Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Sushmaji, our Constitution is our National Book

A country once divided upon religious lines, cannot afford to exalt into statecraft, any holy text, majority or minority, into an identity marker of nationhood.

POLITICS  |   5-minute read |   09-12-2014

Sanjay Hegde @sanjayuvacha

Minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj has called for officially notifying the Bhagavad Gita, as India’s “Rashtriya Granth”; a phrase which loosely translates as “National book/scripture”. At the very outset, there are a few conceptual problems. Reducing the Gita to a mere book, albeit with national status is problematic to say the least. It is even more problematic  to treat it as national  scripture, and imply that scriptures of other religions are anti-national or at any rate non-national.

Secondly, designating anything as the national definitive is to condemn the object to ritual meaninglessness and perpetuate a neglectful protection. Our national game is hockey, our national calendar is the Saka Calendar, our national animal is the Royal Bengal Tiger, our national aquatic animal is the river dolphin and our national river is the Ganga. The national appellation has neither guaranteed their existence nor any continued engagement by this country.

Semantics aside, the Gita is a book by which nearly 80 per cent of India is expected to swear by. Its eternal philosophy of performance of duty irrespective of reward is an ideal which if nationally emulated would build a strong country of ever dutiful citizens. Why should then anyone object to a national status being conferred on it?

I object, because we do have a national book, it is called the Constitution of India. It was fashioned out of the debris of an empire, the aspirations of a new democratic nation and the hopes of a post-colonial world. In 1947, as we got rid of the empire, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on March 6, 1947, warned his fellow British parliamentarians: “ In handing over the government of India to these so-called political classes we are handing over to men of straw, of whom, in a few years, no trace will remain.”

Probably in response, in the very first address of the chairman of Constituent Assembly, Dr Sachidanand Sinha ended with a reiteration of the founding fathers’ faith in the immortality of the destiny of this country, best summed up by the Urdu poet Iqbal in these lines:

Yunan-o-Misr-o-Roma sab mit gaye jahan se,

Baqi abhi talak hai nam-o-nishan hamara.

Kuch bat hai ke hasti mit-ti nahin hamari,

Sadion raha hai dushman daur-e-zaman hamara

It loosely translated into: "Greece, Egypt, and Rome, have all disappeared from the surface of the Earth; but the name and fame of India, our country, has survived the ravages of time and the cataclysms of ages. Surely, surely, there is an eternal element in us which had frustrated all attempts at our obliteration, in spite of the fact that the heavens themselves had rolled and revolved for centuries, and centuries, in a spirit of hostility and enmity towards us.”

With the horrors of partition still continuing, the attendant transfer of nearly ten million humans, the violence and riots that cost us hundreds of thousands of lives, capped by  the assassination of the Mahatma, India seemed well on the way of making Churchill’s direst predictions come true. In that atmosphere of fear and promise, a constituent Assembly came together, with people drawn from every province, representing every interest and finally fashioned a document that has bound the nation together, as a modern, democratic unit. We adopted the Constitution on November 26, 1949, gave it to ourselves from January 26, 1950. Ever thereafter, we have as a nation, lived by its guiding light in all matters of state.

Our Rashtriya Granth was conceived in hope, carried though grave deliberation and delivered to an expectant nation as a child to be nurtured through a hostile world of decaying imperialism and cold-war conflict. We did not give ourselves this Constitution to merely keep it on ceremonial display. Time and again we resorted to it, to elect rulers, to throw them out, to keep a check on dictatorial tendencies, to fashion for ourselves a minimum charter of fundamental rights and to define the mechanics of operation of each organ of government. From the post-Emergency era to the Supreme Court, Election Commission under TN Seshan and JM Lyngdoh and the CAG in the times of Bofors and 2G scandals, every authority that attempted systemic reforms, found its raison d'être and its powers, in the relevant provisions of the Constitution. Justice VR Krishna Iyer, in Sunil Batra’s case put it best, when he said: “The Indian human has a constant companion - the court armed with the Constitution.”

It must be conceded that our Constitution is the one national book for India; that all citizens can identify with. It does not represent only a dominant section, and thus impliedly exclude the rest.

The Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind had strongly opposed the demand for a separate Pakistan. Despite its opposition, Partition happened. Post Independence and Partition, the Jamiat propounded a theological basis for its nationalistic philosophy. Its thesis is that Muslims and non-Muslims have entered upon a mutual contract in India since independence, to establish a secular state. The Constitution of India represents this contract. This is known in Urdu as a Mu'ahadah. This mu'ahadah is similar to a previous similar contract signed between the Muslims and the Jews in Medina in the times of the Holy Prophet. Accordingly as the Muslim community's elected representatives supported and swore allegiance to this modern day Mu'ahadah, so it is the duty of Indian Muslims is to keep loyalty to the Constitution.

No contract is one sided, no loyalty can endure neglect and repudiation. It behoves all children of mother India, in matters of nation and state to adhere only to the constitution. Religious texts are for matters of worship, an individual’s communion with his particular God. A granth is a guru for the seeker of God. In matters temporal, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's", is not a mere biblical injunction, but states the sound political doctrine of separation of church and state.

A country once divided upon religious lines, cannot afford to exalt into statecraft, any holy text, majority or minority, into an identity marker of nationhood. To stand together, this country does not need a religious text as a “rashtriya granth”. We have the Constitution of India as our enduring creed of citizenship, a charter for nationhood, all enveloping, all encompassing.

Source: dailyo

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