A vision betrayed

Print edition : December 25, 2015

Sitaram Yechury speaking in the Rajya Sabha on November 27. A TV grab. Photo: PTI

Dr Rajendra Prasad, President of the Constituent Assembly, signs the new Constitution of the Indian Republic as passed by the Constituent Assembly. Photo: THE HINDU Archives

Ambedkar with other members of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly, among them (seated from left) N. Madhava Rao, Saiyid Muhammad Saadulla, Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar and the constitutional adviser B.N. Rau. Photo: The Hindu Archives

The Winter Session of Parliament began with a two-day special sitting to celebrate November 26 as the Constitution Foundation Day and pay tribute to Dr B.R. Ambedkar on the occasion of his 125th birth anniversary. It was on November 26, 1949, that the Constituent Assembly adopted the Constitution, which came into effect on January 26, 1950. Here, we reproduce the edited excerpts of the transcript of a speech made by SITARAM YECHURY, Leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in the Rajya Sabha on November 27 in which he expounds the constitutional vision of Ambedkar and its relevance and importance today.

SIR, thank you for giving me this opportunity.

Sir, even before this session was announced, our party had demanded that Dr Ambedkar’s 125th birthday should merit a special session so that some new laws which we think are important can be implemented. Sharad Yadav ji explained in great detail the conditions today. I don’t want to repeat [them], but the attacks on Dalits should be looked at. This government’s statistics itself on Dalits since 2014, ever since this government came to power, show that atrocities against them have gone up by 19 per cent. In 2015, we have seen how, in places like Faridabad and Ahmednagar, atrocities have been committed against Dalits.

The question here is that we need to strengthen laws, introduce new ones and we had therefore proposed 10 new laws. Given the changes that have taken place in the economy, we had wanted reservations in the private sector and in education. At least there should be a debate on that and a law passed. We had wanted Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes sub-plan to get statutory status, and we wanted reservation extended to professional and higher education institutions. We wanted the National Mission for Eradication of Untouchability. Sharad ji has already explained what the situation of safai karamcharis is in Parliament itself. So we need a new law to fix all this.

So, what we wanted was enactment of all the laws, on the basis of which we can carry forward the vision of social justice that Dr Ambedkar stood for.

Now, instead, we have a situation where the government has come forward saying that we reaffirm our faith in the Constitution. Where is the question of reaffirming? You are here, I am here, and all of us are here on an oath on this Constitution. What is this drama of reaffirming? If the Constitution was not there, then, you wouldn’t be here. The government of the day must know, the Leader of the House—he is not here now—should know that they are there only because we affirm our faith in this Constitution. Where is this question of now saying “We will reaffirm”? And what is this Constitution Day, Sir?

Go through history. On November 26, 1949, this Constitution was signed by the President of the Constituent Assembly. It was voted upon and the draft was adopted and in the draft you have said explicitly “that on the 26th of January India shall be a Republic in 1950 when this draft will turn into a Constitution and we shall enact”. Can this government answer? I want our esteemed lawyer, the Leader of the House [Arun Jaitley], to tell us what law governed India from November 26, 1949, to January 26, 1950? Was it this Constitution? The law that governed India during those two months after you adopted this Constitution was India Independence Act, 1947, moved by the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee in the House of Commons in London. What is this Constitution then? You were under the British law for these two months. You adopted and enacted this Constitution on January 26. Now, what is this new thing that you are finding now, 65 years later, on the Constitution Foundation Day? You please explain it to me, Sir. You are sitting in the Chair. Maybe, you have greater knowledge, but please explain to me, when Dr Ambedkar himself says that on January 26, we are enacting this Constitution and we shall be a Republic, what is this November 26? Yes, that day the Constituent Assembly adopted this draft, but that was not the Indian Constitution yet. That was not the law of our land yet. It became the law of the land on January 26, 1950. Lawyers are talking like this, Sir, on the Constitution Foundation Day. You want some day or the other to find yourself so that you can celebrate one more event. The Constituent Assembly met again on January 24 and 25, 1950. The Jana Gana Mana as the National Anthem was adopted on January 24 and on the 24th and 25th, all Members of the Constituent Assembly signed this Constitution and on November 26, only 15 out of the 395 clauses in our Constitution came into operation. Sir, January 26, 1950, was when the entire Constitution came into operation.

