India’s freedom movement was an all inclusive movement for a nation state based on values of equality along with values like Liberty, Fraternity and Justice. The struggle was a joint venture by all the people of India, irrespective of their religion, caste and gender. It was founded on the premise that religion is a moral value and it’s no obstacle to people coming together as Indian nation. The goal of this movement was secular democratic India.
In contrast to the freedom movement, those upholding narrow, sectarian nationalism in the name of religion conceptualized nation in the name of religion, Hindu and Muslim. These people had their roots in the feudal, landlord classes to begin with and later some middle class elements also joined in. These nationalisms in the name of religion believed in ‘Two Nation theory’. (1) Indian Constitution based itself on the principles of Indian freedom movement and through several of its clause, kept the secular values at the root of the laws and provisions in our society. While word secular was not part of the Preamble, secularism was inherent all through in the provisions of our constitution.
While state strove to be secular, the society was in the grip of religiosity (2). Many social scientists criticized the state for not being secular enough. In keeping with the modern and international norms it did provide for the affirmative action for religious minorities. It did permit minorities to preserve their culture through the institutions which they would control, like educational institutions set up by them.
Soon enough the state faced the problem as Nehru-Ambedkar duo worked on the issue of reforms in the laws associated with religions and they thought, since Hindu community is the largest, a reform within the community will set the norm for other communities to follow. This is what led to the drafting of Hindu Code Bill by Ambedkar. It gave better rights towards equality to Hindu women in matters relating to inheritance of property, marriage, divorce and custody of children after divorce. (3) This brought in severe reaction from the conservative Hindu society, RSS and even elements within the Congress opposed it, leading to dilution of the Hindu Code Bill. This led to the resignation by Ambedkar from the Cabinet post. Later the issue of social reform, laws pertaining to rights of Muslim and Christian women remained in the limbo as the very foundation of secularism started being attacked by the movements related to identity issue.
Independent India: Challenges to Secularism
Somanth temple issue was another thorn in the journey of secular values. While Nehru directly opposed the building of temple by the state, Gandhi said that Hindu society is capable of building the temple on its own. Some Ministers in the central cabinet, did get associated with the trust to build Somnath temple, while the then President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad accepted to inaugurate the temple. (4) He did this against the advice of his government, led by Nehru, who held that state functionaries should not be associated with religious matters.
Meanwhile the incipient communal ideology in the society, surfaced in the Jabalpur communal violence (1961), and this set the trend for the divisive violence dominating the scene in different states. In this light, the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru formed the National Integration Council, which has been operating most of the times except when the BJP led NDA has been in power. It did play some role in maintaining the unity, despite various hiccups. (5)
Decade of 1980s saw the rise of communal politics. Two major incidents took place. One was the Shah Bano case in which the government went on to reverse the ruling of the Supreme Court by bringing in ‘Muslim Women Protection Bill’. (6) It negated the Supreme Court judgment that the Muslim women divorcee should get the maintenance. Following this BJP-RSS made the massive propaganda saying that this is appeasement of minorities. This heated up the social atmosphere in which the emotive Ram Temple could be made a political plank. Both these, Shah Bano and Ram Temple issues, undermined the secular values to no end. (7)
Around this time the communal violence started worsening in intensity, and social polarization, leading to strengthening of communalism went up. Attack on secular values started around this time and the minimalist affirmative action for minorities started being looked down upon. As such it was not the appeasement of Muslims as such; it was appeasement of a section of fundamentalist leadership from among the Muslim community. (8) At the same time communal forces started calling the ruling Congress party as pseudo secular on the charges of its attitude towards Muslim minorities. Adding on to anti Muslim violence, anti Christian violence was orchestrated and burning of Pastor Stains and Kandhamal carnage came as horrific attack on security of minorities. (9)
As communal temperature was gradually becoming more intense from 1960s; during the dreaded emergency; the Indira Gandhi Government added the word, Secular in the Preamble. This came for heavy criticism from the communal forces. While Emergency was condemnable, the addition of the word secular was much needed as the situation in the country was being given a communal tilt. With BJP, the political arm of RSS making strides through emotive issues, the secular; this worldly issues took a back seat. Raising issues like Holy Cow, Ram Temple, Love Jihad, ghar Wapasi, abolition of article 370 in Kashmir have been the major tools to undermine the secularism in the society.
With BJP coming to rule in so many states and now having a majority in the center, it has become strident in its criticism of secularism, in asserting that this is a Hindu nation, that secularism is a Western concept, that Indian constitution founded on secularism is a western construct not compatible with Indian ethos. Their whole idea is that in Europe State and Church had an alliance, India did not have such an alliance is misplaced. The difference between Europe and India is that in Europe clergy was well organized and the alliance between Church and King was obvious. Here in India since Hindu clergy is fragmented it is not so visible, but the landlord clergy alliance was present here also.
Then there is an argument that our Dharma is different from the religion of the west. Dharma again is religiously ordained duty built around the caste system. That caste is unique to Hinduism is beyond doubt and so this confusion. As such the aspect of religion which matters in relation to secularism is clergy, which is in alliance with the landlords, and that’s what determines the nature of society. In India the other major difference is that in Europe, the Industrial society with democratic potential came in struggle against feudal society. In India the industrial society came up in struggle against the colonial powers, which were soft towards landlords. This is the root of which gave rise to the structural opposition to secular values in our society.
