BJP-RSS Has Always Wanted to Change India's Constitution

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BJP-RSS Has Always Wanted to Change India’s Constitution

| Updated: April 30, 2024 13:37

BJP leaders calling for a change only reflect this desire. In its November 30, 1949 issue, the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, left no ambiguity and stated: 'The worst about the new Constitution of Bharat is that there is nothing Bharatiya about it.'

Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with other leaders of his party recently mounted an emotionally charged, still-running, counter-attack to nullify claims of several opposition leaders, including Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo, Lalu Yadav, that Modi has set the target of 370 seats (and 400 plus with allies) in the Lok Sabha with the intention to do away with the present Constitution and replace it with a new one.

Modi’s statements however ring hollow. It does so because several BJP candidates and leaders including, BJP Meerut candidate, actor Arun Govil of the serial Ramayan fame, its Nagaur nominee Jyoti Mirdha, its sitting Uttar Kannada MP Anantkumar Hegde, who has been snubbed this time, and sitting Faizabad (the constituency name is among the few that could not be changed to Ayodhya) MP and nominee Lallu Singh, suggested that the Constitution could be changed if needed. In fact, a raucous controversy was generated after a video, featuring Govil in which he discusses constitutional changes, went viral.

He was heard saying that “the Constitution has witnessed changes over a period of time” and that “change is a sign of development. It’s not a bad thing. Situations were different at that time; the current situation is different, so if changes are to be made…”

This was not the first instance over the past decade while Modi has been in office, and also not the only issue, when assurances of the top brass have been at variance to provocative dog whistles of those lower down in party hierarchy. Like always, Modi’s assertions are for masses outside the ideological flanks, while foot soldiers of the Sangh Parivar take the cue from lesser mortals.

There are two separate aspects to the current controversy. One, the Constitution is, realistically speaking, no longer the one which was originally adopted by the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949 because it has been amended several times, and at times, the amendments undermined the primary spirit of the ‘original’ Constitution.

This has been done despite the fact that for more than half a century, since April 1973, constitutional amendments had to stay within the limits laid down by the Supreme Court vide its verdict in the Kesavananda Bharati case, when it specified the Constitution’s Basic Structure could not be altered.

But, for more than a year, the government, led by no less a person than the Vice President, Jagdeep Dhankhar, has waged a ceaseless campaign contending that nothing in the Constitution was sacrosanct and Parliament (read Executive) had powers to amend any Article and Clause because the much-revered Basic Structure was non-existent.

But before this Dhankhar-led concerted bid by the current regime to undermine the spirit of the Constitution, not to forget that Modi eulogizes the Constitution as the nation’s “only Holy Book”, the Treasury Benches, regardless of the party in power, often kept making alterations or amendments in the Constitution which violated the spirit of the treasured document.

This gives rise to a situation with parallels to the philosophical poser surrounding the Ship of Theseus, the Greek mythical king, believed to have founded the city of Athens and rescued the city’s children from King Minos. Theseus is conjectured to have escaped with the children to the island of Delos.

In subsequent times, Athenians commemorated the event annually and as various parts of the ship wore out, they were replaced one by one, till eventually each individual piece of the ship was new and not the original.

The question in philosophy arose at that point with a conundrum: was this still the same ship especially when the collection of new parts, had no part remaining from when the ship first set sail?

Likewise, after all the amendments that have been made in the Constitution, since the first one in June 1951, can the Constitution of the day be considered as the ‘original’ one?

This question assumed tremendous significance in recent years because of the critical alterations in the constitutional grail by the current political regime.

For instance, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 passed by the Parliament of India on December 11, 2019 altered the spirit which guided the citizenship law by intertwining the special case scenario related to migrants from India’s neighbouring nations, with their religious identity.

While the ‘original’ text did not selectively confer Indian citizenship on migrants from Pakistan, the now amended Constitution does not grant citizenship to Muslims if they have arrived from there or other select nations in the Indian sub-continent.

Besides altering the primary characteristics of the Indian Constitution through amendments, the Sangh Parivar, BJP and Modi’s actual intentions on changing the document, can also be made out by a reading of statements and writings of several Sangh Parivar leaders from the current Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat, to the RSS chief at the time of independence, MS Golwalkar.

A saffron RSS flag. Photo: Flickr/don’tpanic CC BY NC ND 2.0

A detailed account of responses of the Sangh Parivar and its various leaders on the Constitution would take considerable space and time. But, a cursory summation provides clear insight into the ‘problems’ the Hindutva forces have with the text and why they want to change it.

Four months after the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser began publication in July 1949 the publication came down heavily on the Constitution, days after its adoption on November 26, 1949. In its issue dated November 30 that year, the periodical left no ambiguity and stated:

“The worst about the new Constitution of Bharat is that there is nothing Bharatiya about it. The drafters of the constitution have incorporated in it elements of British, American, Canadian, Swiss and sundry other Constitutions. But there is no trace of ancient Bharatiya constitutional laws, institutions, nomenclature and phraseology in it…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 constitutional pundits that means nothing.”

Manusmriti, as is known, is a backward-looking text which is stridently misogynistic, in addition to other shortcomings. Yet, it has been a go-to treatise for a large number of Hindutva votaries. VD Savarkar made the following assertion:

Manusmriti is that scripture which is most worshipable after Vedas for our Hindu Nation and which from ancient times has become the basis of our culture-customs, thought and practice. This book for centuries has codified the spiritual and divine march of our nation. Even today the rules which are followed by crores of Hindus in their lives and practice are based on Manusmriti. Today Manusmriti is Hindu Law.”