So, what is this new item that we have, Sir? ...( Interruptions)... You may call it item song or whatever. It is a new item now in the Indian Constitution. A senior leader of the ruling party has described our Prime Minister, charitable or uncharitable, I don’t know, it is up to their party to decide, an excellent event manager. One event after another: London, and after that Malaysia, after that Asia and after that Constitution Day and from tomorrow it will be Paris. They showed us an old film in my youth, “Paris ke ek rangeen shaam”. That will be the event from tomorrow. What is this event to event to event? What are we observing, Sir? I am sorry, but I think the entire what in Hindi we call garima of this House, of Parliament is being undermined by these sorts of flippant events that are coming in. Yes, for November 26 we have the highest respect for Dr Ambedkar and for everybody else. Does this government today know that the Constituent Assembly began its work on a resolution moved by Shri Jawaharlal Nehru called “Objectives Resolution”? Does this government know that out of the 11 sittings of the Constituent Assembly, six were devoted to the “Objectives Resolution” and not to this draft? A majority of the discussions in the Constituent Assembly was in the objectives put forward by Shri Jawaharlal Nehru. Sir, that is our history. Yes, the victor always scripts history. But, here, the victor is also trying to change past history. Now, this is the history we have inherited. Like the honourable Leader of the House, I was also born after Independence. I think, many of us were born after Independence. And, for all of us, this is inherited history; this is our legacy. You cannot now tamper with that history and tell us a new history! Now, why this Constitution Day? I can only come to the conclusion that this is an attempt to try and worm their way into the national movement when they had no role to play at all. This is the way they want to worm themselves into the national movement and how they want to worm themselves I want to know.

How is this order given? Sir, it is a Gazette Notification saying that “it has been decided to celebrate 26th day of November every year as the Constitution Day”. It is a Gazette Notification. If you want I will place it on the Table of the House. It is a notification in the Indian Gazette, dated November 19. It was issued by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Does the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment decide a national day to be observed every year?

Yes, I have noticed that honourable Minister is coming in here. The Honourable HRD Minister was a good friend of mine before she became a Minister. After that, she does not have time and she has got very onerous responsibilities. But, I just want to know how the Gazette Notification comes on November 19 and the HRD Ministry issues a circular to schools on November 10, saying “observe 26th November as the Constitution Day”. This is a Gazette issued on the 19th. What is happening, Sir? Items in Indian politics. That is the only thing I can say—events. You have event management. You want to worm yourself into the national movement when you had no role [in it]. Here, I wish to put it on record the fact that often we have heard and we will hear also, I am sure, in the course of this discussion, the role of Communists, etc., in the freedom struggle. That is an old charge.

In the name of clarification, he (Shri Naqvi) [Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs] cannot give his own interpretation. Observe Constitution Day. We will and have always been paying respects to Dr B.R. Ambedkar. But do tell me, why did you try and hunt for this new “event”? We have no objections, but I am just giving the context for all this. What we are trying to say is that you did not have a role in the freedom movement. This is a way to worm yourself into it.

Sir, on Syama Prasad Mookherjee, whom you mention. You have raised many questions, which I will answer. Here, you have asked about the past of Communists. I wish to read out two quotes, about your role and that of the Communists.

...( Interruptions)... The British Bombay Home Department, in 1942, during the Quit India Movement observed: “The Sangh has scrupulously kept itself within the law and in particular has refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August 1942.” ...( Interruptions)... This is the record of the British government.

Now, Tarunji [Tarun Vijay] made a charge against the Communists.

Sir, in 1992, there was a special session at midnight in Central Hall, to mark 50 years of the Quit India Movement. In that session, President Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma said this about Communists, which is available on record here. I quote:

“After large-scale strikes in mills in Kanpur, Jamshedpur and Ahmedabad, a despatch from Delhi dated September 5, 1942, to the Secretary of State, in London, reported about the Communist Party of India: ‘the behaviour of many of CPI members proves what has always been clear, namely, that it is composed of anti-British revolutionaries.’”

