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Sunday, July 01, 2018

Learning or Political Conditioning?

If we are asked to name a singular, monumental failure of independent India, we can unhesitatingly point out that it was our inability to forge a national spirit. Every institution contributed to this failure including the education system. This essay excerpted from ‘TWISTING FACTS TO SUIT THEORIES’ AND OTHER SELECTIONS FROM VOXINIDCA’ (pp. 290-298) examines the role played by text books written for school students and how they contributed to exacerbate rather than reduce caste schism. In particular it critiques the Class IX social science text book published by NCERT in 2007.  

In common understanding, learning means the acquisition of knowledge and skills. In terms of behavioural sciences learning implies acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitude resulting in permanent change in behaviour. It is attitude that informs thought processes and character. This is the reason why traditional Bharatiya education focused on shaping attitude and character. Behaviour has two other modifiers: experience and conditioning. Experience is gained by repeated application of knowledge and skills. Conditioning is the result of positive or negative experiences. Conditioning is the rationale underlying the ‘carrot and stick’ principle of motivation. However, hardened attitude can sometimes override knowledge and skills in shaping behaviour. For example, erudition may not bar a university professor from becoming a criminal; or a well-educated highly-paid individual from becoming a terrorist. The focus of traditional Bharatiya education on behaviour and character was to defy experiential conditioning. It was to tread the path of righteousness irrespective of positive or negative experiences.

The three dimensions of learning are: education which helps in the acquisition of knowledge; training which helps in the acquisition of skills and development which implies positive modification of behaviour of a permanent nature. Competence is the ability to selectively apply knowledge, skills and behaviour to suit the context, to achieve desired results or performance. The objective of learning that we impart in schools and colleges is to inculcate all three. Viewed in the light of this preamble, how do the NCERT textbooks shape thought, attitude, character and behaviour? The NCERT Social Science textbook for Class IX, published in 2007, is rather grandiosely introduced to the reader:

“All too often in the past, the history of the modern world was associated with the history of the west. It was as if change and progress happened only in the west. As if the histories of other countries were frozen in time, they were motionless and static. People in the west were seen as enterprising, innovative, scientific, industrious, efficient and willing to change. People in the east—or in Africa and South America—were considered traditional, lazy, superstitious, and resistant to change.”[1]

After reading this, the reader is likely to be confused by the introductory part of ‘Section I’, as it interprets the ideas that shaped India’s freedom movement. The latter informs the reader that ideas like liberty and equality, products of the French Revolution and socialism, product of the Russian Revolution, have informed anti-colonial movements in India and China. It mirrors the Western view that Gandhi was inspired by Rousseau, the French Revolution and Thoreau.

The chapter on ‘Socialism in Europe and the Russian Revolution’ (p. 25-48), written by Prof. Hari Vasudevan of the Calcutta University, describes the origins of the Russian Revolution in glowing terms:

“The political trends were signs of a new time. It was a time of profound social and economic changes. It was a time when new cities came up and new industrialised regions developed, railways expanded and the Industrial Revolution occurred.” (p. 26)

To say that the chapter is economical with the truth would be an understatement, as what it does not mention about the Russian Revolution is perhaps at least as important as what it does. For example it bypasses the more fundamental question that strikes anyone interested in the history of Communism: “Why did a doctrine premised on proletarian revolution in industrial societies come to power only in predominantly agrarian ones, by Marxist definition those least prepared for ‘socialism’?”[2]  Nor does it mention that “Communism’s recourse to ‘permanent civil war’ rested on the ‘scientific’ Marxist belief in class struggle as the ‘violent midwife of history’, in Marx’s famous metaphor”. (Ibid. p. xix)

The one party rule which suppressed democratic rights, the reprisals, the forced labour camps, the executions all get passing mention as if they were minor, insignificant details. The chapter mentions the severe reprisals, deportations and exiles meted out to those who were opposed to Stalin’s collectivization programme. But there is no mention of the suppression of the right to free speech, an issue so dear to the ever-agitating Indian communists. There is also no mention that an estimated 100 million lives were sacrificed at the altar of the ‘class struggle that was the violent midwife of history’, the world over, and about 20 million deaths in the erstwhile Soviet Union alone. The Chinese version of Marxist Communism, to which a majority of Indian communists owe allegiance, consumed a staggering 65 million lives in its class struggles. (Ibid. p. 4)

