By D. Raja
With the country inching closer to polls in five states followed by the parliamentary elections, the situation remains quite dire and critical. The sinister design of the powers to be to transform the country socially and politically in the mode of theocratic order of the Hindu Rashtra is already underway. Religious majoritarianism, curtailing press freedom, decimating the public sector to give leeway to private corporate interests, increased violence against historically marginalized communities, and heightened misogyny are just some of the phenomena in the long list of symptoms of a crumbling democracy. The prevailing reality looming large before all of us is the strangling of the ethos of justice, equality, and democracy, the cornerstone in the imagination of the new nation-state, India.
Drawing from the experiences and lessons of the anti-imperialist struggle, the nation-state was drawn up as a modern Sovereign Secular Socialist Democratic Republic. The preamble which is the keystone of the Constitution states this in the most unambiguous manner. Each of these words signify the lessons we have learn tin our great struggle against colonialism and how those lessons were to become the foundations for a plural, federal and egalitarian India. These lessons were multifaceted but intertwined in such a way that removing one could debase the foundations of the very essence of the nation that was arrived upon through long deliberations. Today, when the constitutional setup is under unprecedented strain and the idea of India threatened, it is imperative to look back at the vision and take inspiration from it to save the country from the autocratic clutches it is in and also change India.
The polity today faces a grave crisis spearheaded by the Sangh Parivar, who persists with its sectarian tradition, remain contemptuous and dismissive of the Constitution. Absolute lack of accountability and transparency is the flavour of governance, impunity to generate and sustain violence and hate is fast becoming the normative value. The freedom movement was never a linear or homogenous one. While the uprooting of foreign rule was central, the question of imperialism as a system of oppression, landlordism and the feudal mode of production, caste hierarchy were all placed in the larger discourse by varied actors at various moments.
It is this diversity that culminated in the making of the modern republic with the firm understanding that nation building is a dynamic process that must be constructively continued while keeping with principles of equality, justice, and liberty at the Centre. The RSS and Hindu Mahasabha stand woefully in denial of this rich history. They in fact have actively sought and occupied the wrong side of history. And it continues to do so.
It is essential that we understand what is to be protected from this all around attack. When our freedom struggle was coming to an end and the British departure was made imminent by the Quit India movement and the Communist Party backed RIN naval rebellion, a very narrow and specific group started demanding that India be declared a Hindu Rashtra. This demand also reached the Constituent Assembly and was met with emphatic rejection by none other than Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar who declared, “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.”
Instead of opting for a theocratic, hierarchical state, Constitution makers placed great premium on equal citizenship of all based on democratic-secular principles. The proponents of divisions among people were defeated and India embarked on a journey where citizens from all backgrounds worked hand-in-hand towards peace and progress. Such was the commitment of our freedom fighters including Bhagat Singh, Ashfaqulla Khan, Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Aruna Asaf Ali, Subhas Bose, Abdul Gaffar Khan, Gandhi, towards secularism that even the horrors of partition could not shake their faith in the essential unity of Indians. This perspective of unity and harmony is being erased by giving de factostate religion status to one religion while openly discriminating others.
The second and linked part of this is Ambedkar’s strong advocacy of a welfare state and state-led socialism. Ambedkar understood these measures as not only economically uplifting for a country with dire poverty, but also with far-reaching consequences for the class and caste structure of the country. He argued for a state that should actively take initiatives to demolish structural inequalities and divides. Inequality of any kind is a precursor to unrest and Ambedkar understood that if the country is to embark on a democratic journey, inequalities of class, caste, gender, and region have to be bridged. To that end, Ambedkar saw welfare state as essential and focused on details such as labour rights, nutrition, minimum wages, drinking water, and maternity benefits as constituents of a harmonious society.
These thoughts also found place in Directive Principles of State Policy but are incomplete peril today. The retracting social sector of the country is producing great insecurity among people, especially the youth, and acting as a catalyst for lumpenization of society falling in the trap of rightwing extremism. The Right ideologues are already making their efforts to rewrite our history and redefine our nationhood.
The RSS emphasis on divisions is aimed to keep the society strife-ridden. Receding social sector and unqualified support to corporates are part and parcel of this agenda. Third is Constitution makers’ very strong inclination towards the elimination of social structural hierarchies manifesting themselves through disabling structures of caste and gender. Dr Ambedkar’s life-long struggle towards annihilation of caste is well-known and documented along with his famous saying on gender justice that “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.” Both these views found expression in the Constitution along with enabling provisions of affirmative action by the state for discriminated groups. Today, the RSS-BJP is using these structures to lure the so-called lower and intermediary castes into the Hindutva fold without altering with the inherently oppressive nature of caste segregation which Ambedkar wanted to annihilate in totality.
BJP-RSS retain their Brahminism and allegiance to Manusmriti while putting people from the lower stratum against minorities. This is profoundly anti social justice politics. A lesser discussed part of this issue is the role of public sector in upholding social justice and equality of opportunity. Introduction of the public sector was a route to achieve social justice, economic justice and emancipation. What is being lost today amid sharpening identities is that the Modi government is defeating social justice by selling the public sector to their corporate friends. Affirmative action will mean little without public sector and stable employment.
It needs reminding here that secularism and social justice in India were built on the bedrock of a strong welfare state. By diluting the welfare component, RSS-BJP is moving towards a theocratic and Brahminical state, openly calling for the replacement of the present Constitution. The fight to save the character of our Republic should have to focus on this often neglected but singularly important variable as well.
To sum up, the fight ahead to save India as we know and love, has to be a multi-faced struggle against forces of communalism, casteism and cronyism altogether. The legacy of our freedom movement compels us in that direction of a holistic struggle as we did against the British when we confronted them not only politically but by also rejecting their divisions of communities and enforced deprivations. This battle will not only unite people by removing hatred from their minds but it will also bring the deprived together against assaults on their rights. Alongwith secularism and social justice, the battle against hunger, unemployment, cronyism, inequalities and destitution will defeat the RSS-BJP. We all have to be conscious of the interlinked and inclusive social, political and economic vision of our freedom struggle. That is the best remedy for the ills RSS-BJP is spreading in our society socially, politically and economically. (IPA Service)