This is the President of India telling this in the Central Hall of Indian Parliament.

At least now stop the baseless charges.

You have objections when I say “worm into”. Syama Prasad Mookherjee sahib was mentioned; he was a good man, he was in Nehru ji’s Cabinet. But he quit. He was looking to form a political party. Please tell me, is this in the RSS records or not, that then your Sarsanghchalak, Golwalkar, sent four swayamsevaks to Mr. Mookherjee to request him to form a new political party. Who were they? This is your record only, not mine. The four were Deendayal Upadhyaya ji, L.K. Advani ji, Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji and S.S. Bhandari ji. All four were sent to form the new party. This happened as Sardar Patel in his communiqué after banning the RSS after Gandhi ji’s assassination had put some conditions for lifting the ban. One condition being that the RSS shouldn’t participate in politics. So you needed a political “wing”. That wing was the Jan Sangh, whose incarnation today is the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Our Leader of the House here said a lot and read out some parts. He read out Article 44 of the Constitution. It says: “The state shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code.” It was quoted. It was also quoted on the question of organisation of agricultural and animal husbandry. I pointed out then that these are Directive Principles of State Policy, which are not justiciable and enforceable, and these Directive Principles also have other things, Sir, which are not quoted. What do they say? They say: “The state shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people.” What did Babasaheb Ambedkar say? The same thing; that is Article 46. Article 47 says: “The state shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living.” Isn’t it a shame that today the largest number of children malnutritioned are in India? Isn’t it a shame that the majority of the stunted children in the world are from India today? This is the Constitutional Directive, Article 47. What has been done? You only pick and choose what you want to do and that is where suspicion comes as to what your actual motive is. Here, in the section on Fundamental Duties that are supposed to be enforceable—please look at the copy in your hand, Sir—Article 51A says: “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India.” If you read Article 51A (f), it says: “To value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.” Is it the composite culture that we are preserving, Sir? I will come to that again. What does 51A (h) say? It says: “To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.” Sir, we hear that Lord Ganesha was the creation of plastic surgery or that Karna in the Mahabharata was the creation of stent technology and test tube babies. Is that scientific temper? And it comes from no one less than honourable Prime Minister himself. What is happening? What are you implementing? What do you want to implement and what not? You are only reviving hardcore Hindutva agenda. Cow protection, you want to revive. Then the entire question of equality of all citizens to liberty in life. He has quoted Article 30 … and said that these are contradicted by Articles 29 and 30. Article 15 says: “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.” This is Article 15, Fundamental Rights. He says: “Articles 29 and 30 are in contradiction.” Sir, any lawyer would know, any right always comes with what is called reasonable restrictions. There is no right which does not come with reasonable restrictions. The reasonable restrictions through Article 15 have been detailed in Articles of the Constitution 29 and 30, where the rights of the minorities to their religion are given. Minorities here meaning not only religious but also linguistic minorities. So, it is said that “This is a contradiction. Don’t we want to remove it?” What would Dr Ambedkar say today if you were talking about this contradiction, about this Constitution? He would say precisely the same thing, that the duties of a citizen would be the spread of tolerance, and not the spread of any one particular intolerant point of view.

And that is the bone of contention today, Sir. I read in the media honourable Home Minister saying that secularism was a word that was injected into the Constitution, and, therefore, that was the cause of all problems. It has also referred to, I believe, poor old Aamir Khan; our actor is getting lampooned. He said: “Ambedkar did not leave the country. But he stayed here and struggled.” And that is what Aamir Khan also said, Sir. He did not say that he was leaving. I am glad he is staying and struggling, and then you accuse them saying that Left is sponsoring all that. Thank you for putting all those people with us. Our tribe is increasing. That is what you are doing. ...( Interruptions)... But remember, Ambedkar did not leave the country. He was a patriot. But Ambedkar renounced Hinduism and embraced Buddhism. You remember that. You remember that, and why was that? That is where the intolerance issue comes in. Sir, these are matters, again, of history. You cannot erase it, and if you want the question of intolerance, take the same speech Dr Ambedkar made on November 25, which the honourable Leader of the House was quoting. This is the same speech, and what does Dr Ambedkar say? He was saying “history will repeat itself”. “Will we lose our Independence again...”, honourable Leader of the House quoted that. He did not quote the rest of it. What does it say? I am quoting from that speech of Dr Ambedkar. “Will history repeat itself?” That is, will we lose our Independence once again? “Will Indians place the country above their creed or will they place creed above the country, I did not know.”

