Saturday, October 17, 2015

Which Constitution is Ananya Vajpeyi Talking About?

This article is a rebuttal to this one published in The Hindu, by request.

The Constitution of India is a very unique document - everybody seems to love it and hate it simultaneously, not as two groups, but internally, individually. In some ways, it has become a quasi-religious text that can be interpreted in any possible way. Indeed, in the mixing of religious texts with Constitutionalism, Ananya Vajpeyi brilliantly, and certainly purposely, displays the fine art of obfuscating facts and bending interpretations to suit an agenda. The summary of her article, behind layers and layers of scholarly discussion on the caste system, is that Modi and his party (and the larger Sangh Parivar) are evil, they have been evil since 5000 BC (or earlier), and that they are subverting a liberal Constitution in every possible way. All of these are obfuscations.

Caste and How to End It

Let us first consider the scholarship on caste. Let me be clear - the caste system was inhuman, and it condemned people to a life of penury for not just decades, but thousands of generations. It has no place in a modern, scientific society, and therefore, the RSS' agenda of ridding Hindu society of caste deserves praise and support. However, unlike what Vajpeyi would have us believe, caste was an extraordinarily efficient social system for reasons known to her Western paymasters since the time of Adam Smith. It is the same principle on the basis of which Henry Ford could mass-produce cars: specialization. A group of people specializing in a particular task (materialistic as well as spiritual) and nothing else, is far more efficient than the same group doing a little bit of everything. The result is a prosperous society - but one where that prosperity is not shared. Indeed, if anything can break caste forever, it is the industrial revolution that allows societies to produce efficiently through machines instead of people, eliminating the need for human specialization. In short, capitalism is the greatest breaker of caste, a fact that Ambedkar knew quite well, but which leftists like Vajpeyi, who place more faith in government than on individuals, don't want to think about.

Intolerance in Society

Next, the question of the BJP. There is no doubt that there are some elements in all political parties that are inherently communal, in favor of or against some religion or group. This is true of the Congress, the BJP, the IUML, the AIMIM, the TMC, the DMK, the RJD, and even the Communists, as their recent confabulations in Kerala to oppose the SNDP show. But to suggest that somehow communal peace and freedoms have been suppressed by the Modi government is nothing short of political brinkmanship. Communal relations have been difficult in India for centuries - from the decades when Hindus were herded across the Hindu Kush to be sold as slaves by Islamic invaders, to when European colonists took it upon themselves to 'civilize' a civilization that was millenniums older than theirs, and of course the catastrophe that was the Partition of India.

And while everyone is concerned about peace, the problem with Vajpeyi, and her entire ilk, is that her concern is selective. A terrible incident like the #DadriLynching under the Congress would've either been ignored or just tossed on to the Samajwadi Party; but when it was done with the BJP in Delhi (not Lucknow), it must be Modi's fault. In her enthusiasm to pin everything on Modi, she even cites the murder of Narendra Dhabolkar in Maharashtra, who was assassinated in August 2013, when Modi was still the CM of Gujarat, Manmohan Singh was the puppet PM of Sonia Gandhi and the Congress-NCP were ruling the state for over a decade! It is this selective outrage that has made people immune to such horrific murders - 'a Muslim was killed, but a Hindu was also killed somewhere,' so balance has been restored to outrage on either side! Instead of genuinely standing up for human life, what Vajpeyi and her comrades have done is to show the Hindu right the power of selective outrage, and they have simply learned to use the same stick. The real problem here is that a human was killed, and not that a Muslim was killed, but to Vajpeyi, those two things are as far apart as the earth and the sky.

If anything, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying his best to bring economic strength to all, through infrastructure and jobs, which will hopefully give people too little time to literally run riot. After all, it is pretty hard for people working in factories to take a break, murder a few thousands, and return without losing too much pay to feed their families! As long as a vast majority of people are poor, there will be an endless fight for limited resources, and those fights will be along whatever lines possible - religion, caste, region, etc. The way out of the cycle of centuries of violence is economic prosperity, an endeavor that the Nehruvian state miserably failed to achieve, and which the PNV Rao state has been able to do with limited success but great promise. If anything, people genuinely interested in breaking this cycle should be supporting Modi's economic reforms. But then, genuine concern is not really the point of these Op-Eds, is it?