The introductory part of ‘Section I mentions in passing that ‘[t]oday Soviet Union has broken up and socialism is in crisis ...’ But the chapter on Russian Revolution was not revised to reflect these changes in the 2007 edition, brought out a good sixteen years after the implosion of the Soviet Union and the larger Communist world. The following passage almost gives the impression that socialism (or Communism) continues to rule about half of the world, as it did earlier and that the USSR is alive and kicking:

“By the end of the twentieth century, the international reputation of the USSR as a socialist country had declined though it was recognised that socialist ideals still enjoyed respect among its people. But in each country the ideas of socialism were rethought in a variety of different ways.”

Is there a deliberate attempt to downplay the excesses of the Moguls and the Communists, and the decline of Communism on the one hand and magnify social distinctions in the Hindu society on the other? The two anecdotes ‘Caste and cricket’ (p.151)[3] and ‘Caste Conflict and Dress Change’ (p. 168)[4] are pointers. ‘Caste and cricket’ is about the Indian cricketer, Babaji Palwankar Baloo (1876-1955). It repeatedly says he played for ‘Hindus’ and despite being very talented, never made captain of ‘Hindus’ because of caste discrimination. In point of fact he played for the Hindu club, Deccan Gymkhana[5] in Pune. In those days there was the European Gymkhana, the Parsi Gymkhana (the first non-European club), the Hindu Gymkhana and the Muslim Gymkhana, as the British refused to recognise India as a single national entity. The four played the ‘Bombay Quadrangular’ tournament which eventually expanded to the ‘Bombay Pentangular’ with the inclusion of the ‘Rest’. Palwankar was initially rolling, watering and tending the pitch in a European sports club. The Europeans used him in net practice where his bowling talent was noted. He recounted that the Europeans never allowed him to bat even in the nets. Eventually he was included in the Deccan Gymkhana team. Palwankar later moved to Bombay and played for the ‘Parmanandas Jivandas Hindu Gymkhana’ club. The anecdote omits several important facts which would have put the ‘caste’ issue in its proper perspective. There was a tussle between the conservative and progressive members of the Hindu Gymkhana for the inclusion of Palwankar in the team and the progressives eventually prevailed. It would be more appropriate to point out that Palwankar’s talent prevailed. At a function to honour Palwankar, the well-known freedom fighter Mahadev Govind Ranade, a Brahmin, garlanded him and chided his teammates for their caste discrimination. At about the same time, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak (another Brahmin) praised him. There was a tussle (again) between the conservatives and progressives in the Hindu Gymkhana when it was time to appoint a new captain for the team. What was left unsaid was there was a valid cricketing reason[6], at least in those days, for not making him captain:

“[Palwankar] Baloo was the team’s main bowler, and it has traditionally been thought that batsmen make better captains than bowlers. Bowlers, it is thought, have to think about their own bowling while on the field while batsmen do not have any personal responsibility and can thus focus on the broader
game.”

The progressives won again and Palwankar’s brother Vithal was eventually made captain in 1924, by which time Palwankar retired. The Hindu Mahasabha fielded Palwankar in an election to the Bombay Municipality in 1933, against an upper caste candidate. The Congress party fielded Palwankar against B. R. Ambedkar in the Bombay Legislative Assembly elections in 1937.

On page 145 there is another boxed anecdote, about Tom Brown’s Schooldays, a novel published a hundred and fifty years ago. The anecdote has been included because there is a conversation about cricket in it. The book has been prescribed as a non-detailed text for high school students for decades, as a legacy from colonial pedagogy; just as sections of the Bible were included in syllabi for university students pursuing masters in English. The excerpt of the conversation between Arthur and Tom discussing the virtues of cricket is perhaps understandable. But it is difficult to comprehend the objective with which the following introduction of the novel was included:

“Thomas Hughes (1822-1896) [...] wrote a novel, Tom Brown’s Schooldays. The book published in 1857, became popular and helped spread the ideas of what came to be called muscular Christianity that believed that healthy citizens had to be moulded through Christian ideals and sports. [...] In this book Tom Brown is transformed from a nervous, homesick, timid boy into a robust, manly student. He becomes a heroic figure recognised for his physical courage, sportsmanship, loyalty and patriotism.” (Italics added.)