As the Leader of the House said, if Dr Ambedkar was here today, what would he say? He would not pose this question. He will say, “Indians are being forced to place their creed above the country.” And that is the intolerance that is happening in the country today. Then, what did Dr Ambedkar say? This is the speech, Sir, which was quoted in the morning. “But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our Independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost forever. This eventuality we must all resolutely guard against. We must be determined to defend our Independence with the last drop of our blood.”

Today, when I stand up against this intolerance, I am doing exactly what Dr Ambedkar asked us to do. Anybody who wants to say what Dr Ambedkar said must be done, we will do exactly what Dr Ambedkar asked us to do, that is, raise ourselves against this sort of intolerance. This is the same Ambedkar in the same speech.

Then, we heard the question of social justice. The essential point of Dr Ambedkar has been missed. I have quoted this a number of times in this august House, but I can’t stop myself from quoting this again. Now, I quote it in full. It says: “On 26th of January, 1950”—please note once again, it is the Constitution Day, the Republic Day—“we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics, we will give equality and in social and economic life, we will have inequality. In politics, we will be recognising the principle of ‘one man one vote’, ‘one vote one value’. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structures, continue to deny the principle of ‘one man one value’.” That is the contradiction. Then, he continues to say: “If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest. Or else, those who suffer from this inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy that this Assembly has so laboriously built.” This is Dr Ambedkar in the same speech. What is the situation today? A hundred multi-billionaires in our country, whose asset value is close to one-half of my country’s GDP. And, according to the latest census, 90 per cent of the households in my country, today, have an income of less than Rs.10,000, a month. Is this contradiction being resolved or are you only accentuating it further? Are we discussing issues of how we should reduce the gap in this contradiction? Instead, every foreign trip, we find a new concession to foreign capital. Fifteen areas have been opened up to foreign direct investment. Free trade agreements on our domestic cultivation of commercial crops!

The agrarian distress is growing. Farmers are committing suicide. Your industrial production index, as per this government’s own statistics, this month has shown a drop from about 6 per cent plus to about 3 per cent. Manufacturing has dropped to 2.4 per cent from over 6 per cent. Industrial production is declining. Agrarian distress is deepening. Har Har Mahadev has been replaced by Arhar Mahadev in people’s prayer to Lord Siva, so that they at least get dal to eat. Arhar dal is Rs.200 per kg, more expensive than chicken. It is no longer “ ghar ki murgi dal barabar”, but “ghar ki dal, murgi barabar”. What is the meaning of Constitution Day?

Where are we on the social justice vision of Dr Ambedkar? I have mentioned the atrocities against S.Cs and S.Ts and reservation. On the question of growing inequalities, the condition of our people is deteriorating. What is this contradiction? You see the reality. Are we paying homage to Dr Ambedkar? Is this the way modern India is actually fulfilling the vision of social justice? Forget the political parties. Forget to which party I belong, to which party you belong. As an Indian, when we talk about these things, are we being honest to ourselves? Are we doing justice to Dr Ambedkar and all that generation—Nehru, Gandhi, Abul Kalam Azad, Sardar Patel—that gave us Independence and this Constitution? What had they exhorted all of us to do? Are we doing it?

