Organisations are born in different circumstances and go on to become something else. The best example is that of the Congress, which was essentially a social organisation in the beginning but after the Independence transformed into a political party and is today a family enterprise of Sonia Gandhi and her children. Ordinary Indians cannot hope to rise in this party by the independent dignity of merit. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) began in a unique historical circumstance and has emerged as an advocate for the ideals of the Indian Constitution.
In September, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat suggested that an apolitical committee be formed to review the reservation policy so that its benefits could reach the neediest of the Indians irrespective of their caste and religious identity. Bhagwat asked the government to “form a committee of people genuinely concerned for the interest of the whole nation and committed for social equality…; [the committee] should decide which categories [of Indian citizens] require reservation and for how long.” Currently, India’s quota system is based on caste, which continually engenders divisive politics that divides Indians on caste and religious lines, with Muslims demanding quota based on one’s faith in Islam. It also denies welfare benefits to the poorest Indians from the upper castes and therefore is violative of the Constitution’s Article 14 on the Right to Equality.
Bhagwat’s constitutional idea was meant to resolve a corrosive problem in India’s politics. It was compatible with the Indian Constitution’s original idea that quotas, as a measure to end social backwardness, should be for a short-term period. “If we would have implemented this policy as envisaged by the Constitution makers instead of doing politics over it, then present [divisive] situation would not have arrived,” Bhagwat said. However, his wholly constitutional suggestion disappeared from the nation’s political debate. Both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP – for the fear of losing votes) and India’s counterfeit intellectuals (for the reason of liberal-leftist ideology) did not deem it fit to write op-eds, or organise seminars and debates on television channels.
In purely secular terms, there should be no objection to Bhagwat’s suggestion to review the quota policy so that its benefits reach all Indians from underprivileged sections irrespective of their caste and religion. But in India’s national discourse, secularism – as practised in India – has come to mean appeasement of Islam and Pakistan, and is therefore rightly being dubbed by its critics as sickularism. India’s counterfeit sickularist intelligentsia (journalists, actors and authors), which controls the nation’s narrative, rejects good ideas because they originate from the RSS. As a result, India is witnessing the emergence of a Constitutional Right led by the BJP and its mother organisation the RSS, while the Congress is being pushed into the arms of the ideological Left.
At the India Ideas Conference in Goa, on 17 November, Tufail Ahmed, director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC, suggested that to overcome the divisive politics originating from the quota system, the Indian government could evolve a Comprehensive National Policy on BPL families (i.e. those holding “below poverty level” cards), giving their children up to the age of 18 free books, free clothes and free education. This objective can be achieved by diverting all subsidies and, for an example, shutting down the Air India which is a humungous burden on our poor children. Once all BPL families, irrespective of their caste and religious affiliation, receive these benefits, the need for quota politics will become redundant in people’s eyes and will free politicians from the practice of divisive politics. There can certainly be other ideas to steer the country out of the divisive politics emanating from the quota system.
Shiv Sena, which is from the Hindu family of political parties but unrelated to the RSS, has endorsed Bhagwat’s idea. It has also said that the government must replace religious books by the Constitution for people to take oath in courts so that the Indian polity can be pulled out of the religion-based politics. On November 30, in an editorial in its newspaperSaamna, Shiv Sena observed: “Let people swear by the Constitution in courts instead of religious holy books.” It added: “The Constitution should be the sacred book for (people of) all religions. All religions are equal before law.” Such purely secular ideas are being currently rejected by India’s dominant liberal-left sickularist intelligentsia.
It is true that some Hindu groups have threatened book launches and have dug up cricket pitches especially with regard to Pakistani writers and cricketers, but it cannot be argued that they will not abide by the Indian Constitution. In fact, it is their angst not against Pakistanis visiting India but against India’s liberal-sickularist intellectuals that often results in such incidents. It must not be forgotten that in Gujarat, Modi, despite a solid background in the RSS, demolished scores of temples to widen roads despite opposition from the Hindu groups aligned with the BJP and RSS, notably the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. It is difficult to imagine if a Muslim politician emerging from the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind can even think of removing mosques and shrines situated by the roadsides to somewhere else.
