Sardar to Ambedkar: BJP’s twists of history

In the febrile world of politics, what appears as real is often illusory, and what is devalued as illusory is actually real. Shankaracharya’s much quoted analogy of the serpent and the snake is not only illustrative of the philosophical difference between the real and the unreal; it is also the template of much of the so-called strategic planning of the political class.

The magical powers of maya are truly beguiling and hard to fathom. But, the hypocrisy and double standards of politics are far easier to identify. What, for instance, is to be made of the ruling party’s agenda to devote the first two days of the Winter Session of Parliament to a re-affirmation of our commitment to the Constitution, and to pay tribute, on his 125th birth anniversary, to Babasaheb Ambedkar, who was the chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution? The government has decided to commemorate November 26 every year as Constitution Day. This was the day in 1949 when our Constitution was finalised. It was adopted on January 26, 1950, a day celebrated since then as Republic Day.

On November 26, 1949, the Parliament in India was still functioning under a resolution of the British Parliament. The Constituent Assembly that met for nearly three years to discuss and debate the contours of India’s future Constitution, was, as Sitaram Yechury, the leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the Rajya Sabha cogently pointed out, itself constituted, technically, under an enabling sanction of our erstwhile colonial masters. That legal regimen bearing the stamp of the British Parliament remained in force until January 26, 1950, when independent India adopted the Constitution and resolved to become a Republic.

Republic Day, that falls on January 26 every year, and has been so commemorated and celebrated for the last 65 years, is the day when we reiterate our allegiance to the Constitution. What then, could be the motivation of the government to bring in another day, November 26, as a day to express our commitment to the Constitution? On the surface it appears to be a case of patriotic exuberance, but in reality, like the reality of the rope underlying the serpent, it is quite simply a Machiavellian attempt to appropriate a role in the making of history in which, regrettably, the Bharatiya Janata Party (and its earlier avatars) had no significant role.

The tribute to Babasaheb Ambedkar, on the occasion of his 125th anniversary is a gesture all political parties emphatically support. Ambedkar Saheb is a living example of the victory of human tenacity and courage against the greatest odds. Imbued with penetrative intellectual insight, great scholarship, remarkable courage of conviction, and an exceptional awareness of the real challenges to the values of democracy, equity and social justice, his role as the chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution, was invaluable.

But there is something indeed suspect in the manner in which the BJP has suddenly discovered Ambedkar. Underlying the expedient euphoria is a desire to appropriate another icon of the freedom movement in order to compensate for the fact that right-wing Hindu organisations, especially the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh under Guru Golwalkar, had very little to do with either the struggle against the British or the making of Independent India’s republican Constitution. Politics may justify such cynical tactics, but the clumsiness with which it has been attempted fools no one.

Ambedkar would have been the first to admit — and that was the sign of his greatness — that the Constitution, of which he was a principal architect, was the collective effort of many stalwarts of the freedom movement not least of whom was Nehru whom the BJP has sought to downplay, and, was, indeed, the combined contribution of the remarkably intense and substantive sessions of the Constituent Assembly.

This is not the first time since it came to power in 2014 that the BJP has sought to distort or rewrite history. An earlier attempt was made involving Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The BJP’s transparent effort was to privilege him over all other giants in the freedom movement, and to project his muscular, no-nonsense sense of patriotism as a reflection of the party’s own image.

A series of events were planned to implement this policy, including the construction of a gigantic statue of the Sardar. In doing so, however, the BJP conveniently forgot that it was the very Sardar Patel, who they were now claiming as their own, who had banned the RSS, and who believed that the RSS had created a social milieu that led to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Sardar Patel had no illusions in this regard, and would have been very amused at the selective historical amnesia of the BJP in its attempt to rewrite history.

This dual policy, of ostensible projection to camouflage real intent was in full display during the BJP’s interventions in the two-day debate on the Constitution in both the Houses.
In the Rajya Sabha Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a conciliatory, even statesman-like speech, while in the Lok Sabha, his senior-most colleague, home minister Rajnath Singh came straight to the point and began his “reaffirmation” to the Constitution by questioning the need for the word “secular” in the Preamble.

Mr Modi said that the Constitution is our only holy book, while maintaining a cynical silence on the words and deeds of ministers in his own Cabinet, like Giriraj Singh, V.K. Singh, Mahesh Sharma and Sadhvi Niranjan, and MPs like Sakshi Maharaj and Yogi Adityanath, who have rubbished the cherished values of the Constitution. The fact of the matter is that you can fool the people once, even twice. But, ultimately, however clever you may think you are, the people are cleverer, and see through your tactics. The BJP, it appears, has yet to understand this.

Author-diplomat Pavan K. Varma is a Rajya Sabha member

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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