Home > 2019 > Modi: Fascinated by Manu

Mainstream, VOL LVII No 41, New Delhi, September 28, 2019

Modi: Fascinated by Manu

Saturday 28 September 2019, by Subhash Gatade

The following is one chapter of Subhash Gatade‘s recently published book, Modinama: Issues That Did Not Matter (LeftWord Books, June 2019). We are reproducing the following chapter from the book with the author’s permission for the benefit of our readers. 

I

When the Indian Constitution was promulgated, Dr Ambedkar said that it had ‘ended the rule by Manu’. And yet, Manu seems back, his magnum opus Manusmriti in the news on a regular basis. The Manusmriti, it needs to be said, was put together between the 2nd century BCE and the 3rd century CE.

In October 2018, three members of the Republican Party of India-Kharat—an Ambed-karite organisation—marched from Aurangabad (Maharashtra) to Jaipur (Rajasthan). Sheela Bai Pawar, Kanta Ramesh Ahire and Dawood Shakeel Sheikh heard that there was a statue to Manu in front of the Jaipur High Court. This statue had been installed there in 1989, during the government of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, an RSS leader. The Dalit organisations had protested this installation from then onwards. A meeting at the Court in 1989 had decided to remove the statue, but VHP leader Acharya Dharmendra had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) to stop the removal. The High Court stayed the removal, saying that the matter should be taken up by a Bench of more than two judges, including the Chief Justice. Nothing further happened. The statue remained, which is why Pawar, Ahire and Sheikh arrived at the court. The two women—Pawar and Ahire—climbed onto the statue and blackened the face of the statue. People gathered around and began to attack the women. One man said, ‘Main Brahman hoon. Mere pe pot kaalikh (I am a Brahmin. I dare you to blacken my face).’ The women were taken into custody and charged with hurting religious sentiments. They were released on bail.

Their act was seen to hurt religious sentiments. But the defence of Manu is not seen to hurt anyone’s sentiments, even as Manu’s text is deeply offensive to anyone who believes in equality and liberty.

There is a statue of Ambedkar near the court. But it is hidden in a corner.

Sambhaji Bhide (age 85), the founder of the Shivpratishthan Sanghatana, gathered his supporters—Dharkaris—at JM Road in Pune (Maharashtra) without any police permission. Bhide told his Dharkaris to work towards forming a Hindu Nation. The Manusmriti, he said, was superior to the teaching of the saints of Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram, that in fact the text of Manu was greater than any other.

Human beings are animals, but what makes them different is the religion that they follow since animals don’t have the idea of religion in them. The capability for self-realisation is given by god to the human beings. Being capable to control the mind is the way for following a religion. You need to be able to control your mind. Sant Dnyaneshwar and Sant Tukaram told us the way for this. But Manu was a step ahead of these saints. Only religion can save the country.

That Bhide so openly attacked the sants of the Bhakti movement raised the question as to why he was not arrested for hurting the religious sentiments of people. He was not arrested. He was also not arrested for his alleged role in the Bhima Koregaon violence of January 2018, despite an FIR being framed against him in the heat of the violence. What clouded the headlines was his statement that mangoes from his farm helped infertile couples conceive a child. This nonsense was the cloud that came between understanding of his real role and the dismissal of him. Bhide is seen as the guru of Modi and the mentor of Maharasthra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. Modi often gets summoned by him and comes, ‘not on his request but on his order’.

Acharya Dharmendra, Sambhaji Bhide and any follower of Hindutva sees Manu as worthy of respect and love. For them, the Manusmriti is more important than the Constitution.

