Essay

Ambedkar’s warning

Print edition : July 21, 2017

B.R. Ambedkar being sworn in as independent India's first Law Minister as Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru looks on. Photo: T. Singaravelou

Proponents of Hindu supremacy knew that democracy could be used to establish a Hindu Raj. They and their followers have sought to use the vote for ends of power using the Hindutva card.

“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,” wrote B.R. Ambedkar in Pakistan or the Partition of India (1946, pages 354-355). He was against majoritarianism, which in the Indian context meant unbridled rule of the majority community, the Hindus.

Ambedkar wrote in a Memorandum on the Rights of States and Minorities, dated March 24, 1947, which he submitted to the Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights set up by the Constituent Assembly’s Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Minorities, etc.: “Unfortunately for the minorities in India, Indian nationalism has developed a new doctrine which may be called the Divine Right of the Majority to rule the minorities according to the wishes of the majority. Any claim for the sharing of power by the minority is called communalism, while the monopolising of the whole power by the majority is called nationalism. Guided by such political philosophy the majority is not prepared to allow the minorities to share political power, nor is it willing to respect any convention made in that behalf as is evident from their repudiation of the obligation (to include representatives of the minorities in the Cabinet) contained in the Instrument of Instructions issued to the Governors in the Government of India Act of 1935. Under these circumstances there is no way left but to have the rights of the Scheduled Castes embodied in the Constitution.” (B. Shiva Rao, Select Documents, volume 2, page 113).

He was not wrong. One of the finest minds of the Socialist movement, Prem Bhasin, wrote: “The ease with which a large number of Congressmen and women—small, big and bigger still—have walked into the RSS-BJP [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party] boat and sailed with it is not a matter of surprise. For, there has always been a certain affinity between the two. A large and influential section in the Congress sincerely believed even during the freedom struggle that the interests of Hindu Indians could not be sacrificed at the altar of a united independent India. Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and Lala Lajpat Rai had, for instance, actually broken away from the Congress and founded the Nationalist Party which contested elections against the Congress in the mid-twenties. In later years, in the forties, even Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was sometimes accused of being soft on the Hindu Revanchists, who believe in and practised tit-for-tat in that turbulent and fateful period.”

Events have proved the validity of Prem Bhasin’s assessment in an article entitled “The Congress-BJP Duo” in the Janata (Annual Number 1998). The weekly was founded by Jayaprakash Narayan and has been edited by his devoted follower, Dr. G.G. Parikh. The writer was one of a kind and so is the editor, who renders selfless service to an institution for rural uplift. Prem Babu lived in Aligarh and was general secretary of the Praja Socialist Party. A man of modest means, he would carefully peruse all the national dailies, in English and Hindi, besides magazines at a public library. He was, in this writer’s opinion, far and away the most insightful and honest commentator on the political scene.

Birla’s letter

Small wonder that one of the leading industrialists, B.M. Birla, wrote to Vallabhbhai Patel on June 5, 1947: “I am so glad to see from the Viceroy’s announcement of the Partition of India that things have turned out according to your desire. It is no doubt a very good thing for the Hindus and we will now be free from the communal canker.

“The partitioned area, of course, would be a Muslim state. Is it not time that we should consider Hindustan as a Hindu state with Hinduism as the state religion? We have also to strengthen the country so that it may be able to face any future aggression.” Patel’s retort was swift. He replied on June 10, 1947: “I also feel happy that the announcement of 3 June at least settles things one way or the other. There is no further uncertainty.… I do not think it will be possible to consider Hindustan as a Hindu state with Hinduism as the state religion. We must not forget that there are other minorities whose protection is our primary responsibility. The state must exist for all, irrespective of caste or creed.” If a Hindu state was excluded, what other state had Patel in mind but a secular one? (Durga Das edited, Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, volume 4, page 56).

Ambedkar was perceptive. It is not necessary to declare India a Hindu state formally by amending the Constitution and making Hinduism the state religion. The same result can be achieved by administrative measures. The Supreme Court has held secularism to be part of the basic structure of the Constitution which cannot be discarded even by constitutional amendment ( S.R. Bommai vs Union of India(1994, 3 SCC 1)).