Come to federalism. What did Dr Ambedkar say on federalism? In a federal structure, on Centre-State relations, what did Dr Ambedkar say? He said that the Centre and the States are coequal in this matter. Sir, I am reading from the same speech. “It is difficult to see how such a Constitution can be called centralism. That is, the basic principle of federalism is that the legislative and executive authority is partitioned between the Centre and the States, not by any law to be made by the Centre but by the Constitution itself.” Is the principle of federalism followed, Sir? You are talking about the misuse of Article 356. That is only one part of it. We, the Kerala government [of the Left], were the first victim of Article 356, way back in 1950s. I don’t know how many of you were there. The second time too, we were the victims in the 1960s; twice, we were the victims in Bengal, in 1967 and 1969. ...( Interruptions)…

What is federalism? Not merely equality, that independent respect of the States, are we granting it today? Then, you talked of the judiciary. Let me tell you, what Dr Ambedkar said about the judiciary is very, very interesting. I am quoting from the same speech: “Courts may modify, they cannot replace”,—please note —“Courts may modify, they cannot replace, they can revise earlier interpretations as new arguments, new points of view are presented. They can shift the dividing line in marginal cases, but there are barriers they cannot pass, definite assignments of power they cannot reallocate. They can give a broadening construction of existing powers, but they cannot assign to one authority powers explicitly granted to another.”

The separation and the complementarity of the executive, the judiciary and the legislature are hallmarks of our Constitution. Now, this is as far as your judiciary is concerned. But what worries me is that you are paying homage to Dr Ambedkar. Remember, Sir, from 1946 to 1950, what was the condition of the world? Millions of people were under colonial subjugation. When these countries became independent, what we did in India was, actually, a revolutionary step then. We granted universal adult suffrage, which none of these countries granted. ...( Interruptions)... Europe did not grant and not even the United States.

President Barack Obama came here. All of us were very excited in the Central Hall, both sides. Everybody was saying, wah wah, President Obama came here, and, then, he wrote in the Golden Book of our Parliament, “Greetings from the world’s oldest democracy to the world’s largest.” This was his message. Yes, this was the message he gave. I had to point it out later that evening at the President’s banquet. I said, “Sir, I think, it is wrong that you are the world’s oldest democracy.” He said, “Why?” I said, “Sir, you got the right to vote, that is, [for] American-Africans, universally in the United States of America in 1962, one year after you were born. The universality of adult franchise in the United States of America came only in 1962; in India, we gave it in 1950.” Whether you are a Dalit or a landlord, whether you are a Muslim or a Hindu, we gave it in 1950. And, today, Sir, what is happening? In Haryana, 86 per cent of the people will be kept out of their right to vote and their right to contest elections because of various conditions. The State government has said that unless you fulfil these conditions, you cannot contest or you cannot vote.

In Rajasthan, you put conditions whereby more than half the people are excluded from universal suffrage. In Gujarat, you have said, “unless you have a toilet, a pucca toilet, in your house, you cannot vote or contest in local elections.” All these three States have got a BJP government. You come here to pay homage to Dr Ambedkar and the one important thing that has been done by the Indian Constitution on universal adult suffrage, you deny it to people in the States which have a State government that is led by the BJP.

The Ruling Benches are empty. I don’t know who will convey, what and to whom when the reply comes on Monday.

The Leader of the House made a very interesting reference to the Third Reich and Germany. Wonderful, Sir. We are happy, and I must pay my gratitude to the Leader of the House for having reminded me of the Third Reich and Germany and the dangers of authoritarianism. Sir, in 1939, when the debate in the country was going on as to what should be the character of Independent India, there was a book, it was not thought that it would be very important but it was a book which had a very, very important implication for Indian politics and India’s future, and that was a book called We, or Our Nationhood Defined by Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar. He is called the RSS guru.

And, since the Leader of the House mentioned the Third Reich, I only want to quote from that book about the Third Reich. Who is “we”? In Hindi “Swaraj”. What does “Sw” mean? Whose Raj is it? Who are we? “We are a Hindu Rashtra,” that is the entire import of that book. At that time, speaking of Germany and Hitler, he said that “only Hindus and Hindus alone are inhabitants of this country”. And, then, what does he say about the Third Reich? I am quoting, “To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races, the Jews.” I will take a break here, Sir, for a moment. You please draw the parallels in India—who are the equivalent of the Jews and who stands for race and culture and its purity? I continue with the quote. “Race pride at its highest has been ...” ...( Interruptions)...

