Imagine the Indian state devoid of borrowed baggage and Nehruvian traits. A republic whose soul is Indic, essentially Hindu.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is promising a “New India” by 2022 – the seventy-fifth anniversary of independence from the British. If he is indeed serious then his ambition must be welcomed. But let’s face it, countries don’t transform in five years; it takes generations (or one generation in China’s case).
But before we can decide on a timeline, we must ask how we can get there. Certainly not by carrying on as usual with the terrible justice system we have nurtured, horrible laws we have legislated, the bloated centralised bureaucracy we have retained and the laborious and lethargic governance structures and procedures of the Nehruvian state.
Jawaharlal Nehru had the good fortune of not only being India’s first prime minister but also being its longest serving one to date. By 1964, the Indian state’s official policies and Nehru’s worldview had become synonymous with each other. The Indian republic was a Nehruvian republic. Socialism, non-alignment, democracy and secularism were the pillars Nehru’s legacy stood on.
The economic reforms of 1991 struck at the first pillar; constant hammering ever since has weakened it to a great extent. Non-alignment is a luxury India can ill-afford. It must move towards strategic alignment if it has to have a chance at containing China.
Secularism — separation of church and state — has been perverted to an extent that no one knows what it really means anymore. Democracy is the only front on which there is a consensus. However, we have seen many advocating moving away from a parliamentary system to a presidential one.
Socialism and non-alignment — these two pillars are in a dilapidated condition. The third one — secularism — is under serious strain. If it falls, the Nehruvian republic too will. No structure can stand on one leg. The bottom line is, the Nehruvian republic is past its sell-by date. We should deconstruct it and establish a new republic, preferably whose soul is Indic, essentially Hindu. To be clear, the call is not to dismantle the Indian state but to rid itself of its Nehruvian mores.
“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance,” Nehru had said in his famous ‘tryst with destiny’ speech. Thanks to Nehru and his efforts in strengthening democracy, the soul of India, which is predominantly Hindu in character, started finding its utterance in the 1990s and really arrived on the scene in 2014. Explaining the effects of democratisation, T Greer, writer and researcher on China, wrote that when countries democratise, “in most cases you see a sharp swing towards nationalism, traditionalism, etc. Democracy means bringing in millions of people from lower class and rural areas into the political system. Politics becomes acutely majoritarian.”
Ironically, Nehru’s democracy may end up being the midwife for a Hindu state!
Ideally, this new state will be small in size but strong in character. Though it will lean towards a free market philosophy, it will not be ideologically fundamentalist. It will spend liberally in educating its children and providing healthcare for the weak (two critical issues at which the Nehruvian republic has miserably failed), but it will not do so by outdated models. Enough ink has been spilled by domain experts in explaining the merits of capitalism over socialism, strategic alliances over the non-aligned movement, strong and small state over big and weak ones, and so on. In any case, these are outside characteristics, a body without a soul if you will.
We must have an ideological anchor, a foundation on which new structures can be built. Before we begin, let me categorically state that it is not a call to establish a theocratic state.
Freedom Of Speech
This is the most basic of freedoms a citizen must enjoy. It is no coincidence that the most successful republic of the modern world — the United States — puts this freedom above every other fundamental right. Freedom to speak one’s mind and express oneself was a cherished liberty in not only Hindu republics but monarchies too. In the Mahabharata, Krishna laments to his friend Narada, that, although he is entitled to the half of executive powers, “I have only got to suffer bitter speeches [in the council]”. Narada counsels him that Krishna shouldn’t mind the bitter words but by his response “appease their mind, sentiments and tongue”.
If one can’t speak up freely, then every other freedom is curtailed.
The other fundamental freedom is the freedom to practise one’s own religion, but we already do that. Ditto for warrantless search and seizure, and the writ of habeas corpus. Hence, discussion in this article will be limited to things that a modern republic must do right but which the Nehruvian republic has made a hash of.
#1 The state shall neither make any law abridging the freedom of speech or expression nor shall it make any law prohibiting free exercise of religion.
Equality And Justice
“There is not a single law in America that treats people differently by color, race, creed, or national origin. Not one,” James Wood tweeted in 2016. Popular Twitter user and blogger ‘Reality Check India’ was quick to point out how it is diametrically opposite in India. “There isn’t a single law or scheme that is uniformly applied to all groups, from birth, education, law, college admissions, jobs in government sector, promotions, scholarships, traditions like bullfight, cockfights, religious places”. How true!
There is a National Human Rights Commission. We have a National Commission For Minorities as well. And a National Commission For SC/ST. And now, we have a Constitutional Commission for Other Backward Classes (OBCs). These separate commissions exist because these sections of citizens are more equal in the eyes of law than others and the commissions act as gatekeepers that fiercely protect the special additional benefits enjoyed by these sections.