II

Just two weeks before the 90th anniversary celebrations of the Mahad Satyagraha, towards the end of 2017, the leading ideologue of the RSS, Indresh Kumar, took part in a programme called Chanakya Gana Samiti in Jaipur. The theme for the discussion was Adi Purush Manu ko Pehchanein, Manusmriti ko Janein (Know Adipurush Manu, Understand Manusmriti). The invitation to the event described the Manusmriti as ‘opposed to caste discrimination and the caste system’. Kumar told the audience that Manu was not only against the caste system, but he was also against inequality. He suggested that historians had presented a confusing picture of Manu. Manu, he said, was the world’s first jurist in the field of social harmony and social justice. Kumar’s speech came just after Pawar and Ahire had blackened the face on the statue of Manu in front of the High Court.

In 1949, when the Constitution was being formulated, the RSS chief Golwalkar wrote,

But in our constitution there is no mention of the unique constitutional developments in ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing. (Organiser, November 30, 1949)

Ten years previously, in his We or Our Nationhood Defined, Golwalkar had affirmed Manu’s hierarchy of humanity.

The Virat Purusha, the Almighty manifesting himself [according to the Purusha sukta] sun and moon are his eyes, the stars and the skies are created from his nabhi [navel] and Brahmin is the head, Kshatriya the hands, Vaishya the thighs and Shudra the feet. This means that the people who have this fourfold arrangement, i.e., the Hindu People, is [sic] our God. This supreme vision of Godhead is the very core of our concept of ‘nation’ and has permeated our thinking and given rise to various unique concepts of our cultural heritage.

In 1942, Golwalkar gave a speech at an RSS camp (this speech is quoted by Jaydev Dole in his RSS). The speech is worthy of a long extract:

One remembers the story of Lord Manu and the fish in this connection. Once Manu saw a fish outside water which was about to die. He felt pity over it and put it in his pot (kamandal). Within no time the fish started growing and the pot became too small for the fish. Manu transferred it to a pond and slowly when the pond was also found to be too small for the fish, Manu first transferred it to a rivulet then to a river and then to a sea. When there was a huge deluge and the world was about to end the mammoth sized fish saved Lord Manu by carrying him on its feet. When the cataclysm was over - Manu recreated the world. RSS is growing like that fish. The whole world finds itself in cataclysmic situation, people are looking scared looking at the present grave situation and are running helter skelter and are trying to save themselves. There is anarchy every-where. People are so scared that they are ready to embrace a lion but Sangh is telling them with tremendous determination that if Hindu society gets organised then it can save its religion and itself from this storm. An organised society can even save itself from a sky falling with tremendous force. (Translated from Marathi)

Dole notes a few important points about this speech. First, that Golwalkar connects the RSS to the Manusmriti. The speech was made on the 15th anniversary of the Mahad Satyagraha, when Ambedkar and his followers had burnt the Manusmriti. Golwalkar drew a thick line between the RSS view for India and Ambedkar’s view of India. Second, India was in the midst of a major anti-colonial uprising — the Quit India movement, which the RSS had not joined. Without commenting on the mass uprising which terrified the British rulers, Golwalkar tells the Hindus to move to the RSS, an organisation with no role in the anti-colonial struggle. He counsels passivity and a glance backwards. K. R. Malkani, a leader of the RSS, admits in his book The RSS Story that Golwalkar ‘saw no reason why Hindu law should break its ancient links with the Manusmriti’.

Golwalkar was not alone in his fascination with Manu’s book. V. D. Savarkar, who created the doctrine of Hindutva, deeply admired the book and felt it should be the Indian Constitution. In a text on women in the Manusmriti, Savarkar wrote,

Manusmriti is that scripture which is most workable after the Vedas for our Hindu nation and which from ancient times has become the basis of our culture-customs, thought and practice. This book for centuries has codified the spiritual and divine march of our nation. Even today the rules which are followed by crores of Hindus in their lives and practice are based on Manusmriti. Today Manusmriti is Hindu law.

From Savarkar and Golwalkar to the present, there has been a twin move to denigrate the Constitution of India and to uphold the Manusmriti, to cast aside the text of equality and substitute if for a text of hierarchy.

