am 85, now with one foot in the grave, as the proverb says. I am leading a retired life. I am generally aware of what is going on in India and the rest of the world. And there is plenty to feel disturbed about.
I was about 10 when India became independent. But Independence was preceded by extremely violent communal riots and ultimately, the partition of the country. Massive numbers of people were forced to leave their homes and migrate – Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan to India, and Muslims from India to Pakistan. The suffering they underwent cannot be described in words. It could only be felt. Yet, the wise men who met in the Constituent Assembly of India on December 9, 1946 for the first time and deliberated upon the provisions of the Constitution drafted by the committee led by Bhim Rao Ambedkar, finally adopting it on November 26, 1949, gave us one of the finest constitutions in the world. November 26 is now celebrated as the Constitution Day of India. The Constitution came into force on January 26, 1950 which is celebrated as the Republic Day of India. It is that Republic which is under threat today along with the constitution drafted by Dr Ambedkar.
The period during which the constitution was being drafted can only be described as a period of great tumult in Indian history, marked by partition, communal violence and transfer of population. Yet the framers of the constitution settled for a secular (though the word as such was not there and was inserted in the preamble of the constitution much later during the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi through the 42nd amendment) constitution.
Most of these amendments were undone by the 44th amendment passed during the Janata Party rule which followed, but the word ‘secularism’ was allowed to remain in the constitution. How did the country come to adopt a secular, democratic and liberal constitution during a time as fraught as the period during which the Assembly debated and adopted the various provisions of the constitution? The credit must go to the leadership of that time and to all those wise men belonging to different regions of the country, different castes and classes, and coming from divergent backgrounds. Each of them was a stalwart and imbued with a sense of national service so strikingly absent today. They put the nation first, not themselves, as we do today. Power and office were means to serve the people, not ends in themselves. Leaders had great moral authority and were respected, not feared, throughout the length and breadth of the country. There was no misuse of authority as is so common now. Corruption was the exception, not the rule. I am not saying that we lived in heaven in those days; but we lived in an environment much better than today’s.
Hinduism survived the challenge of Buddhism, despite state support for it from time-to-time including from Emperor Ashoka. It survived the onslaught of a militant Islam in the Middle Ages. It survived the Jizya tax of Aurangzeb and it survived the preaching and machinations of European Christians. It survived because of its inherent strengths, not because the present protagonists were around to protect it at the time.
What has provoked me to write this article? The immediate provocation is the speeches made in the ‘Dharma Sansad’ held at Haridwar between December 17 and 19 by the worthies who assembled there to save the Hindu religion. I am happy that Saket Gokhale, National Spokesperson of the Trinamool, has already filed an FIR against the perpetrators with the concerned officials though the attitude of a senior functionary of the Uttarakhand police was despicable when media persons approached him. When asked what the police would do in this case, he said that the police could not act without a complaint, as if the police have no power to act suo moto. But despite Saket’s complaint, I am certain that the Uttarakhand Police, under pressure from the BJP government, will not dare take any action against the culprits
Our nationhood is not under threat today as it was in 1947. There is no danger of it breaking up. We are more secure today than we ever have been in our long history. So, why are these imaginary fears being spread? The simple answer is ‘for power’. The rulers of the day, whether at the centre or in BJP-ruled states, have one and only one formula to cling to power, and that is an unbridgeable communal divide. Covid is not an issue. The economy is not an issue. The Chinese occupying our land is not an issue. Demonetisation which destroyed our economy is not an issue. Nothing is an issue except fanning communal passions among the majority community in order to stay in power.
This is the ‘of the season of the constitution’ from November to January. It was this constitution which gave us our Republic. The advice to the younger generation from an old man is “Let us resolve to save the Republic. If we fail today we shall fail India.
(Yashwant Sinha, former BJP leader, was Minister of Finance (1998-2002) and Minister of External Affairs (2002-2004). He is currently vice-president, Trinamool Congress.)