The RSS remains unhappy that Manusmriti gave way to ‘Ambedkar Smriti’ — which is how Anantkumar Hegde, a central minister in the Modi government, described the Constitution of India at a public function in poll-bound Karnataka.
For the uninitiated, Manusmriti (translated as the “Laws of Manu”) is a Hindu law-book that is a monument to Brahmin superiority and prescribes sub-human status to women, so-called “lower castes” and “untouchables”.
Hegde was only being forthright when he told a Brahman Yuva Parishad gathering in Karnataka that the BJP had come to power with the intention to “change” the Constitution, specifically because it mentions the word ‘secular’.
Never mind that it is not possible to “change” the basic structure of the Constitution, of which secularism forms a part.
But first, let us take a brief look at Hegde’s history of inciting communal hatred and violence.
Hegde’s hate-filled history
Denigrating the Constitution — and secularism, which is part of the constitutional fabric of India — is hardly becoming on a Union Minister, more so since he/she has assumed a constitutional office and even taken oath on the Constitution.
But then, Hegde has been a longtime RSS footsoldier and rabble-rouser, and was an ABVP member (the student wing of RSS), before he was made the Union Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship by Modi.
Hegde has routinely made hate speeches and communal remarks against Islam, Christianity and even Buddhism. He has even been booked for hate speech.
In 2003, he had threatened to turn the Sufi shrine, Guru Dattatreya Baba Budan Dargah, in Karnataka into “another Ayodhya”.
“Hegde sharpened his Hindutva polarisation skills during that communal campaign in Karnataka when BJP leaders declared their intention of turning the Sufi shrine in the Baba Budan Giri range of Chickmagalur into the ‘Ayodhya of the South’,” political scientist Shamsul Islam told Newsclick.
In November, Hegde had roused a controversy after stating that if Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah could celebrate Tipu Sultan Jayanti, then they could soon expect to celebrate “Ajmal Kasab Jayanti”.
Earlier, he had even categorically said that “as long as there is Islam in this world, there will be terrorism”, among other such hate-filled communal statements.
So it is a little hard to believe when Hegde says, “If someone says I am a Muslim, or I am a Christian, or I am a Lingayat, or I am a Hindu, I feel very happy because he knows his roots”, as he did in the latest instance.
But that could be for rhetorical effect to underscore the point that “secularists” are like “people without parentage”.
These remarks are obviously aimed at causing communal polarisation ahead of the assembly elections in mid-2018 in Karnataka, which has recently been marred by communal violence.
Activist and academic Subhash Gatade said, “Making such mischievous, provocative statements is the policy of Hindutva forces so that polarisation takes place before elections. Modi, when he took oath on Constitution, said it is a sacred book. But it is sacred only in name, in practice they want to violate it and are violating it every chance they get.”
Shamsul Islam said Hegde must be removed from his constitutional office of Union Minister. “If the Supreme Court of India has any conscience, it must take suo motu notice of Hegde’s crime and take action against him. Besides, the President, who is a Dalit icon, must dismiss this minister,” he said.
RSS vs Constitution of India
While Hegde’s latest remarks are part of the old vote-bank tactic of the BJP, the minister was also giving voice to an old-time demand of the RSS, that the Manusmriti be promulgated as the Constitution instead.
Not only was the RSS opposed to the Constitution as drafted by Dr BR Ambedkar, who headed the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly, it was even opposed to the Tricolour, demanding that the saffron flag be declared as the National Flag of India.
“We must remember that Ambedkar, the Father of the Constitution, had publicly burnt the Manusmriti,” said Sanjay Hegde, senior advocate at the Supreme Court of India, to Newsclick. “And that burning was further consecrated by the Constituent Assembly that debated everything and brought into India a modern Constitution based on liberty, equality and fraternity – ideals that the Manusmriti certainly does not promote.”
Speaking to Newsclick, activist Teesta Setalvad said, “As a student of history and contemporary politics, I have always maintained that the government in power at the Centre and in 19 states is one of the RSS. The BJP is just its parliamentary face. The RSS is a proto fascist force that openly believes and advocates the overthrow of the Indian Constitutional and Republican order and the installation of a authoritarian theocracy. So we have in positions of power those who wish to overthrow the Constitution.”
Earlier attempt by BJP
It is worth recalling that the BJP has attempted to tamper with the Constitution earlier as well.
In the year 2000, the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA government set up an 11-member National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) headed by Justice MN Venkatachaliah, former Chief Justice of India.
The commission was ostensibly set up to “examine, in the light of the experience of the past 50 years, as to how best the Constitution can respond to the changing needs of efficient, smooth and effective system of governance and socio-economic development of modern India” and to “recommend changes”.
The Commission was set up despite massive opposition, and apart from the BJP’s well-known saffronisation agenda, it was alleged that the government sought to bar foreign-born citizens from high constitutional office to prevent Sonia Gandhi from becoming PM.
“But even that Commission, beyond suggesting a few minor things, did not attempt to alter the basic structure of the Constitution. In fact, it recommended that the basic structure of the Constitution must not be tampered with,” said Sanjay Hegde, senior advocate at the Supreme Court of India, to Newsclick.
“Shortly before that, the 9-judge bench judgement in the SR Bommai case had unambiguously stated that secularism is a basic feature of the Constitution. The judgement came in the context of the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the dismissal of four state governments by the Centre and implementation of President’s rule,” said Sanjay Hegde.
Senior advocate Hegde said there was a false notion that the word ‘secular’ entered the Constitution with the 42nd amendment (during the Emergency), when ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ were added to the Preamble.
However, the Constitution from the beginning has carried secularism as part of its basic structure, when it lays out: “LIBERTY, of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship”. He said it was obvious during the Constituent Assembly debates, and Ambedkar also made it clear, that the Constitution was completely secular.
So there is no way that the BJP can “change” the Constitution to remove the word ‘secular’.
“Irrespective of your majority in Parliament, the law is that you cannot tamper with the basic structure of the Constitution,” said Sanjay Hegde.
In 1973, the Supreme Court in the Keshavanada Bharti case had held that the Constitution cannot beamended to a point that would alter its basic structure, he said.
Of course, the BJP can continue trying.
After all, it must be remembered BJP-led NDA regularly bypasses Parliament and flouts rules, such as by introducing and passing controversial legislations as money bills – so that the bills don’t have to go through the Rajya Sabha, where the NDA does not have a majority. The examples include extremely important bills such as the Aadhaar Bill. It even tweaked around the rules with the Finance Bill.