When the country was celebrating its 77th Independence Day, a leading ideologue of the ruling establishment wrote an opinion piece in a well- known newspaper and called for replacing the existing Constitution with a new one. Bibek Debroy, Chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM), wrote in Mint: “A few amendments won’t do. We should go back to the drawing board and start from first principles, asking what these words in the Preamble mean now: socialist, secular, democratic, justice, liberty and equality. We the People have to give ourselves a new Constitution”.
Debroy’s call for scrapping the existing Constitution reflects the deep-seated historic discomfort of the Hindutva forces with Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Constitution. And Debroy’s statement is in no way his personal opinion. The opposition parties rightly came out to oppose it. Among the first leaders to comment was Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh, who said that Debroy’s article “sounded the bugle for junking the Constitution – of which Dr. Ambedkar was a prime architect”. Jayant Chaudhary, Rashtriya Lok Dal president, too, criticised Debroy’s views: “I don’t think the chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister is entitled to express any “personal views”. Swami Prasad Maurya, the national general secretary of the Samajwadi Party, strongly sought action against those who demanded a new Constitution and supported the idea of a Hindu nation as it amounted to indulging in anti-national acts.
However, the sharpest critique of Debroy’s call was made by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president Mayawati. “Bibek Debroy acted beyond his brief, which the central government must take immediate cognizance of and take action so that no one dares talk this way again”, said Mayawati. In her statement, Mayawati rightly said that the call for scrapping the Constitution was “anti-people” and “pro-capitalist” acts, which reflect a “casteist” outlook. In her words: “The Constitution is a guarantee of humanity and egalitarianism for poor, backward and neglected people. Only selfish, narrow-minded and casteist elements dispute such an outlook and seek to turn it into an anti-people and pro-capitalist document. Opposing such an idea is everyone’s responsibility”.
The BJP Government was quick to realise that Debroy’s view had politically backfired. Since the elections are at hand in several states and the united opposition parties are exposing the Narendra Modi Government’s failure to give relief to the people, the BJP Government, therefore, was quick to distance itself from Debroy’s remarks. In a damage-control exercise, the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister stated that the call of having a new Constitution was the “personal” view of Debroy and “in no way do they reflect the views of EAC- PM or the Government of India”.
Bibek Debroy is one of the key ideologues of the Modi Government. He is a big supporter of market fundamentalism and reactionary and conservative Hindu nationalism. He, therefore, is a big opponent of vibrant public sectors, welfare and pro-poor policies. Caste-based reservation, other affirmative actions and minority rights are also anathema to him. This is how he fits into the RSS agenda.
It is true that the RSS sometimes speaks in favour of Swadeshi and spiritualism and opposes materialism and capitalism. But the larger reality is that it has been at the forefront of serving the interests of landlords, big merchants and corporate players.
The reason why the RSS and the BJP have risen to prominence in Indian politics within a short period is the strong backing they receive from dominant (even regressive) forces. Hindutva ideology– which aims to establish majoritarianism and subordination of the workers, peasants, the lower castes, minorities and women – is often camouflaged as nationalism. In his article, Bibek Debroy also tried indirectly to strike a chord with nationalism by arguing that the Constitution had inherited a “colonial legacy”. As he put it, “Our current Constitution is largely based on the Government of India Act of 1935. In that sense, it is also a colonial legacy”.
It has been a favourite strategy of the RSS/BJP leaders to call anything that does not suit them, “colonial”.
From the Constitution to ideals such as secularism, gender rights and socialism is opposed by employing the charge of being non-Indic. But the RSS is not ready to accept the bigger reality that the foundation of its organisation and its core ideology of majoritarianism and cultural nationalism are what, in actuality, are completely foreign in origin. Several eminent political scientists have drawn parallels between the ideologies of German nationalism and the RSS worldview.
Since the Constitution is based on democratic ideals and its salient features are equality, liberty, fraternity, social justice, gender equality, the welfare state, secularism, pluralism, minority rights, federalism etc., the RSS has often found them impendent in their agenda to establish the complete hegemony of the privileged few. Remember that the large social base of the RSS and Modi is those who are strongly opposed to the rights of marginalized groups and minorities and welfare economics. But the electoral compulsion has restrained them not to come out openly to express their counter-revolutionary agendas. The anti-Constitutional statement of Debroy is a litmus test of the public mood.