What is the effect of these lines on young, impressionable minds? If one were to put it bluntly, does it or not promote ‘muscular Christianity’? If the authors wanted to introduce a cricket anecdote from literature there are many to choose from. A funny, satirical account of the game “A Village Cricket Match” appeared in A. G. Macdonnell’s ‘England, Their England’ (1933). In fact, the book became immensely popular because of the description of the cricket match between a village cricket team and a London team. Christopher Nicholson wrote in 2004:

“No other account of a cricket match, or indeed any sporting occasion, has been as amusingly described nor is as replete with historical, social and political allusions.” (Italics added.)[7]

The history that is taught in our schools appears to be replete with inaccuracies, flawed, incomplete or politically slanted narratives. The syllabus does not seem to have been revised, going by the information available in the NCERT website. The rewriting of history in India does not have the brazenness associated with the rewriting of history envisioned by Orwell in his dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is far subtler and for that reason more insidious. In the novel, the function of Minitrue (ministry of truth) was to constantly rewrite history to suit the current philosophy and objectives of the rulers. One should remember, Orwell wrote about the rewriting of history in Oceania, a nation with a one-party rule. If India were ever to come under a one-party rule, well, the mind boggles to imagine the consequences! It would be naïve to dismiss the writing of history in contemporary India does not have anything to do with such an objective! Fortunately, there is no need to wrestle with a boggling mind about the consequences of one-party rule under Communism. Betrand Russell summed it up for us, eight decades ago and about six-and-a-half decades before the religion called Communism imploded:

“Communism is not democratic. What it calls the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is in fact the dictatorship of a small minority, who become an oligarchic governing class. […] To suppose that it will always act for the general good is mere foolish idealism, and is contrary to Marxian political ideology.” (Italics added.)[8]

Russell disabused the gullible of any mistaken notions they might harbor about Communism being some kind of democracy in which all citizens would have a say:

Communism restricts liberty, particularly intellectual liberty, more than any other system except Fascism. The complete unification of both economic and political power produces a terrifying engine of oppression, in which there are no loopholes for exceptions.” (Italics added.)[9]

As if he was answering the snake-oil salesmen who have been extolling the virtues of Communist dogma, he unequivocally explained why there would be no progress under Communist rule:

“Under such a system, progress would soon become impossible, since it is the nature of the bureaucrats to object to all change except increase in their own power. All serious innovation is only rendered possible by some accident enabling unpopular persons to survive. Kepler lived by astrology, Darwin by inherited wealth, Marx by Engel’s ‘exploitation’ of the proletariat of Manchester. Such opportunities of surviving in spite of unpopularity would be impossible under Communism.” (Italics added.)[10]



[1] Bhattacharya, Neeladri. “History and a Changing World” In India and the Contemporary World—I (Textbook in History for Class IX. (2007). Publications Department, NCERT. New Delhi.

[2] Courtois, Stéphane, Werth, Nicolas, Panné, Jean-Louis, Paczkowski, Andrzej, Bartosek, Karel and Margolin, Jean-Louis. (1999). The Black Book of Communism—Crimes Terror Repression (Translated by Murphy, Jonathan and Kramer, Mark. Consulting Editor: Kramer, Mark). London. Harvard University Press. p. xix

[3] Kesavan, Mukul. “History of Sport: The Story of Cricket” (pp. 141-158).The chapter is drawn mainly from: Guha, Ramachandra. (2002). “A Corner of a Foreign Field: The Indian History of a British Sport.” Picador. Chapter VII.

[4] Nair, Janaki. “Clothing: A Social History” (pp. 159-178) (Textbook in History for Class IX. (2007). Publications Department, NCERT. New Delhi.

