Defining Soul of India: Indian Constitution or Lord Ram

constitution of India

The vibrations of the spectacle of inauguration of Lord Ram’s temple are still in the air (January 2024). This inauguration was done by Prime Minister Modi, who was at the center of the whole ceremony. He has ensured that he represents both the ‘state power’ and ‘religious power’. In feudal times these two powers were working in close collaboration, boosting each other. There was King-Pope, Nawab- Shahi Imam and Raja-Rajguru. In Maharashtra there is a very apt rhyming of this collaboration, Shetji-Bhatji. (Landlord and Priest). That the country is being ruled by politics in the name of religion is seeing this fusion is a matter of deep concern.

When India became Independent and Indian Constitution came into being, the presence of religion in social space was very much there, and so the controversy around Somnath Temple. As Dr. Rajendra Prasad was planning to inaugurate the temple as the official head of the state, Nehru wrote to him, “I confess that I do not like the idea of you associating yourself with a spectacular opening of the Somnath Temple. This is not merely visiting a temple, which can certainly be done by you or anyone else but rather participating in a significant function which unfortunately has a number of implications,”.

Nearly seven decades down the line Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India inaugurated the temple with pomp and show and the President of India, Draupadi Murmu as onlooker from her vast Rashtrapati Niwas, was the appreciative onlooker. The Central Cabinet not only hailed this act but went a step further to pass a resolution, “…the body of the country attained Independence in 1947…the Pran Pratishtha (Consecration of Idol of Lord Ram) was done on 22nd January 2024… As per the resolution Ram Temple movement has united the country as never before and it is the day when India’s soul got freedom. “(Indian Express, January 25th Mumbai)

While on one hand this shows the erosion of the secular values which we saw was the attempt by the state to keep aloft most of the time, though in a compromised way, now the word secular is a strict no. Even Nehru at that time had realized that while the Constitution is based on secular values; the society is in the grip of religiosity.

Nehru advised the President not to inaugurate the Somanth Temple in his official capacity, now the whole Cabinet is hailing Modi not only for inaugurating the temple but also adding that this inauguration marks the freedom of Soul of India.  As such the slavery of India has been another contentious matter. One big actor Kangana Ranaut, drawing a large applause, had declared that India got Independence in 2014, when Modi became Prime Minister. Prime Minister and his ideological cohorts have been saying that India was a slave for over a thousand years. Meaning that the period when the Muslim Kings ruled, was a period of slavery. How can we define the slavery of a country or a region? Broadly two major criterions can be applied. One when the region is being controlled from outside. The Muslim kings who ruled did settle here and ruled in collaboration with the local landlords-kings.

The second major criterion is when the region’s wealth is drained out. The period of Muslim rule did not see any such phenomenon. This phenomenon was seen during the British period. Shashi Tharoor in his book, the ‘Dark Era of Empire’ tells us the drain of wealth from India to England during this period. British rule was the period of slavery in both these counts. Some Muslim Kings plundered but they did not stay here to rule.

Now the freedom of 1947 was accompanied by the Sovereignty and bestowing the power to our representatives. What about the ‘soul of India’? What is the soul of India? The soul of Indian lies in the values which were the base of the freedom movement. The soul of India lies in these movements which accompanied and ran parallel to the freedom movement. These were the movements of workers and farmers; these were the movements for social equality. The soul of India was built on the foundation of Indian Civilization, which is well described by Nehru  India as “some ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously.”

Freedom movement drew heavily from the movements of farmers (Bardoli, Champaran among others), movements of workers; the one’s led by Narayan Meghaji Lokhande and Com. Singarvelu to name the few, and the struggles for social equality of caste and gender. This began with Joti Rao Phule, Savitri bai Phule, Bhimrao Ambedkar and Ramasami Periyar Naicker. These transformed the society from the values of ‘feudal like’ society to the one with aspirations for democratic society.

The Indian Constitution is the embodiment of “Soul of India” for the majority of the people. Those who did not participate in the freedom movement were the ones who upheld the caste and gender hierarchy of earlier society, these were the social classes that were on one hand against the caste and gender equality and on the other were against the rights of farmers and workers. These were precisely the forces which asserted the politics in the name of religion, Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS.

Muslim League on one side was claiming that Muslims were the rulers, while Hindu Mahasabha-RSS asserted that we have been a Hindu Nation, Islam and Christianity are foreign religions. Surendra Nath Bannerjee well articulated the rising India in his book, ‘India: Nation in the making’, reflecting the country’s sentiments as it was shaping around the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Today claims of Lord Ram being the uniting figure are being made. Lord Ram has many interpretations. A mythological figure presented by Mahrishi Valmiki and later popularized by Goswami Tulisdas is one interpretation. Kabir saw the Lord as embodiment of universal humanism and Gandhi saw him as a uniting figure. RSS-BJP has presented Ram as an exclusionary figure. Around the campaign for this temple how many lives have been lost, how the society has been polarized, how the minorities have been ghettoized and how the plight of dalits, Adivasis, women and workers has been worsened during last few decades gets reflected in the social indices and the emergence of Muslim ghettos, all around.

Today we do face the attack on the ‘Soul of India’ as it emerged during the freedom movement, in contrast the ‘Soul of India’ as being presented by the present ruling dispensation’s efforts to create a spectacle around the temple!   

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Dr Ram Puniyani

Dr Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. Email: [email protected]

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