History bears witness to the fact that the RSS has often tried to delegitimize the Constitution. When the Constitution was drafted, the Organiser, RSS mouthpiece, turned into a rejectionist mode. Instead of celebrating the democratic and secular Indian Constitution, it began to heap praises on Manusmriti. Remember that Manusmriti, the social code, was burnt by Ambedkar on 25 Dec 1927 at Mahad for promoting inequality. According to Babasaheb, Smriti literature, including Manusmriti, gave legitimacy to the counter-revolution. Moreover, it replaced birth with worth as the criterion for assigning social roles. Soon, it facilitated the downfall of Shudra. Eventually, it resulted in the servitude of Shudra and pushed women to fall into a state of ignominy.
In other words, Ambedkar argued that the servitude of marginalised groups including women was legitimized by Manusmriti. Since the days of Mahad, no other political groups other than the Hindutva forces have defended it. For example, the editorial of the Organiser (November 30, 1949), shamelessly wrote that “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”.
Note the dubious politics of RSS: while it claims to be “the champion” of Babasaheb Ambedkar, its leaders keep praising Manusmriti which Ambedkar opposed all through his life. M.S. Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalak of RSS and one of its key ideologues, went on to praise Manusmriti. In his book Bunch of Thoughts (1966), Golwalkar believed that “Bhagwan Manu and the greatest lawgiver of mankind”. Manusmriti is also known as the Laws of Manu.
Continuing the attack on the Constitution, the VHP, an affiliate of the RSS, passed a resolution in his Dharm Sansad and called the Constitution as anti-Hindu. It, therefore, demanded that the Indian Constitution should be replaced with the one based on Hindu religious texts.
Worse still, a group of people, who are believed to be anti-reservation, burnt a copy of the Constitution close to Parliament in August 2018. The upper caste lobby, the core of the RSS social base, is also anti-reservationist but because of the electoral calculation, it does not openly speak against it. However, the current RSS Sarsanghchalak has called for a review of the reservation, which aims at giving its core supporters a hint that the RSS is serious about their concerns.
For Ambedkar, reservation (read affirmative action) ensures the representation of marginalised groups in public institutions without which the upper caste policy-makers would serve their own caste interests. Contrary to it, reservation, for the Hindutva forces, is a negative policy that was “imposed” on the country by the secular Congress government. The Hindutva forces would like to end reservation because it facilitates the entry of marginalized groups into policy-making which has been so far the fiefdom of a few privileged castes.
Much before Debroy, the former Jana Sangh President Deendayal Upadhyay (1916- 1968), in his booklet Rashtra Chintan, raised questions about the Constitution and identified lacunas in it. He said that the Constitution was framed after copying the Government of India Act 1935, a similar argument repeated by Debroy. Moreover, Upadhyay argued that it was based on Western knowledge; it was a bizarre combination of the presidential system of the USA and the parliamentary system of the UK; the lack of feeling of Indian- ness (Bhartiyata) in the Constitution. He also criticised the provision in the Constitution regarding the name of the country and national language.
In 2000, RSS Chief K. S. Sudarshan also raised a question mark over the Constitution.: “We do not accept the concept of minorities at all”. He also added that minorities should accept the “culture” of the majority. Earlier on August 14, 2000, Sudarshan—speaking to journalist Karan Thapar on BBC’s Hard Talk India said that “We do not accept the concept of minorities at all.” Sudarshan further said that the Constitution of India did not reflect the ethos of the people and we should evolve our constitution. As he put it, “The Constitution does not reflect the ethos of the people” and “we should evolve our own Constitution”. When the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government came to power, it called for a review of the Constitution.
Given this, we need to keep vigil against counter-revolutionary attempts.
An earlier version of the article was published in News Trail.
(Dr Abhay Kumar is an independent journalist. He has also taught political science at NCWEB Centres of Delhi University.)