Does Constitution or Selective Interpretation of Civilization Bind India?

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Image: Constitution preamble. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Viewpoint by Dr Ram Puniyani    2 July 2022

This article is the 21st in a series of joint productions of South Asian Outlook and IDN-InDepthNews, the flagship of the International Press Syndicate. The writer is a former professor of biomedical engineering and former senior medical officer affiliated with the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (now Mumbai) and meanwhile a social activist and commentator.

NEW DELHI (IDN) — A couple of years ago article 370 was abrogated, and our Supreme Court is yet to give its verdict on whether this move conforms to our Constitution.

The recent incidents of Hate speech of the likes of Nupur Sharma were not taken action against till the Gulf courtiers reacted very strongly to the insult to Prophet Mohammad. Currently, bulldozers are ruling the roost, selectively demolishing the houses of Muslims on various charges. Does it conform to the values of our Constitution?

The putting of the values of the Constitution in a deep freeze and deliberate acts of omission and commission cannot be understood without going to the depth of the political tendency which is ruling the country. Narendra Modi in 2014 declared that he is a Hindu nationalist. The parent organization of the ruling party, RSS, has the agenda of Hindu Rashtra. How do we understand the current phenomenon in this light? So far as we wanted to articulate Indian Nationalism the alternative outlined by the current dominant political force talked of Cultural nationalism.

Now many of the ideologues of this politics, many of the top officials of the present regime are telling us the deeper explanation of the present incidents. The talk of ‘Civilization Nation’, a nation guided by civilization and not by law is in the air. Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) vice-chancellor Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit on May 21, 2022, stated that India was a “civilization state” and should not be reduced to a civic nation bound by the Constitution. As per her, “Reducing India to a civic nation bound by a Constitution disregards its history, ancient heritage, culture and civilization. I would place India as a civilization state”.

How do we define civilization? The clear-cut articulation of these worthies is that Hinduism is the core civilization of India. They are blaming the Left historians for distorting the interpretation of history by giving importance to Islam and particularly Muslims, more particularly Mughals. They are very pained that Hindu kings like those of the Chola dynasty are underrepresented in our national discourse, while the alien Mughals are given large space in our historical accounts. Also, the nature of Hindu kings, and their winning over other territories through trade, commerce and culture are not highlighted enough.

The narrative of Hindu kings versus Muslim kings forgets the basic issue that kings were the autocratic rulers, and kings’ (kings of all religions) armies resorted to loot and plunder. In the case of Cholas, they plundered and brought thousands of salves from Sri Lanka. Could it have been through peaceful means or appealing to the locals to become slaves? Well, that’s what these ideologues want us to believe. There was a Buddhist king, Ashoka who did maximum welfare work, there was Akbar who believed in Suhle-Kul (harmony between different religions) and there was Pushyamitra Shung who destroyed many Buddha Vihars. Can we pick only the Hindu kings are a representative of Indian Civilization?

India as such has been a land of great interaction between different cultures and religions. Just to give one central example, the Sufis from Islam and Bhakti Saints from Hinduism both emphasized on love as the core part of religion and had following among people of different religions.

In contrast to the ‘Civilization nation’ theorists the leaders of the freedom movement saw the Indian history as inclusive and adopting to each other. Gandhi emphasized: “The Hindus flourished under Moslem sovereigns and Moslems under the Hindu… With the English advent quarrels recommenced… Should we not remember that many Hindus and Mohammedans own the same ancestors and the same blood runs through their veins?”

His disciple Nehru in his book ‘Discovery of India’ tells us that these diverse cultures, religions interacted and celebrated the diversity. About India, he writes, “She was like some ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously…” And “Though outwardly there was diversity and infinite variety among our people, everywhere there was that tremendous impress of oneness, which had held all of us together for ages past, whatever political fate or misfortune befell us. The unity of India was no longer merely an intellectual conception for me: it was an emotional experience that overpowered me.”

These were the ideological foundation of India as a nation in the making. These were the values of groups which represented emerging modern India. Those who kept aloof from the process of the freedom movement talked of ancient Hindu glories and presented Muslims and Christians as outsiders. ‘India as a nation in the making was the theme of emerging modern India this was well presented in Surendranath Bannerjee’s book “India Nation in the making’.

In contrast, those who were not part of the anti-British struggle had roots in the ideologies of the landlord-clergy combine. They articulated Nationalism in the name of religion, called it cultural nationalism and based it on Brahmanical Hinduism. Its ideologue Golwalkar says, “Instead, we must acknowledge that a nation is “not a mere bundle of political and economic rights”—it entails culture as well. And in India, this culture is “ancient and sublime” Hinduism, full of love and “free from any spirit of reaction”. Ambedkar correctly points out that Brahmanism is the dominant stream, which passes off as Hinduism.

Prior to him, Savarkar had laid the foundation of Hindutva defining it as not just a religion but total Hindu-ness. This totality as per him is based on the Aryan race, the land from the Sindhu River to the seas and Culture. By culture what is meant is a Brahminical culture, though most of the time word Hindu is used instead of the more apt Brahmanical Hinduism for that.

So while culture-civilization has many aspects, from Charvak to Buddha to Kabir to Sufis to Rahim and Raskhan, for those who articulated “Cultural Nationalism” and are now using ‘Civilization nation’ not bound by Constitution’, the practical reality is close to what they had been envisaged and so we see the present apathy towards following the norms of Indian Constitution. [IDN-InDepthNews — 26 June 2022]

Image: Constitution preamble. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

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