Ambedkar thought that the elaborate constitutional provisions on administration would work. He told the Constituent Assembly on November 4, 1948, when he moved for the adoption of the Draft Constitution: “While everybody recognises the necessity of the diffusion of constitutional morality for the peaceful working of a democratic Constitution, there are two things interconnected with it which are not, unfortunately, generally recognised. One is that the form of administration has a close connection with the form of the Constitution. The form of the administration must be appropriate to and in the same sense as the form of the Constitution. The other is that it is perfectly possible to pervert the Constitution, without changing its form, by merely changing the form of the administration and to make it inconsistent and opposed to the spirit of the Constitution. It follows that it is only where people are saturated with constitutional morality such as the one described by Grote the historian that one can take the risk of omitting from the Constitution details of administration and leaving it for the Legislature to prescribe them. The question is, can we presume such a diffusion of constitutional morality? Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realise that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic” ( Constituent Assembly Debates, volume 7, page 38).

The leaders of the Congress sought to inculcate secularism right from the first Congress held at Bombay in 1885. S. Srinivasa Aiyangar, president of the 41st Congress in 1926, articulated the credo of secularism very ably (see the writer’s article “Roots of Indian Secularism”, Frontline, August 8, 2014). So did Vallabhbhai Patel in the presidential address to the 45th Congress at Karachi in 1931. Hindu-Muslim “unity can only come when the majority takes courage in both hands and is prepared to change places with the minority. That would be the highest wisdom.”

Revivalist hate

But by then, forces that did not share the Congress’ ideology, did not participate in the freedom movement and were charged with revivalist hate had come to the fore.

Lala Lajpat Rai noted their growth in the ninth of a series of 13 articles that he wrote for The Tribune in 1924. “In their own way, Hindu revivalists have left nothing undone to create a strictly exclusive and aggressive communal feeling. Early in the eighties of the last century, some of the Hindu religious leaders came to the conclusion that Hinduism was doomed unless it adopted the aggressive features of militant Islam and militant Christianity. The Arya Samaj is a kind of militant Hinduism. But the idea was by no means confined to the Arya Samaj. Swami Vivekananda and his gifted disciple Sister Nivedita, among others, were of the same mind. The articles which she wrote on aggressive Hinduism are the clearest evidence of that mentality.

“It must be remembered in this connection that Western knowledge, Western thought, and Western mentality took hold of the Hindu mind at a very early period of British rule. The Brahmo Samaj was the first product of it. In the early sixties the Brahmo Samaj was a non-Hindu body, and under its influence Hindu scholars, thinkers and students were becoming cosmopolitans. Some became Christians; others took to atheism and became completely westernised. Thus, a wave of indifferentism about Hinduism spread over the country. The Arya Samaj movement, and aggressive Hinduism, was a reaction against that un-Hinduism and indifferentism. Most of the early Hindu leaders of the Indian National Congress were in this sense non-Hindus. What did Mr. S.N. Banerjea or Lal Mohan Ghosh or Ananda Mohan Bose care for Hinduism? Even Mahadev Govind Ranade was but an indifferent Hindu. G.K. Gokhale was not a Hindu at all.” Intellectual integrity here went hand in hand with communal bias. In 1899 Lajpat Rai asserted that “Hindus are a nation in themselves”. On December 14, 1924, he advocated in The Tribune partition of India and partition of Punjab.

Revivalism and nationalism

Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s novel Ananda Math, in which occurs the song Vande Mataram, is intensely religious. The novel was anti-Muslim and pro-British. J.N. Farquhar recorded that from 1895 to 1913, “a frightful portent flamed up in India, anarchism and murder inspired by religion… that in all the best minds the new feeling and the fresh thought are fired by religion, either a furious devotion to some divinity of hate and blood, or a self-consecration to God and India…” He went further to connect this “anarchism” with the work of Dayananda Saraswati, Vivekananda and others: “It is as clear as noonday that the religious aspect of anarchism was merely an extension of that revival of Hinduism which is the work of Dayananda, Ramkrishna, Vivekananda and the Theosophists.”

Another scholar opined: “One may not wholly agree with such views, yet there is some element of truth in them. That truth is that Hindu revivalism had a powerful influence upon the ‘revolutionaries’ of India. Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s Ananda Math had a very powerful impact upon the revolutionaries of the day. His depiction of future Mother India was singularly religious; Future Mother India was Durga, the goddess with resplendent face, wearing all sorts of weapons of force in her hands, and in the left hand seizing the hair of the Asura, her enemy, and in the right hand assuring all not to be afraid. The revolutionaries who moved incognito as ‘Sanyasins’ were like the characters in Ananda Math. Durga, the goddess and the mother, became one with the country, the greater goddess and the mother. His Bande Mataram became the hymn for the revolutionaries.

