Vinod Mubayi

Bibek Debroy, Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Council of Economic Advisers, appear to have lofted a trial balloon to “embrace a new Constitution.” In an article in the Mint of August 15, Debroy stated bluntly “We the People have to give ourselves a new Constitution.” As part of this effort, he asserted “We should go back to the drawing board” and more ominously asked “what these words in the Preamble mean: socialist, secular, democratic, justice, liberty and equality.” One can understand that a devotee of markets like Debroy may want to remove the word “socialism” from the Constitution; one can also comprehend that the word “secular” is anathema to a Modi regime official; but is the regime also proposing to jettison democracy, liberty, justice and equality? Is that a kind of Freudian slip on Debroy’s part or does it, intentionally or not, reflect something more sinister?

Debroy deems the present Constitution a “colonial legacy.’’ This is a bit rich coming from an official of a regime that has as one of its foremost heroes someone like V.D. Savarkar who swore eternal loyalty to the King Emperor and later, during the early 1940s, urged Hindu youth to join the British Indian army in the second world war at a time when the Indian National Congress had launched the Quit India movement and most of its leaders and members had been jailed by the colonial authorities. However, the word colonial in the Hindutva lexicon is used in a derogatory sense as a term of abuse denoting something alien to an imagined Indian, i.e., Hindu, culture and tradition.

The Indian Constitution emerged in the multi-year deliberations of the constituent assembly that was in essence a product of the national independence movement and embodied the best democratic traditions of the struggle to free the country from the colonial rule of the British Raj and achieve liberty, justice, and equality for the masses of the Indian people. The chair of the drafting committee was Dr B.R. Ambedkar whose own inspiring personal life and vision reflected not only a desire to put an end to colonial rule but equally an end to the many centuries of the most demeaning hierarchical caste oppression of the Hindu upper castes that had condemned millions of their fellow countrymen to the worst kind of serfdom.

Opposition to the Indian Constitution by the Hindu right-wing is nothing new. Just three days after the adoption of the Constitution by the constituent assembly, the RSS wrote an editorial in its organ Organizer on November 30, 1949 denouncing it and demanding that Manusmriti or “The Laws of Manu” that was written around the 1st century AD be made the Constitution of India. The editorial said: “But in our Constitution, there is no mention of the unique Constitutional development in Ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the World and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our Constitution pundits that means nothing.”

Manusmriti, a tract that describes, explains, and justifies the rules of caste hierarchy and enumerates at length the punishments for disobeying these rules, was hardly likely to have been approved by Dr Ambedkar who wrote a searing denunciation of the caste system in a pamphlet entitled The Annihilation of Caste. While Ambedkar is frequently sought to be appropriated by the BJP for making electoral gains among Dalit communities, his views and writings on the caste system are conveniently disregarded or set aside.

What Debroy has tried to assert about the need to change or discard the present Indian Constitution has a long history with the protagonists of Hindutva. As the commentator Shamsul Islam wrote in an article in November 2017 “Even after Independence, RSS kept on denigrating the Constitution of India. MS Golwalkar, Guru to most of the present Hindutva rulers including our PM and the most prominent ideologue of the RSS, rejected in totality the Indian Constitution in the following words: Our Constitution is just a cumbersome and heterogeneous piecing together of various articles from various constitutions of Western countries. It has absolutely nothing which can be called our own.”

Of course, Debroy does not demand the recognition of Manusmriti as the Indian Constitution. That kind of assertion can be left to the more “traditional” leaders of Hindutva including assorted ideologues of the RSS. Instead, Debroy couches his desire for a new constitution in terms of the shining path that the Modi regime has put India on; a country “where the future is laced with pride, optimism and the aspirational goal of becoming a ‘developed’ country by 2047.” Why the present constitution needs to be overthrown to arrive at this blessed state is not explained. Does the pride and optimism needed to reach developed country status necessitate the jettisoning of democracy, liberty, justice, and equality? Mr. Debroy needs to tell us what he is seeking in abandoning the present constitution. He gives us a little hint when he begins to talk of a “refocused and reduced role for government,” market reforms, and asks “what sense do we make of the Directive Principles of State Policy?” In writing this he comes across as another devotee of neoliberal capitalism that, in a poor, developing country, is another face of crony capitalism which to some social analysts is a truer description of the Modi regime with the Hindutva garb and slogans an essential device to divide the electorate and gather votes to legitimate BJP’s rule.

The fusion of crony capitalism with religious/ethnic identity nationalism and its establishment as a stable basis for future rule does require the abandonment of many of the democratic and social goals that are part and parcel of the ideals of the present constitution even if they have not been consistently implemented in practice over the last 73 years. Social, political, and economic groups and organizations who resolutely oppose the kind of future that people like Debroy and his ilk are hinting at need to get their act together before it is too late.

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