At this point in time, the BJP is better placed in the nation’s polity because it is on the side of both history (which teaches us who we are) and the Constitution (which teaches us who we want to become). While the Congress promotes dynastic politics, the BJP furthers the constitutional ideals. It is not incidental then that it is not from the Congress but from the RSS’s womb that a new constitutional species of Indians – represented by Narendra Modi, the former tea-seller who is now our prime minister – emerged last year. After the victory in the 2014 parliamentary elections, Modi – the former RSS regional organiser – walked up in Delhi on 20 May, knelt down in prayer with folded hands and touched his forehead to the footsteps of the Indian parliament, an institution created by the Constitution and essentially not a religious place of worship.
Not many people can grasp the symbolism of Modi, the RSS man, bowing before the footsteps of the Indian parliament. Indians have always bowed before temples, not before institutions created by reason. Modi has lived his adult life in the RSS and it is entirely predictable that he has emerged as the upholder of the Indian Constitution. Modi told his biographer Andy Marino: “the democratic values that I found” during the anti-Emergency struggle became “a part of my DNA.” “I became aware; I understood the Constitution, I understood the rights, because before that I was living in a different world. The Emergency became a university for me,” Modi explained.
Indian writers who paint Modi in sectarian terms should read his speech on the role of constitutions in human life delivered before the parliament of Nepal last year. He was not preaching Hinduism to the Nepalese. Addressing Nepal’s parliament, Modi declared: “The constitution is not a book, it connects yesterday, today and tomorrow.” Earlier sages authored Vedas and Upanishads, he said, observing: “In the same series, in modern life, a nation’s constitution is born as a new scripture.” Before the 2014 elections, Modi told the BJP National Council Meet in New Delhi that the Indian Constitution is “a cherished heritage” and observed: “We can look in the eye of the world because we are a democracy… We are proud that we follow the tradition of a republic.”
While village republics existed in ancient India, the Constitution’s democratic ideals about equality and liberty of individuals arrived in modern India via the British colonial rule. Originating from the Greek philosophy, the movement of democratic ideas known as European Enlightenment flowered into the American and the French revolutions. “We the people”, the opening words of the Indian Constitution, are borrowed from the U.S. Constitution which begins with the words: “We the people of the United States.” In the contemporary times, Modi is the European Enlightenment’s best representative in India. It is not surprising that on vital issues of modern times, notably on the issue of Muslim women’s rights to quality and individual liberty, it is the Constitutional Right led by the RSS and BJP that stands in tune with the ideals of the European Enlightenment while the Left-of-the-Centre parties led by the Congress are silent and ideologically lost. Even Liberal-leftist-sickular writers and journalists are totally silent, or wayward and diffident, on social media networks with regard to jihadism, Islamism and burqa.
Individual liberty and human rights are no longer the forte of the Leftist intellectuals mugged by ideology. The current state of the Indian mind is such that if you tweet in favour of ending Triple Talaq and other Islamic legal archaisms affecting the liberty of Muslim women, it is the RSS and BJP followers who rise to become the first line of defence for Muslim women’s rights. Regarding the advocacy of the Uniform Civil Code, an objective set in the Constitution to give equal rights to members of all religions, it is the RSS and BJP which are at the forefront. As the Constitution’s tenets take deeper roots in the Indian society, it appears that Hindu groups, which have been wrong on multiple counts in the past, are shedding their sectarianisms and are imbibing the constitutional norms and values in their outlook.
Even on the question of eating beef, it is not the BJP or RSS that made laws against cow slaughter in different states. It was essentially the Congress that enacted such laws because this is what the Constitution requires regarding the protection of cows. In fact, in the BJP-ruled Goa, you could openly and legally eat beef. If the law allows you to eat beef in an Indian state, you are free to eat beef. If the law in a certain state doesn’t allow you to do so, you cannot slaughter a cow. This constitutional principle, differing from state to state, is entirely compatible with the diverse culture of India. So, what is the RSS’s cultural agenda for which it is being scorned by liberal intellectuals? This question was answered by RSS leader Dattatreya Hosabale in great detail at the India Ideas Conference where he argued that the RSS has no cultural agenda for the nation, and that the Indian culture that has existed for centuries is itself the agenda of the RSS.