III

In 2017, RSS head Mohan Bhagwat addressed the Akhil Bharatiya Adhivakta (Advocates) Parishad in Hyderabad. Bhagwat said that the Constitution was written ‘based on foreign sources’, which is ‘something we must address’. He wanted the Constitution to be changed ‘in line with the value systems of the country’. A few months later, Union Minister Ananth Hegde of the BJP said at an event in Karnataka that the Constitution should be changed and ‘it will be changed in the days to come’.

Bhagwat and Hegde are not outliers. The election manifestos of the BJP have routinely called for a review of the Indian Constitution. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP was the Prime Minister (1999-2004), he appointed the National Commission to review the working of the Constitution, led by Justice M.N.R. Venkatachaliah. It submitted the final report in 2002, but that could not go anywhere due to the weakness of the Vajpayee Government.

When Uma Bharati of the BJP was the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, she pushed an ordinance to ban cow slaughter with an official statement in January 2005 that extoled the virtues of the Manusmriti. ‘Manusmriti,’ the statement reads, ‘ranks the slaughterer of cow as predator and prescribes hard punishment for him’. This was the first time in independent India’s legal history that an ordinance or a law was based on the Manusmriti.

The attempt to discredit the Constitution and to revive the Manusmriti is not accidental. It is decidedly part of the RSS-BJP agenda. There is a project to deny human rights to the vast majority of women and to the oppressed castes. Golwalkar did not take kindly to the affirmative action programmes undertaken by the newly independent state for the welfare and empowerment of Dalits and Adivasis. He expressed his disapproval by saying that rulers were digging at the roots of Hindu social cohesion and destroying the spirit of identity that held various sects of Hinduism into a harmonious whole in the past. Denying that Hindu social system was responsible for the plight of the lower castes, he held constitutional safeguards for them as responsible for creating disharmony:

Dr Ambedkar had envisaged the special privileges for ‘Scheduled Castes’ for only 10 years from the day we became a republic in 1950. But it is going on, being extended. Continued special privileges on the basis of caste only, is bound to create vested interests in them in remaining as a separate entity. That would harm their integration with the rest of the society.

IV

“The laws of Manu relating to the Status of the Shudra make a very interesting reading for the simple reason that they have moulded the psychology of the Hindus and determined their attitude towards the Shudras who forms at the present and at all times the most numerous parts of Hindu society. They are set out below under separate heads so that it may be possible for the reader to have a complete idea of the status given by Manu to the Community of Shudras.”

— Dr B. R. Ambedkar

Modi says that he is a ‘disciple’ of Dr Ambedkar. A gulf separates them, particularly when it comes to Manu.

Modi is a bhakt of Hindutva. We have already seen that the gurus of Hindutva are champions of Manu’s work, something that sets them apart from Dr. Ambedkar. In Modi’s book Jyotipunj— which first appeared in Gujarati in 2008—he profiles the lives of fifteen RSS workers, most of whom are unknown outside the Sangh. Golwalkar gets the longest treatment. Modi describes him as a good organiser, as a dedicated man and as a man of great intellect. Modi does not disagree with Golwalkar at all, least of all on his views on Manu.

As the Chief Minister of Gujarat and as the Prime Minister of India, Modi has not shown himself to be seized of the crimes of the caste system and of caste hierarchy. This is despite his own stories of being a victim of the asymmetries of the caste system. He rushed into a bill to give 10 percent reservations for dominant castes shows his fealty to these groups. There has been no fundamental challenge to the worldview of the Manusmriti.

Modi’s views on cleanliness show that he has absorbed the worst of the caste system. Worse yet is his fascination with ancient India. In Parliament, Modi said that ‘India did not get democracy due to Pandit Nehru’, but got it from its ‘rich history’, the ‘many examples of rich democratic traditions that date back centuries. Democracy is integral to this nation and is in our culture’. What might he refer to when he says that democracy is ‘in our culture’? In what way could the hierarchies of caste be understood as democratic?