V.P. Singh Badnore: Sir, which book is he referring to?

...( Interruptions)...

Deputy Chairman: From which book are you quoting?

...( Interruptions)...

Anand Sharma: He is quoting from the scriptures of your party.

...( Interruptions)...

Deputy Chairman: You say from which book you are quoting.

...( Interruptions)…

Sitaram Yechury: Sir, my good friend, Mr V.P. Singh Badnore, may not be so much in tune with the RSS as he is a BJP MP. But let me tell him that the name of the book is We, or Our Nationhood Defined. I am quoting from page no. 35. This book was published in 1939 by Bharat Prakashan, republished by Bharat Prakashan, Second Edition, again in 1944. That is the authenticity. That book must be available in the library if it has not been already removed. I mean, they also have this habit of removing all these books. But otherwise, this book should be in the Parliament library. Otherwise, I will help you. I will give you a copy.

Now, it is in this book, on page 35. I repeat that quote; it says: “To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by purging the country of the Semitic races, the Jews. Reich pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for races and cultures having differences going to the root to be assimilated into one united whole. A good lesson for us….” Please understand this.

… This is exactly what this Hindu Rashtra is all about, Sir. That is why, if you want to pay homage and our shraddhanjali to Dr Ambedkar, please remember what he said in the speech finally. I would like to quote to you what he said about creed: “Without equality, you cannot have liberty. Without fraternity, you cannot have equality and liberty. Without equality and fraternity”—fraternity means sadbhavna—“you cannot have liberty.” If you are celebrating India’s freedom and its liberty, equality and fraternity are the two things on which there can be no compromise. And that is precisely what is being compromised in this furtherance of the atmosphere of intolerance.

Sir, finally, let me end by quoting Dr Rajendra Prasad. When he was about to put his signatures on this draft, the future President of India quoted these lines. He was not yet the President of India; he became the President of India only on January 26 and, then, it was said that the Governor General, Dr Rajagopalachari, could not administer an oath to our President because the Governor General was an appointee of the British. So, the Chief Justice was called, in this Central Hall, and he administered the oath. After that Dr Rajendra Prasad administers the oath for an interim government, adopts this Constitution, administers the oath and directs that under this new Constitution, fresh elections be held after delimitation was completed. That election was held in 1952. And today, we hear, Sir, that Sardar Patel was being denied being India’s first Prime Minister. Unfortunately, poor Sardar died in 1950; the first election was held in 1952.

…( Interruptions)… Is that understood, Sir? Now, if there is some magic and some tantra through which, like Lord Ganesha, somebody who is dead and gone can be brought back alive, unfortunately, to be the Prime Minister, I can understand! That apart, what did Dr Rajendra Prasad say? I am quoting this and ending, Sir. Dr Rajendra Prasad, in his address, hailing that we adopted this Constitution, says: “After all, a Constitution, like a machine, is a lifeless thing.... It acquires life because of the men who control it and operate it. India needs today nothing more than a set of honest men who will have the interest of the country before them.”

I am sure that when Dr Rajendra Prasad and Dr Ambedkar talked about “men”, they included “women” also. So, please don’t take offence; I am sure, at that time, women were also part of it. “There is a fissiparous tendency arising out of various elements in our life,” said Dr Rajendra Prasad on November 26, 1949. He said, “We have communal differences, caste differences, language differences, provincial differences and so forth. It requires men of strong character, men of vision, men who will not sacrifice the interests of the country at large for the sake of smaller groups and areas and who will rise over the prejudices which are born of these differences. We can only hope that the country will throw up such men in abundance.” Is that the case? I rest my case by asking you the question. What are we seeing today? Have we produced such men in abundance? If not, I think it is time to correct the notion. If you actually want to reaffirm our Constitution and pay our homage to Dr Ambedkar. ...( Interruptions)...

Thank you very much for giving me time.

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