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Mainstream, VOL LV No 35 August 19, 2017

India At Seventy: Are All Citizens Equal?

Sunday 20 August 2017

by Mridula Mukherjee

The celebrations of the seventieth anniversary of Independence Day and the seventyfifth anniversary of the ‘Quit India’ Movement, within the same week, have brought with them a welcome focus and debate in the public domain on the core values that define the Indian Republic. Political leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to the democratic vision of the freedom struggle. The Prime Minister has included communalism as one of the scourges that need to be made to ‘Quit India’ (along with corruption, casteism, terrorism and filth), thus indicating his faith in the secular principle.

Why then is there still a disquiet in many sections about the health of the republic? The outgoing Vice-President has warned that there is a climate of fear among Dalits, Muslims, and women. The outgoing President has repeatedly said that there is room for the argumentative Indian, but not for an intolerant Indian. Innumerable TV commentators, op-ed pieces, editorials, public lectures, have pressed the point that the occasional well-meaning utterances of the top leadership are no substitute for firm action on the ground against those who are violating the letter and spirit of the Constitution with impunity. Citizens have marched all over the country dissociating themselves from crimes being committed in the name of religion, shouting “Not in my name” loud enough for even the deaf to hear.

The incoming Vice-President has dismissed the talk of fear among minorities as political propaganda and declared confidently that in no other country in the world are minorities as safe as they are in India. He declared appease-ment of none and justice for all as the basic principle.

And yet why do his assurances not convince those who keep talking of Junaid, Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan and sundry others? Why are there still doubts about whether every Indian enjoys rights of equal citizenship in our secular democracy? The problem does not lie in our laws or our Constitution. The Constitution guarantees funda-mental rights which include the right to practice and propagate one’s religion to all citizens irrespective of religion, caste, sex, or race. It also guarantees other rights to minorities, including the right to set up educational institutions. It further recognises social deprivation and makes special provisions for protection against discrimination and for special treatment to take care of the disabilities from which victims suffer.

The problem also does not lie with the legacy of the freedom struggle, which was fought in the name of all Indians. On this anniversary of ‘Quit India’, it is worth remembering how Gandhiji, in his famous Do or Die speech on 8 August 1942, laying down the democratic and secular vision of the Congress, had said:

under the Congress scheme of things, essentially non-violent as it is, there can be no room for dictatorship. A non-violent soldier of freedom will covet nothing for himself, he fights only for the freedom of his country. The Congress is unconcerned as to who will rule, when freedom is attained. The power, when it comes, will belong to the people of India, and it will be for them to decide to whom it is entrusted....

Ever since its inception the Congress has kept itself meticulously free of the communal taint. It has thought always in terms of the whole nation and has acted accordingly...The Congress does not believe in the domination of any group or any community. It believes in democracy which includes in its orbit Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Parsis, Jews—every one of the commu-nities inhabiting this vast country....

India is without doubt the homeland of all the Mussalman inhabiting this country.... The Congress is fighting not on behalf of the Hindu but on behalf of the whole nation, including the minorities. It would hurt me to hear of a single instance of a Mussalman being killed by a Congressman. In the coming revolution, Congressmen will sacrifice their lives in order to protect the Mussalman against a Hindu’s attack and vice versa. It is a part of their creed....

The leaders of the freedom struggle and the founding fathers of the Constitution, saw to it that undeterred by the Partition and the accom-panying communal upsurge in which loud cries of Hindu Rashtra could be heard, they stayed steadfast to the vision of a secular democratic republic with equal rights for all citizens.

The disquiet and doubts arise because of the foundational ideology to which the present-day holders of state power owe allegiance. While giving assurances of sabka saath sabka vikas, there is no move to disavow or disown ideologues whose beliefs were at complete variance with the secular principles of the Constitution. In fact, government functionaries openly assert their links with the RSS, and leaders such as Savarkar, Hedgewar, Golwalkar, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya are sought to be iconised. In which case, is it not legitimate to ask whether we are to take at face value the verbal assurances of good intentions or go by the ideological structure laid down in the foundational texts?

A study of the writings of Savarkar, the original author of the concept of Hindutva, and of Golwalkar, the chief of the RSS for long years before and after Independence, for example, demonstrates that the basic elements of their ideology were the notion of Hindutva, of India being a land of Hindus alone, of Muslims as enemies, as anti-national and traitors, of reducing Indian nationalism to Hindu nationalism, of the Congress as anti-Hindu, of hatred of Gandhiji.

