‘Reverence’ for Ambedkar, not Constitution
When it comes to sheer hypocrisy and double standards, it’s hard to beat the Sangh Parivar. It strenuously claimed the legacy of Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a principal author of India’s Constitution, and a Dalit, on his 124th birth anniversary. This was motivated by nothing nobler than the coming elections in Bihar, where a Dalit (former stopgap Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi) has emerged as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s potential ally against Messrs Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh tried to usurp Dr Ambedkar as one of its own icons by not just by highlighting his differences with the Congress, but by likening him to its own founder KB Hedgewar, a brazen Brahmanical casteist, who opposed the values of equality that Ambedkar stood and fought for all his life!
True to type, the RSS further added a nasty communal angle to this when its general secretary Sanjay Joshi asked why India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, was conferred on Ambedkar 10 years after it was given to Mother Teresa. This takes forward the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s tendentious charge that Mother Teresa used charitable activities as a cover for religious conversions.
The Indian government had no choice but to give Mother Teresa the Bharat Ratna after she was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979. As for honouring Ambedkar, there was stiff resistance from the Hindu Right (which is the Parivar), and the Maratha lobby (then with the Congress, but which the BJP-Shiv Sena is trying to cultivate through a 16-percent reservation in state jobs). This was evident from the decades-long delay in naming Marathwada University after Dr Ambedkar, which happened as late as 1994. Strangely, the BJP didn’t make a big fuss when the Bharat Ratna was bestowed on Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, even later than Ambedkar! The fact is, the award—so far given to 45 people—has been used to parochial ends to dispense favours. It has lost a good deal of its sheen. Its recipients’ list is replete with anomalies. What’s pertinent is that the Parivar’s ideology and politics was and remains the very opposite of what Dr Ambedkar stood for. He had nothing but contempt for Hindutva, with its narrow faith-based definition of nationhood, as opposed to his broad, expansive idea based on equal rights and citizenship cutting across ethnic-religious identities. He repeatedly said “Hindu Raj” would be “the greatest calamity for this country”.
Ambedkar regarded scripturally sanctioned and actually practised Hinduism as inseparable from Brahmanical casteism, and incapable of reform within Gandhi’s framework, which patronisingly yet piously saw Dalits as Harijans (God’s children). It’s no accident that Ambedkar burned the Manu Smriti. He converted to Buddhism after declaring: “I was born a Hindu, I had no choice. But I will not die a Hindu because I do have a choice.” More important, Ambedkar wanted a separate electorate for Dalits, but was blackmailed by Gandhi’s fast-unto-death into dropping the demand via the Poona Pact of 1932. The separate electorate idea remains sacrilege for the Parivar, which hypocritically champions the myth of “Hindu unity” as the backbone of “the Indian nation”, thus denying India’s diversity and pluralism.
The BJP and its sister Hindu-supremacist organisations reject secularism (or basic separation of religion from politics and public life), which was pivotal to Ambedkar’s Constitution. They regard secularism as a false doctrine. Hence the Parivar’s dangerously misleading slogan of “pseudo-secularism”! Rejection of secularism and display of aggressive majoritarianism now manifests itself in increasingly virulent ways: banning the slaughter of bulls, old buffaloes and cows, and making the sale or consumption of beef a punishable crime (Maharashtra); attacks on Christian churches (Delhi, Haryana, West Bengal and now Uttar Pradesh); and hounding Muslims out of “Hindu” areas through intimidation and violence (as VHP’s Pravin Togadia did in Bhavnagar in Gujarat). Hate speech is fast becoming “the new normal”. It’s bad enough that BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj makes hysterical statements about Muslims having “40 children from four wives” and gets away with it. It’s even worse when Sanjay Raut, the editor of the Shiv Sena mouthpiece “Saamna”, demands that Muslims be deprived of the right to vote because they are used as “vote banks”. Besides falling foul of the hate-speech clauses of criminal law, this is a flagrant attack on the Constitution and the fundamental right of universal adult franchise which it guarantees. Mr Raut is a Rajya Sabha MP, who made a pledge to defend the Constitution. It’s simply not becoming of him to make such obnoxious and inflammatory statements. He must be reprimanded by the Rajya Sabha chairman and asked to apologise, failing which he must be punished.