Constitutional Myth
The last myth that Vajpeyi and her comrades repeatedly pander around is that the Constitution was liberal and that Modi is working tirelessly to undermine it. Neither assertion could be farther from the truth. In the Indian Constitution are provisions for separate civil codes based on religion, for separate educational and religious regulatory requirements for so-called minorities and majorities, a provision that makes the prevention of cow slaughter a non-enforceable duty of the state, the infamous provisions for separate educational seats, jobs and even promotions on the basis of caste, and a separate constitution for one and only one state, among other 'liberal' (sarcasm) provisions. As if these were not enough, the amendments to the Constitution take away free speech and expression (First Amendment), the right to own property (44th Amendment), and the right of Muslim women (and only Muslim women) to alimony through due process (Shah Bano). And all this before anybody even heard of Modi!

Indeed, all the illiberal moves of any Indian government have been perfectly Constitutional - from banning books and newspapers to arresting people on the flimsiest charge of hurting so-called sentiments. And if the Constitution didn't support such illiberal moves, it was suitably amended. Why let a little something like the law come in the way of secularism and socialism, eh? If Narendra Dhabolkar had not been killed, he would have be just one FIR away from being an under-trial prisoner for life, very much legally. Vajpeyi, like all her comrades, feels so concerned for Wendy Doniger's book on Hinduism that was pulped by Penguin (and not banned by any government), but not for Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses that was banned by the full force of law that derives its authority from the same 'liberal' Constitution.

The very unpleasant truth is that the Constitution codified divisions in society and enforced them. It started by making out a case for an equal and just society, in a non-enforceable Preamble, and then went on to set the stage for exactly the opposite, the fruits of which we are 'enjoying' now. Almost like the dystopic Soviet Union, it tried to create equality by pushing inequality down our throats through a big, paternalistic government. Even the rather ban-happy BJP is essentially deriving all its powers from the Constitution. Modi is not opposed to the Constitution; in fact, at worst, they are on the same side!

A Real Case
The problem with Ananya Vajpeyi and her ilk's writings is that they are so woefully disconnected from history and society, either on purpose or through sheer indoctrination, that the only outlet that they can get a voice on is The Hindu, with a daily readership that represents less than 0.1% of India's population, most of it in one city. These armchair socialists are so ensconced in the taxpayer-funded comforts of the state that they live in their own parallel universe, a universe where India did not exist before 1947, where the Constitution was the most ideal document, and where a man named Narendra Modi stole an election to destroy their utopia (although the part about ending leftist utopia is probably true).

The obfuscation is so obvious, the agenda so clear, that it is not even funny anymore. What these so-called liberals are telling us is: either vote for our people and share our values, or we will convince you that you're in very deep shit, one op-ed at a time. To quote one such liberal from another decade, as Swapan Dasgupta does in his article, "I don’t feel out of touch with the people, they might feel out of touch with me but that is their concern, not mine."

What they're saying through layers and layers of obfuscation is: liberalism is a myth, it's all about power. In 2014, the only thing that changed was that people realized one thing: two can play at that game.

2 comments:

AYUSH KUMAR said...

A brilliantly written piece Sushobhan! The greatest takeaway is not to consider the Constitution as an infallible text. Indeed, the Constitution has several illiberal provisions. However, many of those came in because of the need of hour: Right to Property was removed from Fundamental Rights to control zamindars. Separate civil codes and Directive Principle to ban cow slaughter were added due to the fear that an already strained nation would break itself apart. But the utility of several of these provisions has long ended. Sadly, most of them did not come with any expiry date. In other cases, the expiry date itself has been extended.
The patient who took the morphine to ease his pain has been addicted to morphine.

AYUSH KUMAR said...

A brilliantly written piece Sushobhan! The greatest takeaway is not to consider the Constitution as an infallible text. Indeed, the Constitution has several illiberal provisions. However, many of those came in because of the need of hour: Right to Property was removed from Fundamental Rights to control zamindars. Separate civil codes and Directive Principle to ban cow slaughter were added due to the fear that an already strained nation would break itself apart. But the utility of several of these provisions has long ended. Sadly, most of them did not come with any expiry date. In other cases, the expiry date itself has been extended.
The patient who took the morphine to ease his pain has been addicted to morphine.