Updated: January 20, 2021 8:57:03 am
In a few days, the nation will commemorate the birth of the republic. This year, Republic Day falls in the shadow of the wreckage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and protests by thousands of farmers on the borders of the national capital against laws that seek to further corporate interests. It is also a time to reflect on the health of the nation and ask ourselves if all’s well with the republic.
Some days ago, while launching a book on Mahatma Gandhi, RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat said: “If you are a Hindu then you will be an automatic patriot. You may be an unconscious Hindu, you may need awakening, but a Hindu will never be anti-India.” The divisive intent behind this statement is self-evident. For the RSS and BJP, religion is the axis around which the nation constitutes itself.
The environment of hate the RSS had created around the Partition of the country claimed the life of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Nathuram Godse, who murdered Gandhi, continues to be hailed as a great patriot by many RSS-BJP supporters. As per Bhagwat’s definition of patriotism, a Godse will qualify as a patriot but not a Babasaheb Ambedkar, who chose Buddhism after rejecting a discriminatory Hinduism.The RSS chief’s remark is also intended at downplaying the contributions of people from other religions, secularists and atheists in the freedom movement and the development of the republic. According to Bhagwat, a Maulana Azad would not be a patriot because he was a non-Hindu. Dadabhai Naoroji and Homi Jehangir Bhabha too would not qualify. A revolutionary patriot like Bhagat Singh, because of him being an atheist, would have his patriotism questioned, ironically, by those who stayed away from the freedom movement.
Our freedom movement was the confluence of many streams of thoughts and actions. The communists raised the issue of liberation not only from foreign rule but also from all forms of exploitation. Gandhi, after his return from South Africa, during the same period emerged as the leader of the anti-imperialist freedom movement. He raised the issue of Hindu-Muslim unity. Ambedkar, who returned from London in 1920, called for the annihilation of caste.
The communists, Gandhi and Ambedkar had differences but they worked together to unite the people and to end colonial rule. After India gained Independence in 1947 and the Constituent Assembly was convened, these three streams engaged with each other to consolidate the ideals of equality, liberty and fraternity in the Constitution.
At the same time, the Hindu right-wing, namely the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha under V D Savarkar, was trying to sabotage the national movement. When the whole country was getting united for a decisive struggle against colonialism, the RSS and Mahasabha were trying to divide the country in the name of religion. It is ironic that the RSS, which never took part in the freedom struggle, and its affiliate, the BJP, are distributing certificates of patriotism today.
Long ago, Ambedkar had warned that “it is perfectly possible to pervert the Constitution, without changing the form by merely changing the form of administration and to make it inconsistent and opposed to the spirit of Constitution”.
The communists, Ambedkarites and Gandhians need to take up the challenge to save the republic and the Constitution.
This article first appeared in the print edition on January 20, 2021, under the title “Saving the Republic”. The writer is general secretary, CPI
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines