By Anmol Singh Hundal | OPINION |
The Constitution of India is one of the least read documents in India (and all over the world). Yet, somewhat paradoxically, this is the document that Indians “know” most about, or so they claim. This is also the document that is so revered in India that observers might even mistake it for a religious scripture. The latter point is not a paradox at all.
In general, the respect an individual has for a religious scripture is inversely proportional to his knowledge of its content; because the content is too sordid to be respected. As American freethinkers often say, the greatest atheist maker is the Bible itself.
My point is that as a religious (or a quasi-religious) document, the Constitution of India is no different. It is respected by many precisely because they have never read it. These people have an imagined concept of the Constitution that is near-perfect if not perfect and provides citizens with their democratic rights and gives an answer to all moral and political dilemmas. This “Imaginary Constitution” informs the debates, discussions and daily lives of these people. The way they explain the ugly reality of state violence and repression in India is by saying that the Constitution is not being properly followed by the Government of India. However, comforting these lies might be, they are not as valuable as truth in bringing meaningful sustainable positive change.
The above is a famous clip of the Indian politician Shashi Tharoor claiming that the Indian Constitution is under threat from BJP. According to him, the BJP seeks to rewrite the Indian Constitution to realize its aim of turning the “secular” India into a Fascist Hindu nation. He correctly points out that a party needs two-thirds majority in both houses of the Parliament to carry out an Amendment. He predicts that the aforementioned condition would be satisfied if BJP wins the Lok Sabha 2019 elections, which it now has. So, will there be a rewrite of the Indian Constitution in the coming months?
Before we answer that, we first need to ask some prep questions? What is a Hindu nation? What is it that the State requires to create that Hindu nation? Unlike what the Left claims, BJP does not seek to physically eliminate religious minorities like Sikhs and Muslims and make India an exclusive domain of Hindus. All that BJP wants is for religious minorities to accept their story. Their story is that all inhabitants of the Indian Subcontinent were originally Hindus.
Islam arrived as a result of invasions by barbarians and other “Indic” religions like Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism are nothing but a mere outgrowth of the grand-daddy Hinduism. Muslims can continue to live as Muslims, but they need to acknowledge that their ancestors were Hindus and were forced to convert. Sikhs, Jains etc. need to give up their independent identity and become integrated into the Hindu society. So, the goal is not physical elimination but a gradual amalgamation of minorities into the majority.
Now what does BJP need to achieve this? There are only two things: the power to interfere in religious issues, and a coercive apparatus to violently shut down dissenters? And both of these things are already provided to the State by the Indian Constitution. There are no real limits to State power; citizens are not protected from arbitrary arrest (the exceptions in Article 22) and there is no separation of church and State (the exceptions in Article 25). For a detailed discussion, you can read my book: The Constitution of India Simplified.
In light of these facts, why would the BJP want to rewrite the Constitution? The current Constitution already satisfies BJP’s needs. It is a Constitution that is thoroughly illiberal but is considered by many to be a perfect document. And it’s a Constitution that the Untouchables of India believe was written by their leader, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. And it’s a Constitution that because of its complex language, is hard to read for a common person. As it stands, this Constitution is perfect for the job. BJP leadership would be stupid to rewrite such a Constitution.
So, how did the famed politician Shashi Tharoor get it wrong and who am I to question him? The answer is that he most likely (just like most Indians) never read it, and I did. Unlike many, he did see it, because at some point he must have taken an oath; he might even have flipped through a copy, but I can almost guarantee that he never read it. He just heard about it from others or read about it in his school textbook.
I would like to conclude by reproducing a comment made by Sardar Hukam Singh, who was a member of the India’s Constituent Assembly, in his final speech in the Assembly.
the Sikhs feel utterly disappointed and frustrated. They feel that they have been discriminated against. Let it not be misunderstood that the Sikh community has agreed to this Constitution. I wish to record an emphatic protest here. My community can not subscribe its assent to this historic document…In our Constitution, each article tends to sap the local autonomy and make the provinces irresponsible… To sum up, our Constitution does not give anything substantial or concrete to the individual. It only gives solemn promises and pious platitudes. The Fundamental Rights are worthless as they have so many restrictions and are left at the mercy of the legislature… The minorities and particularly the Sikhs have been ignored and completely neglected. The Provincial units have been reduced to Municipal Boards… This shall consequently facilitate the development of administration into a fascist State for which there is enough provision in our Constitution.
(Sardar Hukam Singh, Constituent Assembly Debates Vol XI, 21 November 1949)
Sardar Hukam Singh saw right through the Constitution and anticipated the development of a Fascist State, and this project has been in progress since 1949.
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
Sound bites: Come home little children (Asia Samachar, 26 May 2019)