Bhārat: India 2.0. Gautam R Desiraju. Vitasta Publishing. 2022. Pages 396. Rs 750.
Bharat : India 2.0 is a timely book. It asks for a new Constitution which will reflect the new realities of Bharat which is India.
I might go so far as to say that it is a book which could not have been written, say 20 years ago, when the intellectual ecosystem was informed by a left-liberal secular culture.
Desiraju does not care for these labels but it is indisputably a book which is a part of a reaction to Lutyens Delhi and the dominance of a discourse which at its best ignored and at its worst disrespected the ancient and continuous civilisation of Bharat.
It must be read along with books by Rajiv Malhotra who has been tirelessly exposing the breaking India forces in a series of studies culminating in his most recent — Snakes in the Ganga.
Also relevant particularly since Desiraju is proposing a new Constitution is J Sai Deepak, a constitutional lawyer who has path breaking books like India, that is Bharat, India , Bharat, Pakistan, in which he shows convincingly that our Constitution is not in keeping with our civilisational reality.
It is an Anglicised, Christian secular document and that it has resulted in re–colonisation of our country and that de-colonialisation (as distinct from decolonisation) would imply that we write a Constitution which is in keeping with our nation’s Chiti — a term used by that Hindu ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyaya.
Add to Desiraju’s closely argued book, Vikram Sampath’s Bravehearts of India, where he gives space to figures not even heard of in our official left wing histories.
Meenakshi Jain’s studies and Sanjeev Sanyal who has written on neglected revolutionaries, who contributed along with Gandhi and Nehru to our freedom, and we have the making of a new discourse — which I fervently hope will enthuse University teachers and public intellectuals to modify their old standard and recognise the reality of a Dharmic India.
Desiraju’s book has much to offer in the way of how to go about this alteration in sensibility.
Desiraju is a distinguished chemistry professor and that itself makes this a remarkable book. Having been in a University all my life I know that barring a very few, our scientists have been mostly cocooned in their labs and have shown very little interest in politics and social issues.
He breaks this mould and confronts headlong issues usually associated with the humanities and the social sciences whose proponents are usually seen as irritating agitators.
The subjects themselves are dismissed as soft subjects and not of much value. Desiraju with marvellous breadth and depth and an elegant style, grapples with subjects associated with political science, cultural history and constitutional law.
His core thesis is that India has an unsuitable system of governance , stemming from a defective Constitution which does not enable our country to become modern and economically efficient.
But he does not ignore the spiritual dimension because his other related point is that our governance and Constitution should reflect Dharmic values and heritage.
What follows is a highly selective summary of Desiraju’s arguments insofar as they touch on questions of nationhood, civilisation and Dharma.
In a sense this is Desiraju’s main theme but my priorities necessarily touch less, if at all, on other interesting themes which this learned book embodies.
I have taken the liberty to add my own reflections, interspersing them with this summary.
A Nation is a reasonably coherent entity revolving around a language, a region, a race or a territory.
India is too diverse to fit into that category. Between 1890 and 1950 there were several Constitutions written by Indians who spoke the language of the rulers and had at least to pay lip service to what the British tried to do– shape India into a Westphalian nation state. The diversity of India had to be subordinated for this purpose.
Desiraju gives us a detailed account of how nation states in the West were being formed in the 19th century.
Many of them were monarchies moving towards democracy, a point our intelligentsia noted when they were making their arguments to the British for more democracy in India.
He takes us through the maze of developments leading to freedom and concludes that what the 1950 Constitution finally became was a mix of ideas from these various Constitutions, both Indian and British.
The Constitution makers were patriotic and honest but they had an inheritance which inexorably made them make mistakes in the writing of the Constitution.
It is a poignant fact that along with a few others only S Radhakrishnan and Rajendra Prasad eloquently spoke of the civilisational aspect of our country.
But these voices were subdued and neither God nor Dharma found a place in a document which was to influence and determine the lives of ordinary Indians who are a deeply religious people.
Desiraju speaks of the past when we tried our own forms of republicanism, democracy and monarchy.
Unlike others who practised these forms of governance we were different in that our practice of these was always under the control of the overarching concept of Dharma.
And he gives us a very precise and satisfying description of the concept which is virtually untranslatable. It is the eternal element that “sustains the world, nay the universe".
Dharma is not subjective interpretation of duty by an individual nor is it a license to do whatever one might please in the name of ‘way of life’.
It is what enables one to distinguish between right and wrong and represents the confluence of ideals, purposes, influences, institutions that shape the character of a human being both as an individual and as a member of society. It is the law of right living.
It brings order and stability. It is not seen but experienced and cannot be proved as it is a matter of certainty rather than deduction. All things sentient or otherwise have their dharma.
