From the Sublime Civilisational Genius Of Dr Ambedkar To The Ridiculous Rhetoric Of Rahul Gandhi
Dr Ambedkar was aware of the cultural and spiritual unity of the Indian nation. Not just that, he wrote it into the Constitution of India.
Rahul Gandhi would do well to go back and read the original document.
When Rahul Gandhi spoke in the Parliament regarding the nature of the unity of India, he crossed a Lakshman Rekha. He questioned the constitutional legitimacy of India as a nation.
This didn't seem as much out of ignorance as out of malice towards the nationhood of India. It was not an unintended mistake that Rahul Gandhi made on the floor of the house when he stated that the Constitutions does not define India as a nation but as a union of states.
Creating an artificial binary and pitting a nation against the concept of the union of states is a dangerous game but not a new one.
All one needs to do is recollect how a major controversy was created in 1998 with the same group of politicians and sections of media. The Hindu and Outlook went to town with stories of 'saffronization of history' because the wordings in the original Memorandum of Association of ICHR's aims were changed from 'rational' to national. Arun Shourie, in his book on eminent historians, has brought out in detail how the entire controversy was fake.
Digging into the old files Shourie showed the following:
I have before me the statement of the Ministry of Human Resources Development [No. F. 30-28/86-U3] dated 6 October 1987, that is of eleven years ago. It gives the text of the resolution of the Government of India announcing the new members – announcing, among other things, that Irfan Habib is being appointed as chairman with retrospective effect from 9 September 1986. The corresponding expression in it is, ‘to give a national direction to an objective and NATIONAL presentation and interpretation of history….’
While the eminent historians, media and politicians were proved wrong factually and their falsehood exposed, they succeeded in their mission in the sense that they established in the public mind the thought that there exists an antagonistic relationship between the 'national' and the 'rational'. So, in effect, the national direction to the writing of history runs counter to the rational direction.
In 2022, Rahul Gandhi is playing the same game, but in a more dangerous manner.
Here, in effect, India is a nation only by mechanistic treaty. An artificial, antagonistic binary has been created between nation and union of states. Anyone addressing India as a nation and anyone addressing India as union of states will be viewed with mutual suspicion.
The fact is India has always been a nation and a union. It is unity in diversity and diversity rooted in unity. It is an organic conception of nation and as we will see, this unique conceiving of a nation goes back to the Vedas.
It should be noted here that three of the 'founding fathers' of the modern Indian nation-state have denied this concept of India as a treaty union of states. Instead they have pointed to an underlying oneness of nationhood of India.
Mahatma Gandhi indeed made it clear in his Hind Swaraj and Jawaharlal Nehru did the same in his Discovery of India.
However, the thoughts of Babasaheb Ambedkar are the ones that are crucial for us in the context. This because of the assertion that 'the Constitution of India does not define India as a nation'.
Dr Ambedkar, the chief architect of Indian Constitution, had written most eloquently about the cultural basis of India's nationhood. In his 1916 Colombia University thesis he had written:
It is the unity of culture that is the basis of homogeneity. Taking this for granted, I venture to say that there is no country that can rival the Indian Peninsula with respect to the unity of its culture. It has not only a geographic unity, but it has over and above all a deeper and a much more fundamental unity—the indubitable cultural unity that covers the land from end to end.
However, to him caste was creating divisions and relations of 'graded inequality' within this cultural unity.
In the case of a contract nation, the formation of the nation is an event, as in the United States. In the case of India, it is a continuous and organic process. Dr Ambedkar emphasised the spiritual basis of India's unity and underlined the principle of fraternity. While the spirit of nationhood unites, the fissiparous tendencies of caste divide and weaken the nation.
It is in this context that Dr Ambedkar brought in his principle of fraternity. In his classic Thoughts on Pakistan, Dr Ambedkar hinted at this as the very spiritual essence of nationhood. He wrote:
If unity is to be of an abiding character it must be founded on a sense of kinship, in the feeling of being kindred. In short it must be spiritual.
This 'sense of kinship, in the feeling of being kindred' is the principle of fraternity.
In the triune principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, it is on fraternity that Dr Ambedkar focused much. He had pointed out that he derived this principle neither from political science nor from French Revolution but from religion, specifically Buddha.
Elsewhere he had also pointed out that these principles are present in the Upanishads. He had even stated that the spiritual basis of democracy (and we can deduce, hence fraternity) in ancient India was contained in the Mahavakyas of the Upanishads.
Now let us turn to the document - the original document of the preamble of the Constitution of India. Here, we find that the word 'Nation' is tied to the principle of fraternity. Nation is capitalised in the original. The eighty one words long original 1950 Constitution Preamble reads:
WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the Nation; IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.
While this preamble was based loosely on Nehru's 'Objective Resolution', its deeply meaningful aspects come from Dr Ambedkar. Particularly 'Fraternity.'
