Friday, March 31st, 2023 14:09:43

Rajnath’s Rousing call to Secularists

Updated: December 11, 2015 5:47 pm

The two little-known dates connected with the Indian Constitution are December 9, 1946, the first day of the Constituent Assembly, and November 26, 1949, the day Constitution was adopted. The Republic Day, following the adoption of the Constitution, is celebrated with a great show of military power and cultural diversity. Sadly, not much attention is paid to the Constitution itself. To set this anomaly right, the NDA-led government decided to celebrate the Constitution Day. The nay-sayers are of the opinion that the ruling coalition chose to mark the occasion because it was eager to emphasise that it holds the Constitution to be the ‘holy text’. The BJP-led NDA, by this move, is trying to convey that the Constitution does not discriminate against anyone on the basis of religion and creed and that as the upholders of the nation, they too are committed to it.

The word secular is used just twice in the English version of the Indian Constitution. The document in its preamble describes India as a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic and goes on to ensure that the federal government can regulate “secular activity which may be associated with religious practice”. The official Hindi translation, published by the Union Law Ministry, uses the word “Panthnirpekshta,” for the English word ‘secular’, which loosely means “not associated with any sect”. How the word ‘Dharmanirpkeshta’ morphed out from the original ‘Panthnirpekshta’ after the 42nd constitutional amendment in 1976, done by Indira Gandhi government during Emergency, needs to be probed.

Agreed that the term ‘secular’ is borrowed from the West where it had come in vogue due to conflict between the Church and the State. The word Panthnirpekshta has positive connotations of belonging and oneness in contrast to that of Dharmanirpkeshta, which has a negative sense of otherness. The distorted minds of Indian politicians have accepted religion and dharma as the same. They are as different as chalk and cheese. The word `Dharma’ too has much has wider connotations than what we take it too be, i.e. religion. Dharma is about way of life, personal and professional conduct, family and societal values, etc. It is reminiscent of Vajpayee’s usage of `Rajdharma’, Manmohan Singh and various other leaders’ frequent usage of `coalition dharma’, and the common usage of words like putra-dharma, streedharma, samajdharma, etc. Ironically, a Sanskrit slogan on Dharma is inscribed just above Speaker’s chair in the House, Rajnath questioned: Should it be removed because the Indian Constitution embodies word secular?

Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s diatribe on Panthnirpekshta versus Dharmanirpkeshta has stirred up a hornet’s nest and given an entirely new dimension to the raging debate on secularism. He was making a purposeful statement in a national atmosphere where ‘intolerance’ was being tom-tommed by the literati, artists and thinkers. The debate on the subject of dharma versus panth, secular versus non-sectarian, was triggered off, inadvertently or otherwise. Rajnath, during his debate in Parliament, dwelt at length on something that already has been in use in all official documents and transactions of business, even though it was shunned in public conversation and speech.

Rajnath peppered his speech with glaring and forthright examples for driving home the point. He said, “Indian society is inherently secular and therefore Ambedkar didn’t thought it appropriate to have it written in the Constitution. The word secular has been massively misused.” He said how minorities like “Parsis have been given maximum respect in India, so are the Jews. It is only in India that all 72 Firke (sects) of Islam could be found and nowhere else in the world”. The Home Minister also took a dig at Aamir Khan and said that despite all the humiliation and ridicule that Ambedkar faced, he chose to stay in India and never considered leaving the country.

Another reason that the BJP has chosen to celebrate the Constitution Day is to appropriate Dr. BR Ambedkar as its icon. It was an attempt to counter the Congress’s claim of Nehru being the architect of independent India. Obviously, the Congress saw red. Sonia Gandhi pointed out that the Constituent Assembly was guided by four luminaries— Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Patel, Nehru and Maulana Azad and ridiculed the BJP that none of its members or ideologues were part of the grand exercise of making the Constitution. This accusation was both wrong and ridiculous. In the Constituent Assembly, Patel and Prasad were both right wingers. It was indeed a foolish attempt on the part of the Congress to taunt the BJP for lack of intellectual ancestors in the making of the Constitution.

The moot question that arises: What does the Constitution mean to the young Indians of today who are far removed from the pre-Independence generation? The Indians of the post-economic reforms. The Indians with huge expectations. They do not look upon the Constitution with any sense of awe, nor do they attach any kind of sacredness to the document.

Deepak Kumar Rath

Deepak Kumar Rath

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