Consider the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2015. Intentionally touching a woman in a sexual manner without her consent or using words, acts or gestures of a sexual nature are punishable offences, but the Indian state will punish you less severely if the woman in question is not an SC/ST. Forget equality before law; this is an insult to every woman’s dignity, who has apparently committed a mistake of not being born in one of the castes or tribes mentioned in the scheduled list of the Constitution. The entire Act is filled with such kinds of stomach-churning discriminatory laws.
Last year, a headmaster in Tamil Nadu was sentenced to 55 years in prison for sexually abusing over 20 minor girls. The headmaster got five years each (five girls x five years each = 25 years) for sexually abusing five girls who were from the SC/ST communities and two years each for perpetrating the same horror on non-SC/ST girls (15 girls x two years each = 30 years). If this doesn’t push us into mending our justice system, I don’t know what will.
A Hindu state will never compromise on two principles — equality before law and equal protection of laws. These principles will be above every fundamental right and form the foundation on which all laws and institutions will be founded.
This suggestion — to treat everyone with equality before law, is sure to get the goat of “social justice warriors”. As American economist Thomas Sowell said, “when people get used to preferential treatment, equal treatment seems like discrimination”.
#2 The state shall treat every person within its jurisdiction equally before law and shall not deny them the equal protection of the laws.
Separate Religion And Law, Not Religion And Politics
To put it simply, Nehruvian secularism means separation of religion and politics. No society has ever achieved it and probably never will. Religion has and will continue to be a major factor for politicians to deal with because it is a major factor for the people who decide who to vote for and who gets the boot. Therefore, to attempt to separate the two is a lost cause. Additionally, the downsides that follow the separation far outweigh the upsides.
What a new republic should endeavour for is separation of religion and law so that laws like the Right to Education (RTE) Act, which are only applicable to the majority community, can never be legislated.
However, as we know, laws alone aren’t discriminatory. We have scholarships, infrastructure aid, financial aid, loans which also target beneficiaries based on their religion, or what ‘Reality Check India’ calls partition of public purse along sectarian lines. Ideally “equal protection clause” should have sufficed to term them unconstitutional, but clearly it has failed to do so.
All schemes run out of the Minority Affairs Ministry are of a sectarian nature and should have no place in a modern republic. The ‘affirmative action’ reasoning for positive discrimination in favour of minorities doesn’t hold water in India as there is no history of discrimination, enslavement, persecution of minorities by the majority on any grounds whatsoever, let alone on religious grounds. The sole exception is caste-based discrimination, for which reasonable provisions for affirmative actions can be created.
These two principles — that the state doesn’t frame laws such as RTE or come up with sectarian aid programmes — must be enshrined as fundamental rights, which will be on the same pedestal (if not above) as the freedoms of expression and religion. Hence, the second right could be read as:
The state shall not make any law favouring, directly or indirectly, one religion over other religions nor shall it make religion a criterion while choosing beneficiaries for its aid, financial or otherwise.
Stop Treating Unequal Systems Equally
The first right that would give the freedoms of expression and religion would also address one of the biggest defects of the Nehruvian republic — treating unequal systems equally. The second right would recognise that Indic faiths and Abrahamic religions are fundamentally different and hence must be treated accordingly.
Once this is acknowledged, the importance of additional protection for indigenous faiths is easier to understand, from which will flow the rationale for restricting religious conversions of people professing Indic faiths to missionary religions by force or allurement. Those found guilty would be handed out rigorous imprisonment in addition to heavy fines. Allowing everyone equal freedom to convert means nothing to those who do not believe in harvesting souls. The lion will devour the cow at first opportunity, but the reverse will never be true. So it’s pointless to give both equal freedom to eat each other.
Acknowledging that Indic faiths, which are rooted in pagan culture, are inherently different from Abrahamic religions would mean that the former’s customs are no longer judged on the basis of the latter’s worldview, an outrageously dangerous habit that India’s judiciary has acquired. Unlike a certain book with well laid-out rules in Abrahamic religions, rituals form the core of Hinduism.
It will wither away without them. But such nuances are lost on a judiciary which has tried to interfere in our traditions like jallikattu, Dahi Handi, Holi, Diwali and so on. The first right thus could be reframed as:
#1 The state shall neither make any law abridging the freedom of speech or expression nor shall it make any law prohibiting free exercise of religion and in particular India’s age-old traditions or rituals and it shall establish by law stringent punishments for those found guilty of converting, by allurement or force, people of faiths indigenous to India.