[5] Guha, Ramachandra. “Cricket and Politics in Colonial India”. Past and Present. No. 161. Nov. 1998. (pp. 155-190). p. 170. Accessible from http://goo.gl/FUq6Rc

[6] Ansari, Muneeb (2011). “The Bombay Quadrangular: Cricket as a Political Forum in India.” May 2011. Accessible from  https://goo.gl/FXB9ox p. 11 Footnote.

[7] Nicholson, Christopher. (2004). “The Funniest Cricket Match Ever”. Accessible from https://goo.gl/UqoXVN

[8] Russell, Bertrand. (1935). “IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS AND OTHER ESSAYS”. Sixth Impression (1970). Unwin Books. London. p. 70.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Patel Reversed Junagadh’s Accession To Pakistan And Reintegrated In India

Did you know that Prabhas Patan, where the famous Somnath temple is located would have been in Pakistan had not Sardar Patel acted with dispatch and decisiveness in October-November 1947? Thanks to the history doctored by omission and commission by the left-illiberal historians few people in India today know the story of Junagadh. As everyone knows, the British gave 565 princely states the option to join India or Pakistan in August 1947. Of these two could not have joined India because of their geographical location.

A third, Kalat which constitutes a major part of Balochistan wanted to join India but Nehru’s political myopia prevented that. Jinnah moved swiftly to annex the mineral-rich State. Jammu and Kashmir was not the only state which Pakistan sought to occupy by force. Whereas Pakistan could only partially succeed in its designs on J & K, it fully occupied Kalat. Thus Pakistan which was founded based on religion had a violent streak in its national psyche since its inception although peace lowers on the Indian side delude themselves that the leopard would someday shed its spots.

Some would argue that agreeing to the accession of Kalat to India would have attenuated the arguments for the integration of Hyderabad in India. However, Pakistan advanced the same arguments to annex Junagadh as India could for the accession of Kalat but did not, and did for the accession of Jammu and Kashmir but still lost a third of its territory.     

Of the remaining princely states Sardar Patel seamlessly integrated 560 states into the Indian Union, including a recalcitrant Hyderabad. Nehru who handled Jammu and Kashmir made a dog’s breakfast of it. There was another state, Junagadh which while pretending to join India secretly planned and joined Pakistan on August 15, 1947. Read why its accession would have been disastrous for India and how Sardar Patel reversed its accession to Pakistan and brought it back into India’s fold.

The princely state of Junagadh is at the south-western corner of the Saurashtra peninsula of modern Gujarat. It was an important state of what was known as the Kathiawar group of states in pre-independence India. Junagadh was deep inside and surrounded on three sides by India and on the south and southwest by the Arabian Sea. It has no overland route to Pakistan. The distance between the nearest ports Veraval (Junagadh) and Karachi (Sind, Pakistan) is about 300 miles. Another complicating geographical factor about the state is that throughout its borders either its territories jutted into neighbouring states like fingers or their territories jutted into it. Spread over 3,337 square miles, it had a population of 6.71 lakh according to 1941 census of which 80% were Hindus. Its famous Jain and Hindu temples including the famous Somnath temple attracted pilgrims from all over India.

While giving the impression that the state would accede to India, Junagadh secretly negotiated and on August 15, 1947 declared its accession to Pakistan. This was not acceptable to India for strategic reasons and the possible cascading effect it would have on the delicate negotiations with Hyderabad that were under way. On Pakistan’s right to accept Junagadh’s accession to it, Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan informed Nehru that ‘a ruler had the absolute right to accede without reference to the moral or ethnic aspects of accession’.

