Republic Day 2023: Ambedkar’s worldview offers a way forward

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As the country celebrates the 73rd anniversary of Republic Day, the nation painfully notes the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s use of Golwalkar’s formulation that Hindus are at war for a thousand years against an external and internal enemy. The idea of the republic enshrined in the Constitution expresses the resolve of the people of India to co-exist in the spirit of reconciliation, understanding and accommodation. In a country where several languages are spoken, people profess different faiths and ways of life differ, this emphasis on fraternity is salutary. The notion of a section of the population engaged in war in the name of faith, and that too for a thousand years, is a negation of the vision of the Constitution — secularism is a part of its basic structure.

While speaking in the Constituent Assembly in December 1946, B R Ambedkar said that the word republic means that sovereignty is derived from the people. He then expressed his concern at the manner in which some leaders were talking about waging a war to address Hindu-Muslim issues. What he meant was that power flowing from people in a republic would never provide scope for war in the name of faith.

The BJP attempts to appropriate Ambedkar and at the same time goes against his vision and worldview. In the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar had warned that any attempt to stoke conflict with Muslims could result in large-scale devastation. He could foresee that V D Savarkar’s vision — rooted in the understanding that India is the pitrubhoomi (place of birth) and punyabhoomi (place of worship) of Hindus and only the pitrubhoomi of Muslims and Christians — could endanger the security of the country.

Bhagwat’s bizarre statement that the growing consciousness of Hindus has made them more aggressive speaks of the RSS’s intention of stoking conflict. Laws enacted in several BJP-ruled states to prevent “love jihad” attack the ideal of fraternity enshrined in the Constitution. Added to this are the polarising narratives woven around hijab and calls for boycott of halal meat.

Ambedkar’s fears about the toxic atmosphere in which Muslims could be vilified are, unfortunately, coming true. It is worthwhile to recall Ambedkar’s Constitution for United States of India, which he drafted in 1945. Its chapter on fundamental rights stipulated that a call for a social and economic boycott of minorities would attract stringent punishment. Ambedkar also said that the country should have laws to strictly deal with the social and economic boycott of minorities.

India is confronting an alarming situation today. There are reports of calls to boycott Muslim businesses in some of the states where the BJP holds office; houses of people of the community are being bulldozed on flimsy pretexts. Prime Minister Narendra Modi counts India’s leadership of the G20 as one of the achievements of his country and describes India as the mother of democracy. Yet, he maintains silence when leaders of his party issue calls to socially and economically boycott minorities. In the national anthem, Rabindranath Tagore said that in the republic power flows from the people of the country, who he described as the nation’s “adhinayak”. He then goes on to describe the diversity of the country which today is under great threat.

There is, however, some hope. There are protest movements against the attacks on the Constitution. The manner in which people read the Preamble of the Constitution during the anti-CAA movements affirms our faith in the Republic and gives us reason to celebrate the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity. On the anniversary of the Republic, it is imperative that we protect the vision of the Constitution from the onslaught of communal forces.

The writer is general secretary, CPI