April 21, 2015

India: Claiming Ambedkar, Trashing the Constitution - Parivar's crass hypocrisy (Praful Bidwai)

The Daily Star

Claiming Ambedkar, Trashing the Constitution
Parivar's crass hypocrisy

Praful Bidwai

WHEN it comes to hypocrisy, it's hard to beat India's Hindutva-driven Sangh Parivar. It strenuously claimed the legacy of Dr BR Ambedkar, a principal author of India's secular Constitution, and a Dalit, on his 124th birth anniversary. Its motive lies in the coming Bihar election, where a Dalit (former Chief Minister Manzhi) has emerged as the BJP's potential ally against Laloo Prasad and Nitish Kumar.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is usurping Ambedkar by likening him to its own founder KB Hedgewar, a brazenly obscurantist casteist opposed to Ambedkar's values of equality!

The RSS has added a further communal twist to this by complaining that India's highest honour, the Bharat Ratna, was conferred on Ambedkar 10 years after it was given to Mother Teresa, its bĂȘte noire.

The Indian government had no choice but to honour Teresa after the Nobel Prize was awarded to her. Honouring Ambedkar was delayed because there was stiff resistance to doing so from the Parivar itself! Strangely, the BJP-RSS made no fuss when the award was bestowed on its real icon, Vallabhbhai Patel, even later than on Ambedkar!

The Parivar's ideology and politics remains the opposite of Ambedkar's. He had contempt for Hindutva, with its narrow faith-based definition of nationhood, as opposed to citizenship cutting across ethnic-religious identities. He repeatedly said “Hindu Raj” would be India's “greatest calamity”.

Ambedkar regarded scripturally sanctioned and actually practised Hinduism as inseparable from casteism, and incapable of reform within Gandhi's framework, which patronisingly yet piously saw Dalits as Harijans (God's children).

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.”

Ambedkar wanted a separate electorate for Dalits, but was blackmailed by Gandhi into dropping the demand. The separate electorate remains a sacrilege for the Parivar, which champions mythical “Hindu unity”.

These Hindu-supremacists reject separation of religion from politics, which was pivotal to Ambedkar. Hence their dangerously misleading “pseudo-secularism” slogan!

Anti-secular majoritarianism now manifests itself virulently: banning the slaughter of bulls, old buffaloes and cows (Maharashtra); attacks on churches (Delhi, West Bengal and now Uttar Pradesh); and hounding Muslims out of “Hindu” areas through intimidation (as in Bhavnagar in Gujarat).

Hate speech is becoming “the new normal”. BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj makes hysterical statements about Muslims having “40 children from four wives”. Even worse, Sanjay Raut, editor of the Shiv Sena's “Saamna”, demands that Muslims be deprived of the vote altogether.

This is a flagrant attack on constitutionally guaranteed universal franchise. Raut is an MP. It's simply not open to him to make obnoxious anti-Constitutional statements. He must be punished.

India has been far too indulgent towards important functionaries' communal excesses. It took the Election Commission 13 years to declare Bal Thackeray guilty of seeking votes in the name of religion during a 1986 election—and bar him from contesting or voting for six years.

During the last Lok Sabha election, Narendra Modi repeatedly invoked Lord Ram in his campaign speech at Faizabad. A model of the BJP-proposed Ram Mandir formed the backdrop. Former chief election commissioner SY Qureshi, no less, asked why the Election Commission had not initiated action against the organisers.

Chronic inaction has created a culture of impunity for anti-minority atrocities. That's the message from the just-delivered Hashimpura verdict - on the gruesome killing of 42 Muslims in 1987 in Uttar Pradesh by the Provincial Armed Constabulary personnel.

The state took nine years to file a chargesheet. The accused were never arrested despite 23 non-bailable warrants. They were all acquitted. As Outlook magazine (April 6) has revealed, the massacre was an act of revenge by an army officer whose brother, an RSS member, was killed in a communal clash. The government knew all this, but did nothing.

A day after Hashimpura, the PAC joined a mob in killing 72 Muslims in Maliana next door. This trial hasn't even crossed the first stage—despite 800 dates. Only three of 35 prosecution witnesses were examined in 28 years.

These terrible failures of the justice delivery system have encouraged uniformed personnel to brutalise citizens - e.g. at Pathribal in Kashmir in 2000, where the army killed five innocent civilians falsely charged with the anti-Sikh Chittisinghpora massacre. The culprits were let off by an army court-of-inquiry.

The latest episode in Nalgonda (Telangana), in which five Muslim undertrials were killed, falls in the same category. The state won't bring the culprits to book unless public-spirited citizens and political parties intervene.

The greatest beneficiaries of such justice-delivery failures are the forces of Right-wing bigotry and violence. Self-styled “Chhatrapati” Bal Thackeray wasn't able to 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 and shifting the state's political discourse Rightwards.

Similarly, a Sanjay Raut won't be able to disenfranchise Muslims, but he has further shifted India's entire political terrain towards anti-Constitutional forces. Those committed to secular democracy and humanism must actively combat this danger.

The writer is an eminent Indian columnist.
E-mail: bidwai@bol.net.in