Rahul Gandhi and Our Constitution

constitution of INdia

The initial remarks in Rahul Gandhi’s speech in Parliament the motion of thanks to the President’s speech have provoked a storm of abuse from BJP ranks within and outside the house.The matter needs some scrutiny. Gandhi said the Constitution does not mention the nation. Quite so. But I believe no constitution in the world actually mentions the nation.It is usually the joint product of a constituent assembly elected by or representing the will of the people of the country.Our constitution has a preamble that begins with the words “We the people….”. Not “the nation” or “We,acting on behalf of the nation”.That has implications.

The state of Switzerland actually has three distinct nationalities.French,German and Italian.After centuries of living together they have acquired a sense of Swiss nationhood,but they do not harp on it.Thus constitutions too keep the question of nationhood outside their purview.They are documents that spell out the form of the state and the rights of citizens.They are instruments that are consciously created to ensure that the state has the kind of government that makes for a healthy balance between the power of the state and the liberties of the people.It is designed to keep at bay any attempt by an overweening political power to curb liberties of the people and rule by arbitrary will of rulers.Rule of lawin short. Authoritarian states sometimes have constitution that curb liberies of the citizens in the name of prioritising general welfare.That approach might lead to complete abrogation of the rights of citizens,and of diverse groups coming together to create the state.

Fascists usually proceed to suppress such rights and legitimate differences among the people by placing the nation above all such differences and rights on a pedestal high above all differences,doubts,debates and questions.

I have not heard the President’s address.But going by his views and convictions,he might have emphasized the overriding demands of the nation.That could conceivably sweep the vital question of the rights of diverse groups,whether religious,linguistic or regional,into the
the shade.

There has been visible over the years a disturbing trend of manipulating powers of the state to remake the form of government and the legitimate jurisdiction of the state in a uniform,homogenizing,monolithic form.That requires brutal abolition of age-old diversities and all civil rights of citizens

History saw it in action in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.The state was sacralized,ditching its essentially secular character.The hosannas to the state in those countries at that time appear incredible today.And it was melded into a all-embracing giant state that demanded instant,unquestioning obedience to its commands.Of course that was based on an assumption of totally unitary nation formed out of an unchallengeable organic identity.Everything within the country is engulfed by it,and anything that lies outside the arbitrary identity is by definition accursed and ostracized. For example the Jews and the Communists as well as liberal democrats.Everything bows to its will and is made to abandon its peculiarities. It is significant that RSS ideologues like Bhagavat discussing their concept of ‘Rashtra’ claim that it is a deeper and much broader concept which cannot be expressed by Western concepts like ‘nation’ or the ‘state’.What they probably meant was that the state in their notion, like those of Fascists, was to be a gigantic idol to which every aspect of life and culture would be dedicated,extending their goals and norms to every little aspect of life.This is made easier by institutions like caste and the Guru.

In our country the word ‘Hindu’ is made to serve this purpose of conjuring and maintaining this undifferentiated solid block.That necessarily impairs the federal aspect of our state and dictates to all what is to be made of the state and rights of citizens and diverse groups.The repressive and tyrannical character of this trend is there for all to see.It has led to the electronic snooping on citizens and such directions to the Kerala government to replace on its Republic Day tableau Narayana Guru with Shankaracharya.And impose uniform Procrustean pattern of education.Reason and logic are sacrificed to arbitrary will of those who rule in the name of the nation.

That is what Rahul Gandhi perhaps had in his mind when he referred to the historical diversities to which makers of our constitution had responded.But the campaign is far more ambitious and disturbing.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator


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