For sentient beings with an intellect, namely humans, the decision as to what is right and what is wrong is made with a combination of nature, instinct and intellect. The first two factors are intrinsic to one’s being.
It is with regard to the third that subjectivity creeps in and our ancients prescribed therefore that our shastras as revealed in the Vedas are the points of reckoning. It is because of these shastras that Sanatana Dharma is a religion and not merely a way of life. (PP97-98).
I think this is a very superb and satisfactory account of Dharma. But, more, it is a way of confronting Abrahamic thinkers by openly saying that we are a religious group with the difference that we are open, tolerant, and inclusive unlike them.
We need to say this because the Republic of India has seen proselytization in a major way and there are alarming tendencies like some parts of the country being “No-Go” areas for the law enforcing agencies because minority groups are in a demographic majority there.
Clearly the Constitution which gives people the right not only to practice their religion but propagate as well is to blame.
Also through amendments words like socialist and secular have been inserted in the Constitution.
The polity has turned secular, which is only another way of saying that Hindus have to be tolerant and accepting but the same is not demanded of other minority groups who are freely converting Hindus.
Sai Deepak has spoken eloquently and forcefully about this and Desiraju somewhat more gently.
Desiraju is hard on the Congress party for mixing, through the aforesaid amendments to the Constitution, socialism and secularism (they were not there in the original Preamble) into a deadly cocktail which concoction, is at odds with Bharatiya culture.
There was no need to bring in secularism when Sanatana Dharma is inherently secular and can guarantee the well being of all.
Our Constitution, he says, must recover the Dharmic element as outlined by Sri Aurobindo.
Our Dharma is basically one of tolerance, forbearance and patience and there is no danger of India becoming a Hindu Pakistan. Our concept of rights and duties are linked to a higher value system where artificial antagonisms are elided over.
We must keep in mind the fact that our Dharmic civilisation is over 5,000 years old. I might add that the left revels in pitching people and classes against each other by stressing victimhood and oppression rather than cooperation and unity.
Rajiv Malhotra’s books outline the nature of these forces. In an eloquent statement Desiraju describes our Dharma as Nirdvaita , Bahuroopa — unchanging yet changing , Nirguna but also Saguna — formful and formless, Sthoola and Sookshma — subtle and gross.
It is Swaroopa, Swadharma and Svabhava and this must be reflected openly in the so called basic structure of our Constitution which at the moment is vague and imprecise.
Desiraju has much to say about India being an union of States and the Federal structure this implies.
He, however, warns that the Centre must hold and not become weak and advocates a healthy division of powers between the Centre and the States .
He makes a radical proposal to further sub divide our country into smaller States and gives many reasons, geographical, ethnic, linguistic, why this will strengthen Federalism and leave the Centre its primacy.
As is the case now large states send more members to Parliament and they have a disproportionate say in the affairs of the nation. Smaller states will send more or less the same number of members to Parliament.
For Desiraju this is a true measure of the balance between the Centre and the periphery. Also administration becomes more efficient and effective with smaller administrative units .
He shows an uncanny insight into the ground reality of various regions of our country and one marvels at the data he has deployed to make his point.
If federalism is not to be strained, smaller states are the answer and he suggests that this can be done, if at all, only under the present eco system which has returned to power a party which at least seems in sync with the civilisational urges of our country.
Unlike a nation-state ours is a civilisational State where the State overlaps with its geographical boundaries.
A nation need not correspond with a country. The Jews were a nation before Israel was even thought of. But our civilisational state corresponds to a country.
The political state in India is the Rajya but underlining it is the Rashtra, the civilisation. Our civilisation is complex in character because Sanatana Dharma was complex with multiple levels of organisation and self correcting features.
Thus to cater to this diversity we have multiple interpretations of the scriptures and we have systems of philosophy which include atheistical ones. This complexity in all aspects of life prevents anyone or any group from dominating.
Thus this complex civilisational character needs to be reflected in a new Constitution, which in turn will enable the formation of smaller administrative units for more effective governance.
His thesis is that smaller states reflect the true diversity of our people and once this is enabled, civilisational blooming will follow.
Desiraju holds up a vision of a Bharat suffused in Dharma which true to its civilisational complexity will have multiple states. Much has been spoken about the “idea of India “.
In our polity this usually means a Nehruvian model. Sunil Khilnani even wrote a book glorifying this idea of India.
To this, Desiraju proposes another view. He says that if there is an idea of India it is of a country. If there is a reality of India then it is a nation called Bharat.
If we are certain about ourselves then we are a Dharmic state called Bharat which is a civilisation. Desiraju has indeed made a major contribution to the nationalistic discourse and his book must be read by the discerning public.
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