In a discussion with Jinnah, Mountbatten read out the full statement of the Pakistan Prime Minister as reported by the Statesman of September 21, 1947:

The correct position is that the Indian Independence Act of 1947 has left all Indian States completely free to join either one Dominion or the other or to enter into treaty relations with either. Legally and constitutionally there can be no question of putting limitations on this right of the States. Muslim League leaders before 15 August and the official spokesman of the Pakistan Government thereafter have publicly declared their agreement with this view; and have since rigorously stood by it. No objection has been raised by Pakistan to any State acceding to the Dominion of India.” (Italics added.) [1]

This was exactly India’s case regarding Jammu and Kashmir then and all along. Jinnah agreed that it was the legal position. Thus there appears to be unanimity on the subject of accession of Princely States in both India and Pakistan. Despite this, Mountbatten suggested that the matter of Junagadh and later, Hyderabad, and Jammu and Kashmir should be referred to the United Nations Organisation. In the case of Junagadh, Sardar Patel vetoed the proposal saying that there was grave danger in being a plaintiff before the UNO. As we will see later, the decision was taken out of Patel’s hands in the case of Jammu and Kashmir with disastrous consequences.

After futile negotiations with the eccentric Nawab of Junagadh and Pakistan, the cabinet decided to move a brigade of the Indian army to the Kathiawar states surrounding Junagadh which have already acceded to India for their protection and to assist their forces. It was designated as the ‘Kathiawar Defence Force’ (KDF).

The landlocked Junagadh state was dependent on the surrounding Kathiawar states for its economy and food grains. But as Junagadh now joined enemy Pakistan, in view of the uncertain political conditions, traders in the adjoining states refused to do business with it, resulting in a virtual economic blockade. There was utter chaos and a hundred thousand Hindus fled from the state. Realising the situation was going out of control, the Nawab took flight to Pakistan taking with him the entire State treasury.

One of the factors that precipitated the crisis was the peculiar situation of two tiny states, the principality of Babariawad and the Sheikdom of Mangrol in relation to Junagadh. In the pre-independence period Junagadh had jurisdiction over Babariawad and a portion of Mangrol. The two tiny states declared independence as soon as the British Paramountcy ended and signed instruments of accession with India. An angered Junagadh sent its troops to occupy Babariawad and Mangrol. India considered this an act of aggression and was forced to move its forces to liberate Babariawad and Mangrol. Mountbatten was informed of the move only after the army was already on the march. It was a move that pre-empted him.

In the meantime, the Kathiawar Congress leaders formed a provisional government (Arzi Hukumat) with Samaldas Gandhi as its President and with its headquarters at Rajkot. After the Nawab’s flight, the forces of Arzi Hukumat began dispersing into various parts of Junagadh. Sir Shah Nawaz, the Dewan of Junagadh opened negotiations with Samaldas Gandhi requesting him to take over the administration and restore law and order in the state. Despite protestations from Pakistan, the state’s request to accede to India was accepted. When Sardar Patel visited Junagadh on November 13 he received a rousing reception. As per earlier promise India conducted a referendum in Junagadh on February 20, 1948. Of the 2,01,457 registered voters 1,90,870 exercised their franchise and all except 91 voted in favour of the state’s accession to India. In a similar referendum conducted in Mangrol and Manavadar, Babariawad, Bantwa and Sardargarh, of the 31, 439 votes cast, only 39 favoured Pakistan. A year later on February 20, 1949 all these states were finally and fully integrated with the Indian Union.



[1] Krishna, Balraj. (2007). India’s Bismarck Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. India Source Books. New Delhi. p. 205.

Excerpted from ‘TWISTING FACTS TO SUIT THEORIES’ AND OTHER SELECTIONS FROM VOXINDICA pp. 306-309


Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Viagra Is Not Just For Men!

There was a time when the profession of medical representatives (called drug reps in the USA) held an enigmatic charm for those outside looking in. They were considered to be articulate, charming, suave, well-paid and well-informed. As with other (often erroneously) generalized stereotypes, the ‘bohemian’ quality of their lifestyle that was often whispered about was neither more nor less on an average than for any other profession. The opening up of information technology jobs in the middle 1990s, which offered astronomical salaries by the existing standards and international exposure disrupted many existing orders and changed many social paradigms. As the industry attracted articulate and intelligent youngsters, pharma selling jobs lost much of their sheen.    

