The Indian constitution is best regarded as the social contract for a new India. It is the only document that has reached intense debates, arguments and negotiations between all political currents within the Constituent Assembly – from members like KM Munshi, who clearly occupied the Hindu nationalist end of the spectrum, to the Muslim League, which occupied the other. Indeed, the position represented by Munshi was quite powerful in the Assembly. Therefore, the final document that was adopted was something that almost all political currents were committed to respecting.
It should be noted that the dominant nationalist struggle was only a of the many currents within the freedom struggle, where many other sections were fighting their own liberation battles – often against their native / local oppressors. There has been the struggle of the Dalits for liberation from the yoke of caste oppression, the struggles of the Adivasi for assertiveness and countless struggles of peasants and workers for a better deal – and they have often come together. run parallel to each other, sometimes overlapping, often clashing with the dominant nationalist movement.
They met for the first time in the Constituent Assembly, which, in this sense, represented a break in the logic of the struggle for freedom. The only policy training (as opposed to ideology) who was not represented in the Assembly was the one who had carefully kept away from all these currents within the struggle for freedom, one who is associated with the current political regime and who mounted continuous attacks on the constitution from the very moment of its adoption.
One line of attack against the formation of this formation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which continues to this day, is that it is based on Western and foreign ideas and has nothing to do with “our” traditions. Leaders and pracharaks of the RSS have therefore always supported the Manusmriti as “our” code of aboriginal law.
This accusation must be answered on three levels. First, in the world of ideas there have never been any borders and just look at, for example, the history of the spread of Buddhism from India to East and South Asia. East. Or take Christianity that traveled from Asia to the rest of the world, becoming a practically European religion. Islam too, spread across the continents. For ages, human beings have adopted ideas suited to their needs, no matter where they come from. It is something that the Rigveda also recognizes when he says, ‘Aa no bhadrah kratvo yantu vishvatah‘(how noble thoughts come to me from all directions). The tradition certainly had a very different view of things from that of its current supporters and defenders.
Second, what are the “foreign” ideas that arouse the ire of critics of the constitution? From the periodic diatribes against it, we can isolate three ideas perceived as dangerous and “Western”: the right to equality, the dignity and primacy of the individual as a legal person, and freedom of expression and critical.
How alien are these ideas? Some of these ideas are in fact present in our tradition, albeit in embryonic form, especially in Buddhism. After all, the fact that Buddhism does not recognize caste differences and allows women in the viharas, indicates a vision very different from that which supports the Manusmriti and the varnashrama dharma. Buddha’s call to “be your own light” (appa deepo bhava) is a call to each individual to be their own light and stresses the importance of freeing themselves from the tutelage of others and using their own reason.
This is what attracted BR Ambedkar to Buddhism and it gives us, in a way, a connection between it and the constitution, of which he chaired the editorial board. However, for anyone who has read VD Savarkar or MS Golwalkar and is familiar with the discourse of the Hindu Right, it is not great news that Buddhism too has been vilified and attacked for precisely these reasons.
Third, we therefore believe that the problem is not with the allegedly foreign origin of these ideas, but with the ideas themselves. We must then ask ourselves: who is afraid of these ideas? Why do the ideas of equality, reason and freedom scare some people? The answer lies in the simple fact that these ideas rock the boat for the powerful and the dominant – the ruling castes and classes. There is no way to strengthen or liberate the oppressed without, at the same time, restricting the power of the dominant; there is no way to make people equal without breaking down the special privileges of the powerful.
That is why Golwalkar tries to explain in his Band of Thoughts that “equality” only works at the level of Brahman – the Supreme – and not at the level of jiva / atma or the particular forms of life where “diversity” (that is to say varna inequality in Golwalkar), is the rule. Here is Golwalkar himself:
“Equality applies only on the plane of the Supreme Spirit. But on the physical plane the same Spirit manifests in a wonderful variety of diversities. and the disparities. ‘ (Band of Thoughts, 1966; emphasis added)
It is also important to recognize that the constitution, by focusing on the individual as a unit, also pursues the established modern principle that the corporation is only responsible for what it does. Just as you cannot be punished for the crimes of someone related to you, neither can you be punished for crimes committed on behalf of a community by certain people in the community. This principle, along with the constitutional vision that would lay the foundations for a modern India, also set the country on a new course, setting aside its long history of conflict. It was therefore a forward-looking document that fundamentally sought to close the chapter on violent conflicts and the insistence of some to continue fighting in the present, the ghosts of a past five hundred years old. .
The continued attacks on the constitution and its subversion by the current regime which publicly defends a majority Hindu rashtra, and whose government has been characterized by systematic violence against religious minorities, Dalits, Adivasis and women, should tell us about the potential of this document to push this country in the opposite direction.
Aditya Nigam is professor of political science at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies.