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Tinkering with the very sacred

Tinkering with the very sacred
Mahatma Gandhi's Talisman and the Preamble to the Indian Constitution comprise few of my earliest memories of civics lessons in school. To remember the words ‘Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic’ was an uphill task then, even though it stayed with me through all these years.

New memories are born and existing ones metamorphose over time. They are neither sacrosanct, nor immune to the wrath of time. I can imagine the generation, which grew up reading the original phrase ‘Sovereign Democratic Republic’ in their textbooks, would have taken time to register some of the new additions that were made to the Preamble in 1976 through the 42nd Constitutional amendment. While my own fond reflections are a statement on how the mainstream education system perpetuates the idea of a nation state into young minds, one is also left wondering whether the Constitution belongs to the people of India or the politicians of the day.

It is the very memory of the original Constitution that has stoked much controversy over the Government of India’s recent advertisement published on Republic Day. Whether it was an innocuous reference to the Preamble before the 42nd amendment or an inadvertent mistake, or a deliberate and well thought out plan, will never be really known. Interestingly, the Congress led UPA government had apparently also used the same picture of the Preamble in an advertisement to mark the birth anniversary of BR Ambedkar on April 14, 2014.

In an atmosphere charged with the contentious ‘Ghar Wapasi’ campaign and a sanctimonious reminder from Barack Obama that ‘India will succeed so long it is not splintered on religious lines’, this new controversy does yet another disservice to the BJP-led government’s development-based agenda. To that end, the directive from the Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley to only use the amended Preamble for all future government communications and advertisements is a proverbial stitch in time.

To give any further mileage to this controversy will imply that before the amendment in 1976, when ‘Socialist’ and ‘Secular’ were added to the Preamble, the Constitution was not secular in letter and spirit, notwithstanding the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Religion (Articles 25-28), Cultural and Educational Rights (Articles 29-30), and Right to Equality (Articles 14, 16, 17). While it was important to have pointed out the anomaly, the issue should have been left alone there. Otherwise it would just provide fodder to those making the superfluous demand of deleting both words from the Preamble.

However, the significance of visual imagery and its explicit and implicit implications on popular perception cannot be denied. This is why it is interesting to note the displeasure that was widely expressed over the portrayal of Indians in the advert. The anguish is over why this advert did not depict religious diversity through the hackneyed portrayals of minority religions. While one does not know the motive behind such a change, the compulsive need to constantly cast people in stereotypes is also incomprehensible. One can choose or not choose to mark his/her religious identity. One’s sartorial sense may also be dictated by his/her cultural affinity rather than religious beliefs. One may also choose to be completely indifferent to these encumbrances.

The very credentials of those demanding the thorough deletion of both words from the Preamble perhaps represent early portents towards majoritarianism with all its inherent flaws. In light of these facts, it would be prudent not to brew this controversy any further. This move will augment  our attempts to curtail and limit undemocratic and nefarious tendencies. By continuously harping on the issue, we end up providing more mileage to those very forces we intend to counter.

The author is at present a PhD Candidate at the Department of Political Science, University of Oslo, Norway. 
Priyanka Chakravarty

Priyanka Chakravarty

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