According to the codifier of Hindutva, once laws postulated by Manu were enforced, “our Hindu nation shall prove again as unconquerable and conquering a race as we proved once…”

Modi looses no opportunity to lavish praise and idolize the Constitution, the text categorized by his people as being completely un-Indian. Likewise, the Modi-fied Sangh Parivar today finds little but virtues in Dr BR Ambedkar and has all but co-opted his legacy.

Yet, the aforementioned RSS organ in its issue dated January 11, 1950 – days before the Constitution formally came into effect, published a derogatory reference to the person considered the father of the Indian Constitution.

In response to an article terming Ambedkar as ‘Manu of Modern India’, the Organiser’s editors published a letter from one of its readers contending that this was:

“An instance of depicting a Lilliput, as a Brobdingnag. It borders on ridicule to put Dr Ambedkar on par with the learned and god-like Manu…. Surely Dr Ambedkar’s disservice in the recent past to the Hindu religion is too well-known…”

Savarkar was not part of the RSS even though his text, ‘Hindutva ! Who is a Hindu?’, inspired the formation of the RSS. A statement made by MS Golwalkar (Sarsanghchalak for the longest period from 1940 to 1973), when the Constitution was adopted and came into effect, is a more unambiguous evidence of the Sangh Parivar’s opposition to the Constitution:

“Our Constitution too is just a cumbersome and heterogeneous piecing together of various Articles from various Constitutions of the Western countries. It has absolutely nothing which can be called our own. Is there a single word of reference in its guiding principles as to what our national mission is and what our keynote in life is? No!”

As years passed, RSS criticism of the Constitution became more pointed. Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, the founding General Secretary of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and eventually President of the party till his mysterious death in a train compartment in Mughalsarai, was very specific in one of his critiques of the text.

Upadhyaya’s divergence with the Constitution stemmed right from the beginning because “the First Article of the Constitution first visualises and recognises the States, and the Union only thereafter.”

Upadhayaya wanted a Unitary State as against what was opted for – a Federal State. According to him, “idea of a federal Government was mooted only to accommodate the separatist viewpoint of the Muslim League and to introduce the former ruling princes into the all-India system. But things have undergone a change. Today separatism is neither to be accommodated nor appeased.”

The Jana Sangh ideologue whose Integral Humanism (a collected treatise based on four lectures he delivered in Bombay in April 1965), is the official philosophical text of the Bharatiya Janata Party, rejected the “federal constitution” as it allegedly was against the unity and indivisibility of ‘Bharat Mata’.

In place of the official Constitution, Upadhyay proposed a unitary one based on the panchayat (village council) system, while the federal system should be centralized.

He further was extremely disapproving of Article One, for stating that “India, that is Bharat, will be a federation of States (although in the actual text it is “shall be a Union of States”).

According to the Janata Sangh leader, this would tantamount to “Bihar Mata, Banga Mata, Punjab Mata, Kannada Mata, Tamil Mata, all put together make Bharat Mata. This is ridiculous. We have thought of the provinces as limbs of Bharat Mata and not as individual mother. Therefore our constitution should be unitary instead of federal.”

It is not that calls for changing the Constitution ceased after the Jana Sangh was disbanded in 1977, for it to merge into the Janata Party. Even after erstwhile Jana Sangh leaders parted ways in early 1980 and established the BJP in April 1980, the Indian Constitution never sat easy on their collective political consciousness.

Outlandish claims were made by its leaders too. For instance, Lal Krishna Advani was attributed as saying that the “Basic Structure Doctrine doesn’t bind us to parliamentary democracy.” It is worth recalling that the BJP is an old advocate of the presidential form of government.

Advani also spearheaded a plan during the AB Vajpayee years to review and makes changes to the Constitution. But, once the initiative triggered a massive political uproar, the Committee’s brief was trimmed.

The cunningness of Modi is that he does not make or calls for formal alteration, but makes a de facto conversion, as in the case of the CAA.

It also cannot be denied that elections in the post 2014 era have been presidentialised more than any previous period, even the Emergency.

The much-criticised Twenty Point Programme launched by the government in 1975 with Indira Gandhi at the helm was the first attempt at personalisation of government programme and its welfare measures.

Compared to the media blitz surrounding the coinage, Modi Ki Guarantee, the Twenty Point Programme appears a tepid effort at sculpting Gandhi as a cult-figure.

The Prime Minister may continue spinning yarns and quivering his voice when mentioning his commitment to the Constitution, but even the current RSS Sarsanghchalak, has on numerous occasions advocated a change of the Constitution.

At a public event in Hyderabad in September 2017 among other occasions, Bhagwat said that the Indian Constitution should be amended to conform to the moral values ​​of the Indian society.

He further asserted that many parts of the Constitution are based on foreign thinking and there is a need to consider this after 70 years of independence.

His statements were at variance with the claims of the Organiser as well as the Hindi RSS organ, Panchjanya, that the RSS has total belief in the Indian Constitution.

Given the double-speak of it leaders, in the past as well as the present, it is clear that in the event of the BJP securing another tenure in office, the Constitution’s status will be in peril and little different from the Ship of Theseus – the cover shall not be altered but the text on the sheets will be altered considerably.

Already plans are afoot to ensure that the act of inserting the word ‘Secular’ in the Preamble during Emergency is declared as unconstitutional and dropped.

Given their consistent double-speak over decades and the tactics being drawn up, it is evident that in the event of Modi returning to office, the Indian Constitution is likely to be amended further to exorcise the spirit of the document adopted by the nation’s founding fathers with great love and hope.

This article was originally published on The Wire on April 20, 2024.

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