“Hindu revivalism has influenced the development of Indian nationalism both positively and negatively. We reach a stage here when it must be pointed out that the positive contribution of revivalism to Indian nationalism becomes feeble and the negative role of revivalism becomes more prominent.

“With the growth of the Mahasabha and RSS ideologies, a new current of nationalism—the Hindu Nationalism—grew powerful in the country. Hindu nationalism, instead of supplementing the forces of Indian nationalism, tried even to supplant it. The opposition of Indian nationalism by ‘Hindu Rashtravad’ was detrimental to the steady growth of the former. Hindu revivalism reached its high water mark under the aegis of the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh.” (B.R. Purohit, Hindu Revivalism and Indian Nationalism, Madhupriya, Bhopal, 1990, pages 171-173; a neglected work of rich insights.)

Majority rule for Hindu Raj

The leaders of these dark forces knew how to instal Hindu Raj—using the majority to establish it. In 1942 Shyama Prasad Mookerjee made a bid for power by a deal with the British in order to instal Hindu Raj. His innermost thoughts, bared to the pages of his Diary, expose the parivar’s motivations and also illustrate the central problem of all plural societies: “As seventy-five per cent of the populations were Hindus, and if India was to adopt a democratic form of government, the Hindus would automatically play a major role in it” (page 106). He and his political heirs sought to utilise the vote for the ends of power using the Hindutva card.

L.K. Advani said in Ayodhya on November 19, 1990: “Henceforth only those who fight for Hindu interests would rule India.” On October 2, 1990, he complained that “secular policy is putting unreasonable restrictions on Hindu aspirations”. And what is one to make of this gem from his successor, Murli Manohar Joshi? “Hindu Rashtra need not be a formal structure. It is the basic culture of this country. I say that all Indian Muslims are Mohammadiya Hindus; all Indian Christians are Christi Hindus. They are Hindus who have adopted Christianity and Islam as their religion.”

If a Hindu Rashtra was propounded during British rule, after Independence began the drive for a Hindu state for that Hindu Rashtra. The RSS boss M.S. Golwalkar’s reply to the question “Do you opt for a Hindu state?” is revealing: “The word Hindu state is unnecessarily misinterpreted as a theocratic one which would wipe out all other sects. Our present state is in a way a Hindu state. When the vast majority of people are Hindus, the state is democratically Hindu. It is also a secular state and all those who are now non-Hindus have also equal rights to live here. The state does not exclude anyone who lives here from occupying any position of honour in the state. It is unnecessary to call ours a Hindu state or a secular state.” A Hindu state can be called by any name, once the administration is run by Hindutvaites.

Hostile state discrimination

The classic on hostile discrimination by the state is a case decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1886 ( Yick Wo vs Hopkins 118 US. 356). Yick Wo, an emigrant from China, ran a laundry in San Francisco. A city ordinance required laundry owners to obtain a licence if the building was constructed of wood. Of the 320 laundries in the city, 240 were owned by persons of Chinese origin. Three hundred and ten were constructed of wood as, indeed, were nine-tenths of the houses in San Francisco. Yet, all applications for a licence by Chinese laundrymen were refused. Applications by all others, bar one, were granted. About 150 Chinese laundrymen were arrested for violating the ordinance.

The Supreme Court of California rejected Yick Wo’s petition for habeas corpus. An appeal to the Federal Circuit Court was also unsuccessful. The petitioner took his case to the Supreme Court and made legal history. The court spoke of “an administration directed so exclusively against a particular class of persons as to warrant and require the conclusion that whatever may have been the intent of the ordinances as adopted they are applied by the public authorities charged with their administration, and thus representing the state itself, with a mind so unequal and oppressive as to amount to a practical denial by the state of that equal protection of the laws which is secured to the petitioners, as to all other persons, by the broad and benign provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

‘An evil eye and an unequal hand’

The Supreme Court then uttered these ringing words: “Though the law itself be fair on its face and impartial in appearance, yet, if it is applied and administered by a public authority with an evil eye and unequal hand, so as practically to make unjust and illegal discriminations between persons in similar circumstances, material to their rights, the denial of equal justice is still within the prohibition of the Constitution.” This is the test—“an evil eye and an unequal hand”. (To Golwalkar, Savarkar and Co., the land belongs only to Hindus. Muslims and Christians came as immigrants if not as invaders. The ones who live today are converts awaiting purification by the RSS.)