Being a Hindu republic, preserving, protecting and nurturing the Hindu character of Indian society will be its primary preoccupation. The importance of adding the second part in the very first fundamental right should be understood in this context.
Article 28, Clause 1 of the Constitution states that no religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of state funds. This is another example of treating unequal systems equally. It makes perfect sense in a country with a majority of people belonging to the Abrahamic faiths but not in India.
Here, Vedas, the Mahabharata, Upanishads or other ancient text from our rich past must be taught as the country’s heritage that must not only be protected but also passed down to posterity. It can’t be anybody’s case that this millennia-old heritage only belongs to Hindus. It’s for all Indians. Thus, the correct way to reframe Article 28(1) would be to turn it on its head.
#3 All educational institutions wholly or partially maintained out of state funds shall impart no religious instruction except that which belongs to India’s rich cultural past and found in its ancient texts.
A Hindu republic shall strive to preserve, protect and propagate Sanatana Dharma. That’s the rationale behind the above right. Special privileges bestowed on educational institutions run by minorities under Article 30 (1) can’t have any place because the biggest beneficiaries of this largesse — Muslims and Christians — are global majorities. Their culture is under no threat of extinction. If anything, it’s the Hindu culture and Sanatana Dharma that needs the maxmium protection from Indian state.
No Quotas But Institutional Control To Dalits
The government jobs pie is shrinking every year. Incidentally, the fight over quotas is getting intense with powerful castes trying to barge in but inner groups resisting their entry. The government can either expand the quotas to the private sector (yes, it can happen) or end them altogether (which is unlikely in the current scenario given that the share of population covered under quotas is more than those who aren’t covered by quotas).
However, equal protection clause will make sure that caste quotas become instantly unconstitutional. But, it is no one’s case that Dalits don’t need a helping hand. Though the right approach would be to provide crutches instead of carrying the disadvantaged on the state’s shoulders. Hence, the most beneficial way is to fund the education (through vouchers) of children from disadvantaged Hindu castes so that they can study in any institution of their choice paid for by the government. Reservations are in force for the last six decades, but still SC/ST seats don’t get filled up for lack of candidates. To borrow a phrase (partly) from a famous presidential election of the US — it’s the (lack of) education, stupid! Recently, the creamy layer for OBCs was raised to Rs 8 lakh per year to overcome such situations. But such quick fix solutions defeat the very purpose of social justice and create a divide.
That’s why outside groups which are strong will not stop their mutinies until they get entry or everyone’s benefits are taken away. The reason is simple — you have two families living side by side with equal economic status. Let’s say the kids of both go to the same school and fight for the same seat in a college or a government job. Only one gets in and the other doesn’t, despite scoring more. That creates friction in society and something’s got to give.
No system of affirmative action is going to satisfy everybody. Dalits should be given institutional control — primarily in education — so that Dalit children can get the best education. And government should be encouraging and aiding such initiatives. In fact, they must be helped in every possible way in developing a complete ecosystem — right from complete control over temples and their resources, which can then be utilised in educational institutions and hospitals. This ecosystem development will produce more Dalit engineers, doctors, lawyers and businesspersons than any government quota programme ever could.
Make India Antifragile Again
Fragile systems break down under stress. Robust ones don’t. But the antifragile ones thrive and have more upsides than downsides from random events. That’s how Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains the concept of antifragility — a term he coined. Collections of city states and decentralised republics are antifragile, centralised nation states (those of the likes of the USSR and China) are fragile.
Ditto for the economy. A centralised financial system or economy is more vulnerable to disorder. Take even Hinduism, for instance. The caste categorisation had an upside too. It wasn’t a centralised top-down religion system like the Abrahamic faiths relying heavily on centres like the Vatican/Mecca or one book. The Islamist invaders were at their wits end to find the Achilles’ heel of Hinduism. They had to ultimately compromise and ally with some castes to subjugate other more rebellious ones.
The Nehruvian republic today is more centralised, hence more fragile and vulnerable to disorder. Ancient Hindu republics used to be small ganas or sanghas. They weren’t micromanaged by a distant bureaucracy and understood that ‘one size fits all’ solutions aren’t a virtue. Even in the monarchies, the king was supposed to reign but not rule. He elected competent ministers and they ran the government. We have forgotten why India was great and how it became so.
The Mahabharata mentions how the principle of equality reigned supreme in ganas, and Kautilya, no fan of republics and a monarchist through and through, has praised them for the high sense of justice that prevailed in them.
If we, as a civilisation, have to have a shot at greatness, we must change the rules of the game that are currently forcing the best minds to flee the country. No country ever achieved greatness on borrowed ideas, borrowed identity and a borrowed way of life.