BJP-RSS: Hindu Nationalism
RSS parent organization of BJP-VHP-ABVP etc., right from beginning called for Hindu Rashtra, based on the Holy Scriptures. It is precisely these scriptures which were criticized by Ambedkar who was struggling for equality, who along with leaders of national movement called for secular democratic values and put them admirably in our Constitution as the Chairman of drafting committee. With the rise of RSS-BJP at electoral and social level, their constant opposition and attack on secular values and secular policies is on the rise.
The previous NDA Government had appointed Venkatchalliah Commission to review the Constitution. In the face of heavy opposition from large sections of society, the Commission report had to be dropped. Narendra Modi, in the wake of 2014 elections said “I am a Hindu and I was born in a Hindu family, so I am a Hindu nationalist.” (10) Modi sarkar on the eve of Republic Day (2015) issued an advertisement with the preamble of Indian constitution, in which the word Secular was missing. The argument was that it is the facsimile of the Constitution formed in 1950. That was just a pretext to show their motives of moving towards Hindu Rashtra.
BJP and Indian Constitution
BJP, which believes in Hindu nationalism, faces the dilemma about Indian Constitution. Necessarily it has to pay its obeisance to Indian Constitution for electoral purpose to be sure. It has to seek votes of all sections of society including dalits and other marginalized sections of society for whom this Constitution is a liberator. At present, BJP’s electoral strength is not adequate for changing the Constitution, so it cannot talk openly about the same. In addition Constitution has also emotive values for large sections of dalits, who regard it as a greatest contribution of Babsaheb Ambedkar in the direction of social change. In this light to statement of Anantkumar Hegde, the Union Minster, that BJP is in power to change the Constitution may not have matched with the overall strategy of BJP, which is to get 2/3 majority first before talking on this. Mr. Hegde, while speaking in the meeting of Brahman Yuva Parishat said “I will be happy if someone identifies as Muslim, Christian, Brahmin, Lingayat or Hindu. But trouble will arise if they say they are secular.” (11) And also that BJP is there to change the Constitution. Later when criticized in the Lok Sabha for his statement, he tried to circumvent his statement by saying that “if someone was hurt by his remarks about changing the Constitution and about secularism, he had no hesitation in tendering his apology.”
Surely BJP’s intentions have to be understood and his apology is purely strategic. BJP as a party has to work within the confines of Constitution as it has to swear by it legally. Still many of BJP leaders keep spilling the beans on their relation to secularism. In November 2017 Yogi Adityanath stated ‘that word secularism is biggest lie in India.’
The BJP will not reveal its deeper agenda so easily at present. Still it can be understood that BJP is not comfortable with the present Constitution and laws be it the one’s related to Article 370 (Kashmir), Article 25 (freedom of religion), article 30 (about minorities setting up educational institutions). As BJP is a part of RSS combine, one has to look at what RSS ideologues say, what its associates like VHP and others say on the issue. These organizations have times and again articulated their opposition to Indian Constitution and their goal of making the one based on Holy Indian scriptures. As such the whole attempt of Hindu nationalist political formations is to try to pave the way for Hindu nationalism by using the democratic secular space which the present Constitution gives.
RSS ideologue Golwalkar in his writings like ‘Bunch Of Thoughts’ argues that territorial nationalism, which is the basis of Indian Constitution, is a barbarism, since according to him 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’. (12)
When the Constituent Assembly of India passed the Constitution of India on November 26, 1949, RSS was not happy. Its organ, Organiser in an editorial on November 30, 1949, complained: “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 Sparta 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 constitutional pundits that means nothing.” (13)
Manusmriti or Indian Constitution
VD Savarkar has been the major ideologue from whom most of the Hindu nationalists draw their inspiration. He argued: “Manusmriti is that scripture which is most worship-able after Vedas for our Hindu Nation and which from ancient times has become the basis of our culture-customs, thought and practice. This book for centuries has codified the spiritual and divine march of our nation. Even today the rules which are followed by crores of Hindus in their lives and practice are based on Manusmriti. Today Manusmriti is Hindu Law.” (14)
Deendayal Upadhayay has been another major ideologue of RSS combine. He was part of Bharatiya Janasangh, previous avatar of BJP. He says that 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.
Like previous ideologues Upadhyay also felt that the Constitution should embody a Hindu political philosophy befitting an ancient nation like Bharat, that of reducing the Indian national idea to a territory and the people on it was fallacious. According to him the nationalist movement, from the Khilafat agitation onwards, has turned 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. (15)
He was all through critical of Indian Constitution, as he argued his case for Hindu nation. His ideology seems to be one of the major inspirations for present leadership of BJP. BJP’s discomfort with articles 25, 30 and 370 etc. is mainly as these articles aim at affirmative action in a plural diverse society. These draw from the basic notion of Equality inherent in Indian constitution. Most of the ideologues, the source of BJP ideology uphold Manusmririti, no wonder this was the precise book which architect of Indian Constitution, Babasaheb Ambedkar consigned to the flames!
Need to Preserve Indian
The present times are very critical as secular values are being flaunted openly. The rising communal violence against Muslims and Christians, the violence against dalits on emotive issues like Holy cow are in direct contravention to what Indian Constitution stands for. While a great Hindu like Gandhi stood for pluralism, and secularism, today Hindu nationalist RSS-BJP are posing a threat to our heritage of freedom movement, our diversity in the field of religion. There is an urgent need to counter these political-ideological threats to Indian Nationalism and its secular values.