Apply this to the Modi government at the Centre and the BJP-ruled States and you will appreciate why and how they work the way they do. With an RSS pracharak, Narendra Modi, known for his antipathy towards Muslims, as Prime Minister, and Yogi Adityanath chosen by him as Chief Minister of India’s largest State, Uttar Pradesh, we have crossed the threshold to a Hindu state. The BJP’s presidential candidate, Ram Nath Kovind, is “deeply rooted in the ideological stream of the RSS,” an RSS man certified in the Organiser of July 2, 2016. A brand new rubber stamp has been manufactured for the Rashtrapati Bhavan, 25 years after the last rubber stamp, R. Venkataraman.

What The New York Times wrote in an editorial on February 27, 2017, on Donald Trump’s silence on the killing of an Indian engineer in Kansas applies to Modi’s wilful and sustained silence on acts of violence against Muslims. The editorial’s title “Who Belongs in Trump’s America?” is applicable to Modi’s vision, too. It said: “If Trump does nothing, he will enable the perpetrators of hate crimes and he will damage the vitality and strength of the country.” The editorial slammed Trump for being “shockingly slow” to condemn acts of hate perpetrated across the country following his election, saying his “denunciations of and policies” targeting Mexicans, Muslims, and others have “reawakened and energised the demons of bigotry”. Modi’s remarks on June 28 deprecating the lynchings of Muslims were feeble and belated, instead of an early and stern condemnation that should have come from the Prime Minister.

Professor Donald Eugene Smith exposed the double talk in his classic India As a Secular State (1963). He noted: “Golwalkar also demonstrated great dexterity in dealing with the concept of the secular state. ‘To a Hindu, the state is and has always been a secular fact. It was only a departure from the Hindu way of life that brought about, for the first time, a non-secular theocratic concept of state under Ashoka….

“Nehru once remarked that Hindu communalism was the Indian version of fascism, and, in the case of the RSS, it is not difficult to perceive certain similarities. The leader principle, the stress on militarism, the doctrine of racial-cultural superiority, ultra-nationalism infused with religious idealism, the use of symbols of past greatness, the emphasis on national solidarity, the exclusion of religious or ethnic minorities from the nation-concept—all of these features of the RSS are highly reminiscent of fascist movements in Europe.”

Attack on Christians

The regime of the day spawns a clime which fosters hate and crime. The late Archbishop of Delhi, Alan de Lastic, wrote to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in May 2000, drawing his attention to the atmosphere of hate and violence. The All-India Christian Council laid the blame for the spurt in attacks on Christians squarely where it belonged—the Government of India. Its president, Dr Joseph D’Souza, said on June 16 in Chennai: “We are intrigued by the response of the Central and State governments who refuse to see the pattern of the violence.” The Bajrang Dal’s Gauleiter (Sah-Sahayojak) for the Braj region, Dharmendra Sharma, declared that Christians were now “bigger enemies” than Muslims.

We now have a Prime Minister whose Hindutva puts Vajpayee’s Hindutva in the shade. Lynchings of Muslims has become common. So are cries for a Hindu state. On June 18, 2017, a convention of 150 Hindu outfits met in Goa to urge that India and Nepal be converted into “Hindu Rashtras”. On June 7, Yogi Adityanath said on the Hindu Swaraj Diwas that no Indian should be hesitant about being proud of his or her Hindu identity ( Hindustan Times, June 8).

The drive will pick up speed. Modi made blatantly communal speeches during the Uttar Pradesh election campaign, as 65 former civil servants recalled in their open letter. He will do worse for the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. He aims to claim that he has fulfilled the BJP’s triple demand. His Kashmir adventure had “solved” the problem. For a uniform civil code, the first steps are being taken. No other Prime Minister has so relentlessly campaigned for a reform of Muslim law. It is a pity that the Chief Justice of India Justice J.S. Khehar rushed post haste to unprecedentedly set up a Bench during the vacation to hear the matter. As far as the Ram temple at Ayodhya is concerned, he will say: “have patience, I have crossed the threshold to a Hindu state in India. Can’t you see the dread on the faces of Muslims, Christians, Dalits and other minorities?”

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