Does India need a Second Republic?
Does India that is Bharat need a Second Republic? Is the Indic civilization a settled fact? Where do the epistemal roots of the expression ‘Hindu’ emerge? Does the terminological usage of the word ‘Hindu’ impinge on the religion of the ‘others’? Will the idea of a ‘Hindu’ civilisational construct hobble the process of the formation of much needed Second Republic?
These questions need to be addressed with a lot of sincerity, as the Narendra Modi government completed its two-year reign and seem to be failing at the altar of a bureaucracy that is inert, thus insensitive, and then self-gratifying?
In this 800-word piece we can discuss each of these issues only in the passing but raising a debate. We shall take the first question last, in the light of responses to the rest of the questions; for it is the most audacious an idea that can turn incendiary at any moment.
So what is the Indic civilisation? Some of India’s finest historians Romila Thapar, Bipan Chandra, S Gopal and some others believe that this emerges from the rise of an elite that defined the ethical understanding of a social and cultural construct, which takes shape over centuries. Thapar has moved beyond this concept and has recently enunciated that, “Change is endemic to most societies, either from within or from contact with other societies. This can disturb the social equilibrium, either increasing or decreasing the integration of its various units. A civilisation, therefore, cannot be static as its constituents inevitably change.”
So we can safely say that the Indic civilization is not a settled fact. The attempt to root the expression ‘Hindu’ in this civilisational understanding by creating motifs like ‘Ram’ – clearly a mythological character – in whom resides all ‘virtues’ makes the search for Bharatiya identity totally misleading for at least two reasons.
One, the character of‘Ram’ even in mythical terms is flawed. He seems unwholesomely opinionated and in conflict with the worldly ways. Some would even argue he was a product of the Aryan culture that came into India subcontinent from the Northwest and gave birth to the ‘Bharatiyata’ that was exclusive in many of its facets. Yet for thousands of years, its assimilative character has helped the Hellenic people to settle in Bharat right up to the British, who refused any such absorption.
The word Hindu is rooted in the context of the Occidental limitation of forming the name of a civilisation they encountered on the banks of what they called the Sindhu (Indus) river. Progressive degeneration resulting from the mispronunciation of the word created the etymological disaster and an epistemal disharmony, the ‘Hindu’ in a civilisational context.
A process of differentiation from the original inhabitants of the land led to the rise of texts that took the mien of imperialist obliteration of indigenous history in the form of creating texts that were inaccessible to the original inhabitants.
To quote Thapar again, “Civilisation assumed that the historically preceding societies did not qualify. These were labelled as barbarian. This dichotomy was present in the self-perception of ancient societies as well, but with a different connotation. Those regarded as “the Others” were assumed to be uncivilised. For the Greeks, it was the non-Greeks, for the Chinese the non-Han, and for the Aryas it was the Mlecchas. If the Greeks called those that were their “Others” barbaros/barbarians, Sanskrit speakers referred to some as barbara-karoti, or those speaking in a confused way.”
The concept of ‘God’ in this non-syncretic ‘Hindu’ (considering that constitutes the numerical majority) tradition creates the biggest stumbling block for a modern nation. It is this tradition that was stratified by the Aryan Vedic praxis, where the monopoly over religion was distributed between four Varnas – with the first two being supreme – as in any pastoral feudal culture, gives rise much of the communal conflicts in this country. Be it among the upper castes over the lower ones; Hindus versus Muslims; or even Hindus versus Christians (though this is limited for the Hindu need for worshipping power expressed in mammon)
KN Govindacharya, the much berated Hindu ideologue, who took a vacation from the fold of the Rashtriya Swayamseval Sangh (RSS), and is now back in the corridors of power has recently stated that the Indian Constitution needs a complete overhaul on the basis of ‘Bharatiyata.’ Now, ‘Bharat,’ from whom do we gather a ‘Bharatiya’ is actually a literary rendition.
The famous poet of early ‘Hindu’ tradition, Kalidasa, who wrote his famous poetic treatise, ‘Abhijnana Shakuntalam’ that King ‘Bharat’ was sired by King Dushyanta who fell in love with a nomadic Shakuntala, who was born of an unknown parentage and provided shelter by an ascetic. Bharat founded this great dynasty that eventually destroyed itself – well, almost in internecine and fratricidal warfare – recorded in another Hindu epic ‘Mahabharat.’
Clearly ‘Bharatiyata’ has questionable antecedents, but as an identity, it creates a notion of an intellectual spread that is bound by a landmass. So, let us ask the final question. Do we need a Second Republic? Yes, we do. And yes, we need a new Constitution on the basis of ‘Bharatiyata,’ not a 1935 Government of India Act legislated in Westminster.
But this new Constitution will not mention the ‘right to religion,’ for religion is best left in the hands of the communities that are inclusive of all influences, without creating ghettos in the mind.
(The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are strictly personal.)