunch Of Thoughts argues that territorial nationalism is a barbarism, since a nation is ‘not a mere bundle of political and economic rights’ but an embodiment of national culture —in India, ‘ancient and sublime’ Hinduism. It sneers at democracy, which Golwalkar sees as alien to Hindu culture, and lavishes praise on the Code of Manu, whom Golwalkar salutes as ‘the first, the greatest, and the wisest lawgiver of mankind’.
Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, undoubtedly the principal ideologue of the Hindutva movement who is honoured and exalted daily by the BJP government today, identified the fundamental flaw: India had written a Constitution imitative of the West, divorced from any real connection to our mode of life and from authentically Indian ideas about the relationship between the individual and society.
Upadhyaya felt the Constitution should embody a Hindu political philosophy befitting an ancient nation like Bharat, that reducing the Indian national idea to a territory and the people on it was fallacious. It was this sort of thinking, he argued sternly, that had led the nationalist movement, from the Khilafat agitation onwards, to turn towards a policy of appeasement of the Muslim community, a policy in turn sought to be justified by the need to forge a united front against the British. The RSS’s founder leader, Dr. K.B. Hedgewar (whose Marathi biography Upadhyaya translated) had pointed to the ‘ideological confusion’ this approach created. Muslim communalism, in his and Upadhyaya’s view, had become more prominent and aggressive, while Congress leaders bent over backwards more and more to accommodate them.
In building his case for a Hindu Rashtra, Upadhyaya specifically disavowed the existing Constitution of India. As Upadhyaya put it in Rashtra Jeevan Ki Disha: ‘We became free in 1947. The English quit India. We felt what was considered to be the greatest obstacle in the path of our effort of nation building was removed and were all of a sudden faced with the problem as to what the significance of this hard-earned independence was.’
Indian leaders tried to resolve this problem in the drafting of a Constitution. But in Upadhyaya’s view, their failure to conceive properly of the nation led them into error. ‘We aped the foreigners to such an extent that we failed to see that our inherent national ideals and traditions should be reflected in our Constitution. We satisfied ourselves with making a patchwork of theories and principles enunciated by foreign countries…. The result was that our national culture and traditions were never reflected in these ideologies borrowed from elsewhere and so they utterly failed to touch the chords of our national being.’
Having rejected its premise, Upadhyaya was scathing about the Constitution’s drafting and adoption: a nation, he argued, ‘is not like a club which can be started or dissolved. A nation is not created by some crores of people passing a resolution and defining a common code of behaviour binding on all its members. A certain mass of people emerges with an inherent motivation. It is,” he added with a Hindu analogy, “like the soul adopting the medium of the body.’
Upadhyaya asks three questions: were the people who framed the Constitution endowed with qualities of selflessness, an intense desire for public service and a deep knowledge of the rules of Dharma as the rishis were? Or did they formulate this Smriti of a free India under the influence of the unsteady circumstances prevailing at the time? Did these people possess originality of thought or did they have a tendency to primarily imitate others?
Upadhyaya’s implicit answers to these questions were in the negative: the constitution-makers were not figures imbued with selflessness and dharma, they were overly under the thrall of the turbulent politics of that era, and their minds had been colonised by Western ideas. The founding fathers of the Republic of India were largely Anglophile Indians schooled in Western systems of thought; their work revealed no Indianness, no Bharatiyata.
The Constitution, therefore, was to him a flawed document, one incapable of guiding India towards the path of Raj Dharma. In fact, it condemned Hindus to slavery: ‘Self-rule and independence are considered to be synonyms. A deeper thinking will bring home to us the fact that even in a free country, the nation can remain in slavery.’ The Hindu nation had been enslaved by inappropriate Westernisation.
The Constitution’s core conception of the nation, in his view, was fundamentally not Indian at all: ‘in the constitution, as it is now, it is the sentiments of the English that have found better expression than those of the Indians,’ observed Upadhyaya. ‘Thus, our constitution, like an English child born in India, has become Anglo-Indian in character, instead of purely Indian.’
The absence of the Hindu Rashtra idea in the Constitution was unacceptable for him. This makes all the more curious the enthusiastic zeal with which his devotees today, from Prime Minister Modi on down, swear by it and celebrate every milestone in its adoption. If Upadhyaya had not been cremated, he would be rolling over in his grave.
Anantkumar Hegde has at least ended the hypocrisy and showed us the Hindutvavadis’ real intent. This can now permit an honest debate about the Constitution and its true value to pluralist India. He should be thanked.
This article was originally posted in The Print.