BJP-RSS has always wanted to change India’s Constitution

In 1949, RSS's Organiser said: 'The worst thing about the new Constitution of Bharat is that there is nothing Bharatiya can say about it.'

ByNilanjan Mukhopadhyay

Published Apr 21, 2024 | 8:01 AMUpdatedApr 21, 2024 | 9:58 PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat. (@RSSorg)

This article was originally published in The Wire

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with other party leaders, recently mounted an emotionally charged, still-running counter-attack to nullify claims of several opposition leaders, including Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Yadav, that Modi has set the target of 370 seats (and 400 plus with allies) in the Lok Sabha to abolish the present Constitution and replace it with a new one.

Modi’s statements, however, ring hollow. They do so because several BJP candidates and leaders including BJP Meerut candidate, actor Arun Govil of Ramayan serial fame, its Nagaur nominee Jyoti Mirdha, sitting Uttar Kannada MP Anantkumar Hegde who has been snubbed this time and sitting Faizabad (the constituency name is among the few that could not be changed to Ayodhya) MP and nominee Lallu Singh, suggested that the Constitution could be changed if needed. In fact, a raucous controversy was generated after a video featuring Govil discussing constitutional changes went viral.

He was heard saying that “the Constitution has witnessed changes over a period of time” and that “change is a sign of development. It’s not a bad thing. Situations were different then; the current situation is different, so if changes are to be made…”

This was not the first instance over the past decade while Modi has been in office, and also not the only issue, when assurances of the top brass have been at variance to provocative dog whistles of those lower down in the party hierarchy.

Like always, Modi’s assertions are for masses outside the ideological flanks, while foot soldiers of the Sangh Parivar take the cue from lesser mortals.

The current controversy has two separate aspects. The Constitution is, realistically speaking, no longer the one originally adopted by the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949.

It has undergone several amendments, and at times, they undermined the primary spirit of the ‘original’ Constitution.

Related: BJP and Constitutional institutions

Change Constitution chorus

This has been done despite the fact that for more than half a century, since April 1973, constitutional amendments had to stay within the limits laid down by the Supreme Court vide its verdict in the Kesavananda Bharati case, when it specified the Constitution’s Basic Structure could not be altered.

Yet, for more than a year, the government, led by no less a person than the Vice President, Jagdeep Dhankhar, has waged a ceaseless campaign contending that nothing in the Constitution was sacrosanct and Parliament (read Executive) had powers to amend any Article and Clause because the much-revered Basic Structure was non-existent.

However, long before this Dhankhar-led concerted bid by the current regime to undermine the spirit of the Constitution—not to forget that Modi eulogizes the Constitution as the nation’s “only Holy Book”—the Treasury Benches, regardless of the party in power, often kept making alterations or amendments to the Constitution that violated the spirit of the treasured document.

This situation parallels the philosophical poser surrounding the Ship of Theseus, the Greek mythical king believed to have founded the city of Athens and rescued the city’s children from King Minos. According to conjecture, Theseus escaped with the children to the island of Delos.

Subsequently, Athenians commemorated the event annually. As various parts of the ship wore out, they were replaced one by one until, eventually, each individual piece of the ship was new and not the original.

At that point, a question arose in philosophy with a conundrum: Was this still the same ship, especially when the collection of new parts had no part remaining from when the ship first set sail?

Likewise, after all the amendments to the Constitution since June 1951, does the Constitution of the day remain the ‘original’ one?

This question has assumed tremendous significance in recent years because of the critical alterations made by the current political regime to the constitutional grail.

For instance, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, passed by the Parliament of India on December 11, 2019, altered the spirit guiding citizenship law by intertwining the special case scenario related to migrants from India’s neighbouring nations with their religious identity.

While the ‘original’ text did not selectively confer Indian citizenship on migrants from Pakistan, the now amended Constitution does not grant citizenship to Muslims if they have arrived from there or other select nations in the Indian subcontinent.

Besides altering the primary characteristics of the Indian Constitution through amendments, the Sangh Parivar, BJP, and Modi’s actual intentions on changing the document can also be discerned by reading the statements and writings of several Sangh Parivar leaders from the current Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat to the RSS chief at the time of independence, MS Golwalkar.

Also read: Anantkumar Hedge on changing Constitution

What troubles Hindutva?

A detailed account of the Sangh Parivar and its various leaders’ responses to the Constitution would take considerable space and time. But a cursory summation provides a clear insight into the Hindutva forces’ problems with the text and why they want to change it.

Four months after the RSS mouthpiece, the Organiser began publication in July 1949, but the publication came down heavily on the Constitution days after its adoption on November 26, 1949. In its issue dated November 30 that year, the periodical left no ambiguity and stated:

“The worst thing about the new constitution of Bharat is that there is nothing Bharatiya can say about it. The constitution’s drafters have incorporated elements of British, American, Canadian, Swiss and sundry other Constitutions.

“But there is no trace of ancient Bharatiya constitutional laws, institutions, nomenclature and phraseology in it…in our Constitution, there is no mention of the unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat. Manu’s Laws long pre-existed Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia.

“To this day, his laws, as enunciated in the Manusmriti, excite the world’s admiration and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing.”

Manusmriti, a backwards-looking text and stridently misogynistic, has, in addition, other shortcomings. Yet, it has been a go-to treatise for many Hindutva votaries. VD Savarkar made the following assertion:

“Manusmriti is that scripture which is most worshipable after Vedas for our Hindu Nation and which from ancient times has become the basis of our culture-customs thought and practice. This book for centuries has codified the spiritual and divine march of our nation.

“Even today, the rules followed by crores of Hindus in their lives and practice originate from Manusmriti. Today, Manusmriti is Hindu Law.”