C. Northcote Parkinson's In-laws and Outlaws (1962) teaches enough tips and tricks to those interested in scaling the corporate ladder, from first entry, right up to the top – without actually working hard. Parkinson warns the reader that his book is not like other self-help books that “urge you to be a little more intelligent; a little more hard working; a little more painstaking.” He wryly observes that if a reader was all that, he would probably not need a book! Jamie Reidy’s Hard Sell: Love & Other Drugs (2005) may be less classy, as it was written by a first-time writer but it teaches enough tips and tricks for drug reps to beat the system, despite the industry’s sophisticated surveillance systems to check on its field sales people.

There were several works on the fascinating profession of pharma sales reps. Sidney Sheldon’s Bloodline (1977) is the story of a giant pharmaceutical company. Sheldon called the company Roffe & Sons, similar to the real life Hoffman-La Roche. The novel has a drug rep character and gives an account of the profession. The plot of Arthur Hailey’s fictional work Strong Medicine (1984) is based on the career of a drug rep who eventually becomes the chairperson of her company. Robin Cook’s Mindbend (1985) puts in perspective the lengths to which pharma companies go to – literally – “bending doctors’ minds” and the role played by drug reps in the manipulation. Douglas Farrago’s Diary of a Drug Rep (2017) gives an interesting and realistic peep into the seamy side of the enigmatic profession in manipulating the medical profession.

Hard Sell: Love & Other Drugs is however a first person account of a drug rep and reads like memoirs. The book is witty and hilarious, especially the Viagra tales! It lists quite a few maneuvers drug reps have tried and capers they pulled to beat the system. For some Indian medical reps there could be a sense of déjà vu in reading the memoirs. But there are quite a few that they could not even imagine.

Jamie Reidy disproves Pfizer’s assumption that former army men are malleable to organizational discipline, which was why the company recruited its drug reps from the army. After a career in the army, Reidy joined Pfizer's paediatric division as a drug rep and then moved on to the urology division that marketed Viagra the breakthrough drug for erectile dysfunction. Many would be surprised to know that the drug is not just for men! Reidy’s first inhibition when he sought to detail the drug to a lady doctor – as he explained how it worked in women – and how he she reacted makes for hilarious reading.

Reidy was with Pfizer for five years from 1995 to 2000 and then spent another five in Eli Lilly's oncology division. Eli Lilly sacked him after he published Hard Sell: Love & Other Drugs in 2005. Naturally! What he revealed was enough for pharma companies to see the need to scrutinize the work of their drug reps and probably sack half of them! He explained how he did his ‘best’ to beat the system: from bulging expense accounts to buy dinners for self and friends to scooting work and filing false reports. In any case, Reidy must have found that cancer was more macabre and less interesting than erectile dysfunction.

The book has been adapted into a major motion picture starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. The success of the book and the motion picture set Reidy on a new course, as a writer.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

SOME REPUBLIC DAY THOUGHTS

About 380 of the best and brightest minds assembled for nearly 3 years to discuss, debate and arrive at a consensus to draft for 'India that is Bharat' the longest written constitution in the world.

The draft was approved by the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949 and it was officially adopted on January 26, 1950.

However every time the rulers found a part of it inconvenient, they went about amending it with gay abandon.

The first amendment was enacted on June 18, 1951 that is within 18 months of adoption of the original document.

The modus for carrying out a Constitutional amendment was introduction of the amendment bill; first reading, second reading and third reading after which each clause was discussed, debated and voted. At least three fourths of the members of the house were to be present and two thirds of them should vote for it.

Fortunately for the first amendment, there was only one house then (the Constituent Assembly), as otherwise the process would have had to be repeated in the second house.

It was then sent to the states for approval by at least 50% of the them and Presidential approval.

Taking into consideration the entire process, the first amendment must have been introduced at least three to six months before its enactment in June 1951. This means it was introduced just twelve months after the adoption of the Constitution drafted by the best and brightest minds in the country.

What was the first amendment which was piloted by Jawaharlal Nehru himself? It was to place ‘reasonable’ restrictions on the freedom of speech. Thus was born Art. 19 (2).

It was all the precedence needed. After that, every time a Congress government felt inconvenienced by a provision in the Constitution or a court order, it went ahead and amended the Constitution.

In the last 70 years more than a 120 amendment bills were introduced and about 100 of them were actually enacted, most of them by the Congress governments. So what if Anantkumar Hegde proposed or envisaged some changes.

The Constitution is not etched in stone. It is a dynamic document (like the Manu Smriti) and can be changed or amended according to the needs of the time.

JAWAHARLAL NEHRU ADDRESSING THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Why did the original Constitution exclude the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ in the preamble?

The Constituent Assembly debated at length on the inclusion of the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ in the preamble. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee explained why it would not be in the interest of democracy to tie the nation for eternity to concepts which seemed attractive at the time.

The Indian Constituent Assembly comprising 389 of the best and brightest minds worked for three years to produce the longest written Constitution in the world. The wise men of the Constituent Assembly debated the inclusion of the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ at length and decided to leave them out of the Preamble. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee opined that inclusion of these terms in the Preamble would limit the scope of democracy.

Ambedkar felt that the democratic system of governance with its stress on equality for all citizens would ipso facto ensure equal religious rights. He was of the opinion that the inclusion of the word ‘socialist’ would deprive the people of a possibly better system of governance than socialism at a future time. Here was what he had said:

“What should be the policy of the State, how the Society should be organised in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances. It cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself, because that is destroying democracy altogether. If you state in the Constitution that the social organisation of the State shall take a particular form, you are, in my judgement, taking away the liberty of the people to decide what should be the social organisation in which they wish to live. It is perfectly possible today, for the majority people to hold that the socialist organisation of society is better than the capitalist organisation of society. But it would be perfectly possible for thinking people to devise some other form of social organisation which might be better than the socialist organisation of today or of tomorrow. I do not see therefore why the Constitution should tie down the people to live in a particular form and not leave it to the people themselves to decide it for themselves.”(Italics added.) *

It appears Ambedkar was prescient about the possibility of leaders or political parties using Constitution-tinkering as a political tool to usurp power. Here was what he had said in his speech:

“In the first place, the Constitution, as I stated in my opening speech in support of the motion I made before the House, is merely a mechanism for the purpose of regulating the work of the various organs of the State. It is not a mechanism whereby particular members or particular parties are installed in office.” (Ibid. Italics added.)

The Constituent Assembly thereafter rejected a motion to include the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ in the Preamble. However, Ambedkar’s prediction about political leaders using amendments to the Constitution as political tools did not have long to wait. In less than eighteen months after the Constitution was adopted on November 26 1949, Jawaharlal Nehru enacted the first amendment inserting Article 19 (2) to curtail the fundamental right of freedom of speech. There were other amendments but it was his daughter Indira Gandhi, who made wholesale changes to the Constitution during the 1975-77 Emergency, she imposed on the nation. Her 42nd amendment act included the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ in the Preamble. Enacted in 1976, the one amendment rewrote more than 50 articles and Schedules! With the entire opposition in jail, she did not have to bother with the nuisance of debate and discussion of the clauses.

Thus, there are three different meanings to the word ‘secular’. The first was the original European connotation in which it meant separation the Church and the State. Then there is the connotation as envisaged by the Constituent Assembly and as defined by Ambedkar, which meant equality of all religions. The third connotation is the political tool, which the Congress party and more specifically Indira Gandhi and her successors put to good use for garnering minority votes. In essence, the use of secularism as a political tool involves appeasing minority vote banks to queer electoral arithmetic for electoral gains. It has different connotations in different political contexts. It has one meaning in Hindu majority states and quite a different meaning in other states where Hindus are in a minority. By the by Indira Gandhi’s famous Constitutional amendment which inserted the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ in the preamble is yet to be applied in Jammu and Kashmir. The Hindu religious bodies alone are state controlled and their incomes appropriated by state governments. The Right to Education Act (RTE) 2009 enjoins public and private educational institutions to provide free education to students to the extent of 25% of their strength. However, the RTE act is not applicable to educational institutions run by minorities.

Excerpted from ‘TWISTING FACTS TO SUIT THEORIES’ & OTHER SELECTIONS FROM VOXINDICA pp. 126-128




* Debate on November 15, 1948: “Constituent Assembly Of India - Volume VII”. Accessible from http://goo.gl/21N47W