Dr Ambedkar had pointed out already that national unity has to be spiritual and this spiritual feeling is the principle of fraternity. And in the preamble he connected the principle of fraternity to the unity of Nation. Later, in his works on Buddhism, he considered the term' fraternity' as inadequate and opted for the term 'Maitri'.
While he connected Maitri to Buddha's teaching, one needs to ponder over the fact as to why he chose the Sanskrit Maitri over the more explicitly Buddhist Pali derivative Metta.
The answer perhaps lies in Dr Ambedkar's view of history where he sees a gradual social stagnation and hierarchical vested interests creating 'graded inequality' in the society. From Vedic and Upanishadic India through Buddhist India, where India was spiritually and socially a great humane civilisation, to the Smriti-dominance, he sees a downfall. So he wanted a resurrection and renaissance based on the pre-Buddhist (hence Vedopanishadic) and Buddhist India spiritual values.
Maitri comes from Mitra, the Vedic Deity.
Many experts on ancient Indian religion have pointed out the continuity of Vedic Mitra, and the mitra-function with its later development in Buddhism. Famous Dutch Indologist Jan Gonda (1905-1991) explains:
As far as Mitra and maitra are concerned, it may be recalled that the idea of maitra continues to play an important part in post-Vedic religious thought. It implies 'ideas' such as helpful benevolence and radiating influence for good. The (later) Vedic occurrences of this term foreshadow the well-known Buddhist idea of maitra, maitri, maitrya (Pãli mettã) which is translated by terms such as "active interest in others, love and amity, active good-will."Postscript on Mitra, Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute , 1977-1978, Vol. 58/59, pp.149-50
In yet another paper, Jan Gonda describes this Vedic Deity thus:
(Mitra) is the god who, while peacefully maintaining the fundamental and universal order (rta), keeps its manifestations in the right condition, puts things right, regulates the contacts between men and the divine powers, stabilizes, redresses, adjusts, restores, appeases, unites men; he represents the idea of benevolence, active goodness and friendliness and maintains special relations with fire and sunlight.Vedic Mitra and Epic Dharma, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland , 1971, No. 2 (1971), p.121
One can see clearly how the qualities 'benevolence, active goodness and friendliness' along with Rta actually makes fraternity very well part of this realm of qualities.
Another eminent scholar of Buddhism, Dr Martin Gerald Wiltshire explains why it is important to look into the Vedic roots of Buddhist Metta:
Since the pre-eminent Buddhist ethical value is the principal of conciliation or avihimsa, made religiously potent by means of the meditational technique of metta, etc and since the practice of metta itself is archaic, we shall examine some of the significances of the Vedic figure Mitra, a name etymologically linked with the word metta (Skt. maitri).Martin G Wiltshire, Ascetic Figures Before and in Early Buddhism: The Emergence of Gautama as the Buddha, Mouton de Gruyter, 1990, p.266
He points out how of the two times the term ahimsa occurs in Vedas, one is in association with Mitra. He is a dear friend who practices 'ahimsana' (Rig V.64.3) and according to Satapatha Brahmana, 'Mitra injures (himsati) and is injured by no one, for Mitra is every one's friend' (V.3.2.7).
According to Dr Wiltshire, Varuna and Mitra 'epitomise the twin requirements of true ksatriya status: 'sovereignty' and 'conformity with reality or natural law' and points out that these are 'exactly the two principles which the Buddha as dharma-raja embodies.'
So the term fraternity, associated with the unity of the Nation in the preamble of the Constitution, is in turn, deeply and holistically connected with Maitri, which through Vedic Mitra is associated with Rashtra-Rajya conception of ancient India.
Maitri is the civilizational democratic impulse that correlates with fraternity. It also makes one marvel at the civilisational genius of Dr Ambedkar who associated fraternity with 'the Nation.'
He could have made a lot of harsh criticisms of Hindu religion because of the perverted behaviour of the orthodoxy then. But when one goes through his deep insights, the Bodhisattva is equally one with the Vedic rishi vision.
This also gels with the national rejuvenation mission dear to Dr Ambedkar's heart. A fallen and fractured India, an India where the invaders and proselytisers trampled upon the culture of India and the rights of Indians, where Indians divided by castes could not unite as modern socio-political milieu necessitated them to do - that India needs to unite and religion based on the ancient Vedic-Buddhist values should become the vital force that should infuse life and energy into that new India.
The structures and vested interests arising out of social stagnation should be done away with - not through hatred and violence but through democracy and education.
Hence the preamble or the heart of Constitution harmonises the Nation and the union of states. On the other hand, Rahul Gandhi tries to create an artificial rift with a further flourish of deceit.
Deception, ignorance, sold with rhetoric flourish and melodramatic 'holier than thou' posturing that Rahul Gandhi displayed in the floor of the Parliament could be ignored. Perhaps he is still traumatised by the people of India rejecting his dynastic divine right to rule claim. But what cannot be excused is the blatant lie that the nation of India has no constitutional validity.
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