The communal bias is introduced in the very conception of the nation, in its name itself. For example, Savarkar defines it in the following manner:

The land which extends from the Indus to the Southern Seas is Hindusthan—the land of the Hindus and we Hindus are the Nation that owns it.1

Golwalkar echoes the same idea:

‘ Hindusthan, the land of the Hindus, lives and should live the Hindu Nation.... Hindus than is the land of the Hindus and is the terra firma for the Hindu Nation alone to flourish upon...’.2

Also the notion that Hindus have some kind of ownership rights on this land is a very important one in Hindu communal thinking (however archaic it may sound to us today) as it is the basis for denying equal claims to members of other religious groups. In fact, Savarkar clearly says that ‘India must be a Hinduland, reserved for the Hindus’.3

Savarkar, who was the original creator of the concept of Hindutva, was unambiguous about who could be a Hindu (and Hindu is equal to Indian): ‘A Hindu means a person who regards this land of Bharat-Varsha from the Indus to the Seas as his Fatherland as well as his Holyland, that is the cradle land of his religion.’4 This statement of Savarkar is of utmost importance as it automati-cally excludes the Muslims and the Christians from the definition as their holy lands are outside India. It also enables the inclusion of members of what could be called breakaway religions, such as Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism in the ranks of Hindus. This definition is repeated by Golwalkar as well, thus signifying its acceptance by the RSS.

The attitude to be adopted towards non-Hindus is brought out clearly in the following statement of Golwalkar:5

...The non-Hindu peoples in Hindusthan must either adopt theHindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture i.e. they must not onlygive up their attitude of intolerance and ungratefulness towards this land and its agelong traditions but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead—in one word they,must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving noprivileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizen’s rights. There is, at least should be, no other course for them to adopt. We are an old nation; and let us deal, as old nations oughtto and do deal, with the foreign races, who have chosen to live inour country.

In case there was any doubt about what he meant, he gave a concrete example:6

German race-pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the semitic races—the Jews.Race-pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures,having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for use in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.

Since the BJP and the RSS are apt to say that We or Our Nationhood Defined does not reflect the current views of the organisation as it was withdrawn from circulation, it maybe appro-priate to quote Golwalkar from his Bunch of Thoughts (1966) which has not yet been disowned. Referring to Muslims and Christians, he says:7

They are born in this land, no doubt. But are they true to its salt?....No. Together with the change in their faith, gone are spirit of love and devotion for the nation.... The story does not end there. They have also developed a feeling of identifi-cation with the enemies of this land. They look to some foreign lands as their holy places.... So we see that it is not merely a change of faith, but a change even in national identity. What else is it if not treason, to join the camp of the enemy leaving the mother nation in the lurch.

The Organiser, the RSS mouthpiece, put it even more crudely, threatening to make all those who dare to disagree as extinct as the dodos, a bird species that died out years ago:8

Muslims must accept the fact that India is as much a Hindu country as Pakistan is a Muslim country or Britain is a Christian country. Any body who does not accept this way of life is an ostrich today ...and he will be dead as dodo tomorrow.

For Indian citizens to believe today that the assurances of equal treatment and equal rights offered today are genuine and truly meant, they surely need an assurance that these ideological constructs outlined above no longer form part of the world-view of those giving these assurances. Indian citizens need to be sure that their rights under the Constitution are safe, and that the goal of making India a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ has been consigned to the dustbin of history. They need to be assured that they can wear the dress that identifies them, eat the food that they choose, sing or not sing songs that they wish, choose which slogans they want to shout or not shout, without being labeled as anti-national by self-appointed guardians of Indian nationalism. Only then can they believe that the promises of the freedom struggle are being honoured by the rulers of the day.


1. V.D. Savarkar, Presidential Address, Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha in Nagpur, 1938, quoted in V.D. Savarkar, Hindu Rashtra Darshan: A Collection of the Presential Speeches, Laxman Ganesh Khare, Bombay, 1949, 63—64.

2. M.S. Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined, fourth edition, Nagpur, 1947, pp. 52-53.

3. Savarkar, Hindu RashtraDal, p. 92.

4. Quoted prominently on the cover of V.D. Savarkar,

 Hindutva: Who is a Hindu, Hindu Sahitya Sadan, New Delhi, 2003 (first published in 1923).

5. Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined, pp. 55—56.

6. Ibid, p. 43

7. Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts, Bangalore, 1966, pp. 127—28.

8. Organiser, January 1970.

Prof Mridula Mukherjee is a Professor of Modern Indian History, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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