From the sublime civilizational genius of Dr Ambedkar to the ridiculous rhetoric of Rahul Gandhi
When Rahul Gandhi spoke in Parliament about the nature of India’s unity, he went through a Lakshman Rekha. He questioned the constitutional legitimacy of India as a nation.
This seemed not so much out of ignorance as out of malice towards the Indian nation. It was not an unintentional mistake that Rahul Gandhi made on home soil when he said that the Constitutions do not define India as a nation but as a union of states.
Creating an artificial binary and pitting a nation against the concept of a union of states is a dangerous but not new game.
Just remember how a major controversy arose in 1998 with the same group of politicians and media. The Hindu and Outlook went to town with stories of “safronizing history” because the formulations in the original association protocol of ICHR goals had changed from “rational” to national. Arun Shourie, in his book on eminent historians, explained in detail how the whole controversy was wrong.
Digging through old files, Shourie showed the following:
While the eminent historians, media and politicians got factually wrong and their lie exposed, they succeeded in their mission in that they established in the minds of the public the idea that there is an antagonistic relationship between the “national” and the “rational”. Thus, in effect, the national direction of the writing of history goes against the rational direction.
In 2022, Rahul Gandhi is playing the same game, but in a more dangerous way.
Here, indeed, India is a nation only by mechanistic treaty. An artificial and antagonistic binary has been created between nation and union of states. Anyone addressing India as a nation and anyone addressing India as a union of states will be viewed with mutual distrust.
The fact is that 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 the nation and as we will see, this unique conception of the nation goes back to the Vedas.
It should be noted here that three of the “founding fathers” of the modern Indian nation-state denied this concept of India as a conventional union of states. Instead, they emphasized an underlying unity of India’s national identity.
Mahatma Gandhi indeed made it clear in his Hind Swaraj and Jawaharlal Nehru did the same in his Discovery of India.
However, Babasaheb Ambedkar’s thoughts are the ones that are crucial for us in context. This is because of the assertion that “the Constitution of India does not define India as a nation”.
Dr. Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian Constitution, had written very eloquently on the cultural basis of the Indian nation. In his 1916 dissertation at Columbia University, he wrote:
However, for him, caste created 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. However, in the case of India, it is a continuous and organic process. Dr. Ambedkar emphasized the spiritual basis of India’s unity and emphasized the principle of brotherhood. While nationhood unites, split caste tendencies divide and weaken the nation.
It is in this context that Dr. Ambedkar introduced his principle of brotherhood. In his classic Reflections on Pakistan, Dr. Ambedkar referred to this as the very spiritual essence of the nation. He wrote:
This ‘feeling of kinship, in the feeling of being related‘ is the principle of brotherhood.
In the Trinitarian principles of Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood, it is brotherhood that Dr. Ambedkar has focused a lot on. He had stressed that he drew this principle neither from political science nor from the French Revolution but from religion, in particular from Buddha.
Elsewhere, he had also pointed out that these principles are present in the Upanishads. He had even asserted that the spiritual basis of democracy (and we can deduce from this, therefore of brotherhood) in ancient India was contained in the Mahavakyas of the Upanishads.
Let us now turn to the document – the original preambular document of the Constitution of India. Here we find that the word “Nation” is linked to the principle of brotherhood. Nation is capitalized in the original. The original preamble to the 1950 Constitution, eighty-one words long, reads:
While this preamble was loosely based on Nehru’s “objective resolution”, its deeply significant aspects come from Dr. Ambedkar. Especially “Brotherhood”.
Dr. Ambedkar had already stressed that national unity must be spiritual and that this spiritual feeling is the principle of brotherhood. And in the preamble he links the principle of fraternity to the unity of the Nation. Later, in his works on Buddhism, he considered the term “brotherhood” to be inadequate and opted for the term “Master.
While he was connecting Master to the teaching of Buddha, one must ask why he chose Sanskrit Master on the more explicitly Buddhist Pali derivative Metta.
The answer may lie in Dr. Ambedkar’s view of history, where he sees progressive social stagnation and hierarchical vested interests creating “graduated inequality” in society. From Vedic and Upanishadic India to Buddhist India, where India was spiritually and socially a great human civilization, to Smriti rule, he sees a downfall. He therefore wanted a resurrection and rebirth based on the pre-Buddhist (hence Vedopanishadic) and Buddhist spiritual values of India.
Master comes from Mitra, the Vedic deity.
Many scholars of ancient Indian religion have emphasized the continuity of Vedic Mitra and mitra function with its later development in Buddhism. The famous Dutch Indologist Jan Gonda (1905-1991) explains:
In another article, Jan Gonda describes this Vedic deity thus:
One can clearly see how the qualities “benevolence, active kindness and conviviality” with Rta are in fact very much part of the brotherhood in this area of qualities.
Another prominent Buddhist scholar, Dr. Martin Gerald Wiltshire, explains why it is important to look into the Vedic roots of Buddhist Metta:
It indicates how of the two times the term Ahimsah occurs in the Vedas, one is in association with Mitra. He is a dear friend who practices ‘ahimsana’ (Rig V.64.3) and according to Satapatha Brahman“Mitra hurts (himsati) and is hurt by no one, because Mitra is everyone’s friend” (V.3.2.7).
According to Dr. Wiltshire, Varuna and Mitra “embodied the twin demands of true ksatriya status: ‘sovereignty’ and ‘conformity with reality or natural law’ and stresses 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 linked to Master, which through Vedic Mitra is associated with the Rashtra-Rajya conception of ancient India.
Maitri is the civilizational democratic impulse that correlates with brotherhood. This is also marvelous in front of the civilizational genius of Dr. Ambedkar who associated fraternity with “the Nation”.
He could have made a lot of harsh criticisms of the Hindu religion because of the evil behavior of the then orthodoxy. But when one goes through his deep intuitions, the Bodhisattva is also one with the Vedic vision of the rishi.
This is also in line with the national rejuvenation mission dear to Dr. Ambedkar’s heart. A fallen and fractured India, an India where invaders and proselytes trampled on the culture of India and the rights of Indians, where Indians divided by caste could not unite as the modern socio-political milieu demanded – that India needs to unite and religion based on ancient Vedic-Buddhist values should become the life force that should infuse life and energy into this new India. Structures and vested interests resulting from social stagnation must be eliminated – not through hatred and violence, but through democracy and education.
Thus the preamble or the heart of the Constitution harmonizes the Nation and the union of States. On the other hand, Rahul Gandhi is trying to create an artificial break with a new wave of deception.
The deceit, ignorance, sold with flourishing rhetoric and melodramatic ‘holier than thou’ posturing that Rahul Gandhi displayed on the floor of Parliament could be ignored. Perhaps he is still traumatized by the Indian people’s rejection of their dynastic divine right to rule. But what cannot be excused is the blatant lie that the Indian nation has no constitutional validity.