India has been far too indulgent towards communal excesses by important functionaries. It took the Election Commission as many as 13 years to declare the late Bal Thackeray guilty of seeking votes for a Shiv Sena nominee in the name of religion during a 1986 by-election. Eventually, he was barred under the Representation of the People Act from contesting elections or voting for six years. During the last Lok Sabha election, Mr Narendra Modi repeatedly invoked Lord Ram in his campaign speech at Faizabad in May. A model of the BJP-proposed Ram Mandir formed the backdrop of the stage from which he addressed the meeting. Former chief election commissioner SY Qureshi, no less, questioned the “silence” of the Election Commission and asked why it had not initiated action against the meeting’s organiser. Logically, it should have acted against Modi too.
No such action was taken. No wonder a culture of impunity has come to prevail among communal politicians, the police and even sections of the judiciary, who know they can get away with the worst kinds of anti-minority atrocities. That’s the message from the Hashimpura case verdict delivered late last month. This was a gruesome killing of 42 Muslims in May 1987 near Meerut city in Uttar Pradesh by Provincial Armed Constabulary personnel. All of the PAC men were acquitted. As former senior police official Vibhuti Narain Rai has written, the investigation was rigged in their favour from the start. The state took nine years to file a chargesheet. The accused were never arrested despite 23 non-bailable arrest warrants being issued.
The main reason for this, as an Outlook magazine investigation (April 6) has revealed, is that the massacre was an act of revenge by an army officer whose brother, an RSS member, was killed in a communal clash. The army unit dragged out young Muslims from their homes, handed them over to the PAC, and instigated it to butcher them. The Central and state governments sat on the report of the case. Some of the accused were even promoted during the trial.
A day after Hashimpura, the PAC joined a mob in killing 72 Muslims in Maliana next door as if to punish the community further. Another shoddy investigation followed. The trial in this case has not even crossed the first stage—despite 800 dates having been fixed. Only three of the 35 prosecution witnesses have been examined in 28 years. The last hearing was held almost two years ago. After the Hashimpura verdict, the Maliana victims’ families have lost all hope.
These terrible failures of the justice delivery system have encouraged other uniformed personnel to practise brutalities against citizens. Take Pathribal in Kashmir in 2000, where the army killed five innocent civilians falsely charged with the Chittisinghpora massacre of 36 Sikhs. The culprits were let off by an army court of inquiry, provoking public outrage but no apology from the state.
The latest episode in Nalgonda in Telangana, in which five Muslim undertrials were killed on their way to court, falls in the same category. Equally horrifying—but strong on an anti-tribal rather than anti-Muslim angle—is the butchery of 20 men in Seshachalam in Andhra, falsely charged with cutting down red sanders trees. The state shields all such culprits and won’t bring them to book unless public-spirited citizens, civil society organisations and political parties intervene and lobby it to do so.
The greatest long-term beneficiaries of such atrocities and justice delivery failures are the forces of right-wing intolerance, bigotry and violence. Self-styled “Chhatrapati” Bal Thackeray may not have been able to drive out many non-Maharashtrians out of Bombay or put the Shiv Sena in power on its own in Maharashtra. But he succeeded in inflicting grave damage upon the Left and trade union movements, creating a state of terror, and shifting the entire political discourse to the Far Right. Similarly, a Sanjay Raut won’t be able to disenfranchise Muslims, but he has already shifted the political terrain to the Right, making it more favourable to the BJP and anti-constitutional forces. There’s no point merely noting this danger or bemoaning it. It must be actively combated by all those who are committed to secular democracy and a humane society. IPA