Professor D.N. Jha took to the Indian Express to set Modi right on his claims about ancient India, saying that ‘knowledge of history has never been a strong point of the RSS from whose ranks Modi has risen to become the prime minister’. On the question of the republican states in ancient India, Jha writes,

Had he any familiarity with ancient Indian history he would have known that the tribal assembly (santhagara) was dominated by oligarchs and that non-Kshatriyas, slaves and wage earners had no place in it. Members of the assembly bore the title raja or king; in the case of the Licchavis 7,707 rajas, all Kshatriyas, sat in the assembly and the head of their state was a senapati, the term denoting commander in a monarchy. Far from being a democracy, the Licchavi state was an oligarchy.

These states exercised strict control over their subjects through executive edicts and legislation which exposed their undemocratic character, namely how they formulated rules related to the marriage of girls or how they prohibited inter-dining among the people of ‘unequal birth’. Then, Jha wrote,

Rules such as these were no better than those evolved by the Brahmin authors of the Dharmasutras. A closer scrutinywould show that the governments of the Licchavis, Shakyas and Mallas possessed all the paraphernalia of a monarchical state. One would expect that the prime minister of the largest democracy in the world is better informed about the country’s past before articulating his effete and obsolete ideas and misleading the people of the country.

Modi’s claims about ancient India do not come from ignorance. They come from a need to celebrate the ‘republics of Kshatriyas’, the rule of the dominant castes as an ideal for ‘democracy’. There is disdain here for modern democratic norms, disdain for the views of people such as Dr. Ambedkar.

V

Sangh intellectuals are preparing the ground for two things: first, to absolve the Manusmriti for its implication in the violence meted out to Dalits and to women and second, to divert attention from the caste system and caste hierarchy and point the figure for centuries of violence towards others — mainly Muslims. It is to this end that the Sangh intellectuals seek to produce a ‘suitable Ambedkar’, an Ambedkar who will help them in this dual diversion.

Books, articles and pamphlets written by the Sangh intellectuals routinely tend to glorify the Manusmriti, with Ambedkar as part of their arsenal. K. V. Paliwal’s Manusmriti aur Ambedkar (Hindu Writers Forum, 2007) is one example. Paliwal writes regularly for Suruchi Prakashan, a press close to the RSS, which has published books whose titles betray his point of view, Isaiyat ki Asaliyat (the Reality of Christianity), Jihad Kya aur Kaise? (What is Jihad and How to Wage It?), Bharat Islami Rajya ki Or (India Towards an Islamic State), Hindu Jagran Kyon aur Kaise? (Why Hindu Awakening and How). In the Preface to Manusmriti aur Ambedkar, Paliwal writes about the need to revisit the Manusmriti. He writes,

This book has been written for those people who are rather confused about Manu’s Manusmriti and feel that it supports the present caste system, upper class-lower class and untouchability. The second aim of the book is to remove this confusion that Manu was opposed to Shudras and women and was a supporter of Brahminism. It’s third aim is to remove the mistaken understanding spread by modern era social reformer and Dalit leader Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar. Here all quotes have been excerpted from Babasaheb Dr Ambedkar Sampoorna Wangmay, Volumes 1 to 14 (Appendix 1). Dr Ambedkar has himself admitted that he cannot claim mastery over the Sanskrit language (Who Were the Shudras, Volume 13, Page 3).Unfortunately, Dr Ambedkar wrote on Manusmriti basing himself on the anti-Veda scholar Max MŸeller’s edited version, which was rendered into English by George BŸhler, which caused many confusions. If instead of BŸhler, he would have referred to the version translated by Rangnath Jha and published in 1920-24, then it would have caused less confusions. In his writings on Hindu religion, Dr Ambedkar has repeatedly used 475 shlokas/Stanzas from Manusmriti repeatedly. Out of which 200 shlokas are related to women, brahmins and shudra only, most of which are mixed/adulterated. If we remove these mixed/adulterated and anti-Ved Shlokas then we find that no difference remains between Manu and Ambedkar. (Translated from Hindi)

