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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 6, January 31, 2015 - Republic Day Special

Tweaking the Republic for a Make-Over

Saturday 31 January 2015, by Badri Raina

Rarely has an Indian Prime Minister had so tough a job to accomplish at the behest of such breakneck anticipations. Two impatiently imperious mandates —seemingly contradictory but headed toward a familiar convergence—press upon the beleaguered Chief Executive: one calls upon him to privatise with dispatch what remains of publicly owned national wealth, so that the rate of growth of corporate profit is catalysed to an Olympic sprint, and, the second nudges him through one sectarian putsch after another not to forget that his more quintessential writ is to make the republic over into a Hindu Rashtra.

Mr Modi may well be reminding himself of the truth of that Marxian maxim—a maxim that can be heard to speak as much to the Right as it does to the Left— which states that although men make their own history, they do not make it any which they like, for there are objective constraints that bar the way and complicate the doing so. Be it the political economy, or be it the matter of recasting the state and Constitution, dour elements of the ancien regime frustrate the conjoint enterprise every step of the way.

On first count, there are the people of India, resolutely distinct, like it or not, from the corporate knights. However the armour be shining, the unconscionably anti-national howl for the “people’s right” to this form of security or that is more easily blocked than quelled. With no thought for the nation’s glory, and no satisfactions in its goldlen antiquity, the hoi polloi will have food, will have housing, will have health care, will have education, will have jobs, will have right to their own land, water, forests, mineral wealth, and, if that was not enough, the right to information about how the state and its patriotic agencies may be cheating them out of all the aforsaid rights, regardless of how fatally such irresponsible wilfulness debilitate the realm and bring it down in the eyes of the World Bank, the Monetary Fund and the sundry rating agencies who watch over the wellbeing of the lean and hungry corporates, relegated to penury by the cussed solipsism of the labouring and suicidal masses. Thus, however enlightened the laws calculated to take the superfluous morsel from out of their greedy mouths in the larger national interest, they swarm across the land in such countless numbers that the rag-tag police force left us by the uncaring previous regime may not be trusted quite yet to hold back the invasion of the locusts. And, wretchedly, there exists no provision yet in our present Constitution which permits either changing the people or sending them to kingdom come.

Even as, therefore, Mr Modi does his energetic best to dismantle the decrepit architecture of public welfare, the odds overwhelm, and heinous voices are raised that still find an outlet somewhere or the other. Against the increasing number of buddhi-jeevies who cross over in deference to the selfless cause of remaking the republic, many remain loyal to their unevolved habits of thought. Thus, the new corporate knights must need understand how prickly it is to do what needs to be done, and why they must consent to restrain their steeds when the terrain be not smooth enough yet.

Think of the sheer numbers of officers and intellectuals corrupted by socialistic patterns of grooming who must be transferred from one strategic slot to a more useless one, or offered the golden handshake, or nudged to take the hint, or embroiled in legal procedures before a fresh scaffolding for dutiful implementation of newer blueprints be enforced; how many think-tanks and educational and cultural institutions mired in the socialisation of the ancien regime must be vacated to the distraction of noisy hullabaloos, not all of which are endorsed by an otherwise hands-on media and forward-looking channels. For you never know what Goswami may bang on which issue suddenly out ot the blue, and how far the ruckus may go, or what Thapar may bore into which fake argument till he draws blood. Nor is it for now conceivable that recourse may be taken without let or hindrance to the benevolent twisting of the anti-national neck, since the very forces that prod us to clamp down also squirm, however disingenuously, when clamp downs are affected. They will have their profits as well as be known as lovers of democracy. Have you any idea, Mr Podsnap, how such a politic ruse makes a Prime Ministerial career thorny?

On the other count, far easier to have declared Christmas “Good Governance Day” than christen Republic Day Hindu Rashtra Divas.

A veritable minefield this one, Bhayiyo aur Bhehno, however desirable, and however cherished our goal. How does one, on the one hand, laud and celebrate Gandhi and Patel and, on the other, undo their legacy, do tell me? How is the Constitution to be made over when the Supreme Court has laid down that there are “basic features” that Parliament may not amend? How is Parliament to be tackled until we have a two-thirds majority in either trouble-some House? And who knows what the President of India, a scion of the ancien regime, may be thinking about the direction in which we aim to take the Rashtra? Can you not, therefore, appreciate the sheer yards of oratory we unleash in order that all Assemblies as well are captured so as the final goal be facilitated? And, yet, are we to be blamed, we ask you, if the country bequeathed to us is so maddeningly diverse, so recalcitrant in this pocket or that, so hung up on pluralism, so full of sects and shades and practices and histories, indeed so full of cross-talk, that it never seems to gel into a sanaatan unity? And, is it conceivable, we ask you, our militarism notwithstanding, that a coup be effected, dissolving democracy, its institutions, its legal systems, its media world, its babble of voices, and, most of all, the Constitution, replaced by a Saffron book, and still be able to hold the nation together for our form of glory, and our idea of Akhand Bharat? And even if we were to achieve this, would we want to go down with Obama and our Non-Resident brothers and sisters, addicted to democracy, the entire free world and its many noted great minds in whose shadow who does not like to bask, and, most of all, with our new-found destiny and its written history in the days to come as those who liquidated the Republic more terminally than Indira Gandhi ever did? Even for a strong, a determined, an indoctrinated leader, such a thought seems too discomfiting. You may expect the leader to turn a Nelson’s eye to the many Hinduising shenani-gans that you have unleashed, but it is best to desist from the unthinkable. What is not sustainable is not worth the doing. One thing to bring home to the “other” their “inauthentic otherness”, and to hurt and harrass them to become kosher, quite another to create clones of Bharatis who speak and think the same thought and worship the same gods from end to end by force of a Saffron book in place of the Constitution. The more days we spend in office, the more we realise that there may be no Bharat left, not to speak of Akhand Bharat, if we insist. Thus in our diverse plurality may indeed lie our unity and integrity, and those that made the Republican Constitution may have had their beans about them after all. Do recall that they included many who were as wedded to the khaki knicker as we are. They could not have been so wrong.

Indeed. Indeed. A consummation most meet.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.