As India marches into the 75th year of its identity as a sovereign republic, the contesting ideas of India and Bharat have never been as far away, as polarised and distinct, as they are today. It is the first Republic Day of the nation commemorated against the backdrop of the grandiose celebration of the inauguration of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya earlier in the week. The event, as political as religious that it was, can be said to have cast a shadow on the republic that could not have been imagined even ten years ago. On a day that the national flag should have had no competition and challenge whatsoever, across the length and breadth of the country, in windows and on streets, the majestic Tricolour shared space with the now-ubiquitous saffron, many with the image of Lord Ram astride it and a few without. The Tricolour of an inclusive and secular India tested by the saffron of the Hindu supremacists including its fount, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The informal and casual can spark disquiet and debates but, in this case, the India versus Bharat has unmissable official overtones too, with the opening notes played by the Narendra Modi-led government that will soon seek a third term in office. The Government of India’s official social media handles posted an image of the preamble of the Constitution of India without the words “socialist” and “secular” in it claiming that it was the original one adopted by the Constituent Assembly that declared India as a sovereign democratic republic, sparking off yet another round of outrage from the diminishing set of liberal and progressive Indians. This comes on the back of the Modi government extending invitations during the showcase summit of G20 in November last year qualifying Droupadi Murmu as the President of Republic of Bharat. It was the strongest signal till then that the RSS ideology of a Hindu Bharat — muscle-flexing, arrogant, and dismissive of all minorities — would be closer to reality than ever in the country’s 77-year history.
The RSS, it must be remembered by all and repeated for younger generations, had refused to accept the Indian Tricolour and, therefore the Constitutional architecture of India as a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic, till 2002 — for nearly 52 years of independent India’s history. The progeny of this organisation, ironically, began the “Har Ghar Tiranga” campaign a few years ago. Back in 1947, the organisation had made its objection to the Tricolour and the Constitution crystal clear. Its mouthpiece, Organiser, has stated that while India’s leaders “may give in our hands the Tricolour but it will never be respected and owned by Hindus.” Its disdain for the Constitution of India is equally well known, as is its preference for a Hindu code or book like the Manu Smriti to replace it. In fact, leaders of the BJP and assorted Hindu saints have openly claimed during the Modi sarkar era that the Constitution of India would be replaced.
In the light of the events this week, there is now genuine apprehension among large sections of Indians, Hindus included, that the Constitution may not live on at least in its present form, letter and spirit. Cataclysmic decisions are usually taken in an atmosphere built up to receive them favourably and there is no time more perfect than this, when the Hindu sentiment rides triumphant as if winning a conquest after the Ram Mandir inauguration, to introduce tectonic shifts in the socio-political architecture of the nation. Yet, without the Constitution of India, a living document as it has been variously described, the country becomes a poorer nation in every respect for it is this book, deliberated and pondered over for years in the Constituent Assembly of India even before August 15, 1947 had dawned, that has kept an astoundingly diverse set of people with differing agendas together with the guarantees and rights offered only by much older democracies. Its basic structure has secularism woven in even if the word itself was inserted in the Preamble through a later amendment.
It has been hollowed out in some ways over the last decade, a challenge that comes close to its suspension during the Emergency in 1975, but the letter and spirit has survived. If this Constitution is diminished or discarded, so are we, the people.