Paliwal’s preface further tells us that the around fifty-six per cent of the sholkas or stanzas in the Manusmriti out of total 2865 Shlokas are later additions. He refers to Dr Surendra Kumar, who has supposedly revised the Manusmriti taking into consideration these so called ‘adulterations’ and even published aVishudh Manusmriti(Pure Manusmriti) in 1985. Paliwal says, ‘If this pure Manusmriti, would have been available in English by 1935 itself then Dr. Ambedkar would have considered differences among Varnas as natural and there would have been no opposition to Manusmriti then’. Paliwal’s book is supposedly meant to remove these ‘confusions in a logical way’.

The attempt to sanitise the Manusmriti has been a long project of the Sangh intellectuals, even if this sanitisation means revision to the ‘ancient Hindu scriptures’. In 2017, Amir Chand, a leader of the Sanskar Bharati, one of the affiliated organisations of the RSS, urged the Minister of Culture Mahesh Sharma (of the BJP and the RSS) to promote activities so that a ‘correct image of the ancient Hindu scriptures’ can be presented to the public. Chand was worried that the scriptures appeared to be anti-Dalit and anti-women. These portions had to be whitewashed. New research was needed for this re-branding of the Manusmriti.

Manu was born 8,000 years ago. There are several versions of Manusmriti, which have been written 5,500 years after his birth and thus the credentials of the authors and their writings need to be questioned. It is a matter of research, someone needs to look in to this.

Amir Chand’s proposal has its basis in the journalist Suryakant Bali’s Bharat Gaatha (Jagriti Prakashan, 2015). This book that the RSS claims is scholarly does not identify its sources to support its claims.

VI

“It was Sir T. Madhava Rao who speaking of Hindu Society of his time said, ‘The longer one lives, observes, and thinks, the more deeply does he feel that there is no community on the face of the earth which suffers less from political evils and more from self-inflicted or self-accepted or self-created, and therefore avoidable evils, than the Hindu Community’. This view expresses quite accurately and without exaggeration the necessity of social reform in Hindu Society.The first Social Reformer and the greatest of them all is Gautama Buddha. Any history of Social Reform must begin with him and no history of Social Reform in India will be complete which omits to take account of his great achievements.”

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar,The Untouchables and Pax Britannica, 1931

Did Dr. Ambedkar misread the Manusmriti, as Paliwal claims? To say so demeans a great intellectual, a man who understood precisely what he was reading and how to read it. His vast writings, his range of topics and his depth of knowledge shows that he was not merely skimming the surface of texts such as Manusmriti and those others that allowed Ambedkar to contextualise Manu’s work.

In Ambedkar’s writings lies an incomplete manuscript—Revolution and Counter-revolution in Ancient India—which has been published in volume 3 of the works of Ambedkar. He had planned to write seven books as part of this enormous project, although he could not finish his work. Ambedkar was going to argue that Buddhism was the most important revolution in ancient India. It was defeated by a counter-revolution led by the Brahmins. In his sketch, Ambedkar had drawn up thirteen chapters, which are as follows:

1. Ancient India on Exhumation.

2. The Ancient Regime—The State of the Aryan Society.

3. A Sunken Priesthood.

4. Reformers and Their Fate.

5. The Decline and Fall of Buddhism.

6. The Literature of Brahminism.

7. Triumph of Brahminism.

8. The Morals of the House—Manusmruti or the Gospel of Counter-Revolution.

9. Philosophic Defence of Counter-Revolution (Krishna and his Gita)

10. Analysis of Virat Parva and Uddyog Parva.

11. Brahmins vs. Kshatriyas.

12. The Shudras and the Counter-Revolution.

13. The Women and the Counter-Revolution.

For Ambedkar, Manusmriti is a ‘record of the greatest social revolution that Hindu Society has undergone’. He understands the text to be a law book — part ethics and part religion. Ambedkar calls the Manusmriti the ‘gospel of counter-revolution’. The objective of this counter-revolution, Ambedkar noted ‘was to destroy Buddhism and re-establish Brahmanism’. The text, Ambedkar pointed out, accords special privileges to Brahmins and uses tremendous violence to assert and maintain Brahmin power. Why was Brahmanism opposed to Buddhism? One of the main reasons is that Buddhism hits at the root of Brahmanism — it denounces the caste system and caste hierarchy. It might very well be true that the caste system were not as rigid then as it late became, but nonetheless Buddhism attacked the principle of hierarchy. Buddha’s views were implemented, so that Buddhism came as a direct assault on the idea of purity and the humiliation of the Shudra. All people would be equal as Bhikkus. This was the essence of the Buddhist attack on Brahmanism. For good reason, therefore, the Manusmriti castigates the Buddhists as heretics. Three provisions, all quoted by Ambedkar, define the animosity that the Manusmriti had for the Buddhists, those whom Ambedkar respected and joined in 1956,

1. Men who abide in heresy . . . the king should banish from his realm (IX. 225).

2. These robbers in disguise, living in the king’s realm constantly injure the worthy subject by the performance of their misdeeds (IX. 226).

3. Libations of water shall not be offered to (the souls of) those who (neglect the prescribed rites and may be said to) have been born in vain, to those born in consequence of an illegal mixture of the castes, to those who are ascetics (of heretical sects) and to those who have committed suicide (V. 89).

VII

In an important unpublished manuscript entitled Philosophy of Hinduism, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar draws a straight line from the Manusmriti to Friedrich Nietzsche to the Nazis. This text was likely written in the late 1930s or the early 1940s, because Ambedkar writes of Nazism in the present tense, the Nazis not having yet been defeated by 1945. ‘The Nazis’, Ambedkar writes, ‘trace their ancestry from Nietzsche and regard him as their spiritual parent. Hitler has himself photographed beside a bust of Nietzsche; he takes the manuscripts of the master under his special guardianship; extracts are chosen from Nietzsche’s writings and loudly proclaimed at the ceremonies of Nazism as the New German Faith’. It is undisputed, Ambedkar writes, that Nietzsche was beloved by the Nazis.

Meanwhile, Ambedkar writes, Nietzsche’s ideas of the Superman—which so appealed to Hitler—came directly from Manusmriti. In his The Anti-Christ (1888), Nietzsche writes with great feeling of the ‘Law Book of Manu’. A few years earlier, Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883) seemed to have the lawgiver Zarathustra modelled on Manu, with Ambedkar claiming that ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra is a new edition of Manu Smriti’. For Nietzsche, the Brahmins became the Class of Supermen.

Ambedkar quotes a little from the Manusmriti —‘let a Shudra serve a Brahman’—and then says, ‘Hinduism is the gospel of the supermen and it teaches that what is right for the supermen is the only thing which is called morally right and morally good’. These are powerful words. It is hard to parse them out and to say that Ambedkar has neither done his reading or read erroneously. He reads into Nietzsche and sees the implications of Manu’s text. And these implications are fascistic. ‘The parallel to this philosophy of Hinduism’, he writes, ‘is to be found in Nietzsche’, which slips neatly a half century after he wrote these texts into the fantasies of Nazism.

Subhash Gatade is a Left activist and author. He is the author of Charvak ke Vaaris (Hindi, 2018), Ambedkar ani Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (Marathi, 2016), Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India (2011) and The Saffron Condition (2011). His writings for children include Pahad Se Uncha Aadmi (2011). 

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62 Privacy Policy Notice Addressed to Online Readers of Mainstream Weekly in view of European data privacy regulations (GDPR)