According to the codifier of Hindutva, enforce Manu’s laws and “our Hindu nation shall prove again as unconquerable and conquering a race as we proved once…”

Modi looses no opportunity to lavish praise and idolize the Constitution, the text categorized by his people as being completely un-Indian. Likewise, the Modi-fied Sangh Parivar today finds little but virtues in Dr BR Ambedkar and has all but co-opted his legacy.

Yet, in its issue dated January 11, 1950 – days before the Constitution formally took effect, the aforementioned RSS organ published a derogatory reference to the person considered the father of the Indian Constitution.

Also read: RSS repainting India

Unitary vs Federal State

In response to an article terming Ambedkar as ‘Manu of Modern India’, the Organiser’s editors published a letter from one of its readers contending that this was:

“An instance of depicting a Lilliput, as a Brobdingnag. It borders on ridicule to put Dr Ambedkar on par with the learned and god-like Manu…. Surely Dr Ambedkar’s disservice in the recent past to the Hindu religion is too well-known…”

Savarkar was not part of the RSS despite his text, ‘Hindutva! Who is a Hindu?’ inspired the formation of the RSS. A statement of MS Golwalkar (Sarsanghchalak for the longest period from 1940 to 1973) when the Constitution came into effect presents more unambiguous evidence of the Sangh Parivar’s opposition to the Constitution:

“Our Constitution too is just a cumbersome and heterogeneous piecing together of various Articles from various Constitutions of the Western countries.

“It has absolutely nothing we can call our own. Is there a single word of reference in its guiding principles as to what our national mission is and what our keynote in life is? No!”

As years passed, RSS’s criticism of the Constitution became more pointed. Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, the founding General Secretary of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and eventually President of the party till his mysterious death in a train compartment in Mughalsarai, was very specific in one of his critiques of the text.

Upadhyaya’s divergence with the Constitution stemmed from the beginning because “the First Article of the Constitution first visualises and recognises the States, and the Union only thereafter.”

Upadhyaya wanted a Unitary State rather than the federal state eventually adopted. According to him, “the idea of a federal Government surfaced only to accommodate the separatist viewpoint of the Muslim League and introduce the former ruling princes into the all-India system.

“But things have undergone a change. Today, separatism is neither to be accommodated nor appeased.”

The Jana Sangh ideologue whose Integral Humanism (a collected treatise based on four lectures he delivered in Bombay in April 1965), is the official philosophical text of the Bharatiya Janata Party, rejected the “federal constitution” as it allegedly was against the unity and indivisibility of ‘Bharat Mata’.

In place of the official Constitution, Upadhyay proposed a unitary one based on the panchayat (village council) system while letting the federal system remain centralized.

He further highly disapproves of Article One for stating that “India, that is Bharat, will be a federation of States (although in the actual text, it is “shall be a Union of States”).

According to the Janata Sangh leader, this would tantamount to “Bihar Mata, Banga Mata, Punjab Mata, Kannada Mata, Tamil Mata, all put together make Bharat Mata. This is ridiculous. We have thought of the provinces as limbs of Bharat Mata and not as individual mother. Therefore our constitution should be unitary instead of federal.”

Calls for changing the Constitution never ceased, even after the Jana Sangh disbanded in 1977 and merged into the Janata Party.

Even after erstwhile Jana Sangh leaders parted ways in early 1980 and established the BJP in April 1980, the Indian Constitution never sat easy on their collective political consciousness.

Its leaders made outlandish claims. For instance, Lal Krishna Advani reportedly said that the “Basic Structure Doctrine doesn’t bind us to parliamentary democracy.” Notably, the BJP is an old advocate of the presidential form of government.

Advani also spearheaded a plan during the AB Vajpayee years to review and amend the Constitution. However, a massive uproar against the initiative trimmed the Committee’s brief.

Modi’s cunningness is that he does not make or call for formal alteration but makes a de facto conversion, as in the case of the CAA.

Related: Democracy’s credibility ‘at stake’

Awaiting the opportunity

Undeniably, elections in the post-2014 era became presidential more than any previous period, even the Emergency.

The much-criticised Twenty Point Programme, launched by the government in 1975 with Indira Gandhi at the helm, was the first attempt at personalising government programmes and welfare measures.

Compared to the media blitz surrounding the coinage, Modi Ki Guarantee, the Twenty Point Programme appears a tepid effort at sculpting Gandhi as a cult-figure.

The Prime Minister may continue spinning yarns and quivering his voice when mentioning his commitment to the Constitution. Still, even the current RSS Sarsanghchalak has advocated a change in the Constitution on numerous occasions.

At a public event in Hyderabad in September 2017, among other occasions, Bhagwat said that the Indian Constitution needs amendment to conform to the moral values ​​of Indian society.

He further asserted that many parts of the Constitution are based on foreign thinking, which must be considered after 70 years of independence.

His statements were at variance with the claims of the Organizer and the Hindi RSS organ, Panchjanya, that the RSS believes in the Indian Constitution to the utmost.

Given its leaders’ double-speak, past and present, the BJP securing another term in power can imperil the Constitution’s status. It is no different from the Ship of Theseus—the cover shall not alter, but the text on the sheets considerably will.

Plans are already afoot to declare as unconstitutional and drop the word ‘Secular’, inserted in the Preamble during the Emergency.

Given their consistent double-speak over decades and the tactics on the anvil, in the event of Modi returning to office, they may amend the Indian Constitution further to exorcise the spirit of the document the nation’s founding fathers adopted with great love and hope.

(Republished with permission. Access the original article hereNilanjan Mukhopadhyay is an author and journalist based in Delhi-NCR. His latest book is The Demolition, The Verdict, and The Temple: The Definitive Book on the Ram Mandir Project. He’s also the author of Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times. His X handle is @NilanjanUdwin.)