Earlier last week, Modi, in the customary address before the start of Parliament session, stated that India assuming presidency of the G20 was opportunity for the world to know India as “the mother of democracy, with its diversity and courage”. This theme has become recurring, as Modi faithfully peddles RSS’s mantra that “India is the mother of democracy”. We heard this in Modi’s speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2021 and more recently in his Independence Day speech.
No surprise then that the theme of the Constitution Day celebrations (November 26) this year, was “India: The Mother of Democracy”. Accompanying instructions issued by the Union government in this regard, was a Concept Note by the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) titled “Bharat: Loktantra ki Janani”, which lays out a brief civilizational argument of India being the cradle of democracy for the world, basically a Hindu supremacist viewpoint. In sum and substance the concept note makes two principal arguments – firstly, that India means Hindu, and, secondly that Hindu rashtra has existed since ancient times. This ahistorical and exclusionary narrative stands directly in contrast to Ambedkar’s call for social unity while adding that “If social unity is not achieved this summer sapling of democracy, will be rooted out with gust of summer wind”.
The Concept Note valorises village communities and “self-governing institutions” such as the Khaps, which it claims have remained unaffected to date. It argues that “Hindu culture and civilisation” has survived “2000 years of invasions by alien ethnicities and cultures”, which was possible because the “Hindu mind” from the very beginning focussed on welding the “vast multiplicity that is India into a single larger community” to which a “geo-cultural definition” was given as “Bharata – The country which lies south of the Himalayas and the north of the oceans”. Relying on the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Rigveda it attempts to portray a harmonic relationship between the people and the kings with the claim that one of the “most profound ideas in ancient political philosophy is that the power or the office of the king is only a trust”. As such it concludes that India is the world’s largest successful working democracy because “Indian people, infused with the spirit of equality, have had since the very Vedic times a lokatantrika-parampara”.
It is exactly this narrative that the Constituent Assembly rejected in framing the Constitution. Ambedkar, while addressing the Constituent Assembly on November 4, 1948, addressed the specific criticism against the Draft Constitution that it failed to represent the ancient polity of India and that it should have been drafted on the ancient Hindu model of a State. In fact Ambedkar went as far to declare that “village republics have been the ruination of India” and that they were “a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness and communalism”.
This is the latest in what can only be described as a concerted effort at hollowing out democracy. This is evident from the concept note by ICHR that makes no mention of the Constitution or of Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution. In words and action, Hindutva endeavours to strip democracy of any progressive meaning and value proving right the fears expressed by Ambedkar at the time of adoption of the Constitution.
Here we must recall Ambedkar’s final speech in the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949. Ambedkar expresses his twin fears – firstly, whether Indians and political parties place the “country above their creed or will they place creed above country” adding that it was certain that if creed was placed above country, then our independence will be put in jeopardy. Secondly, whether the democratic Constitution would survive or not. Clearly the farcical democracy espoused by the RSS is antithetical to the democracy Ambedkar desired, and which the Constitution mandates for the country.
There is another aspect of this final speech which requires close attention, wherein Ambedkar issues three cautions to ensure that democracy is not subverted. Firstly, adherence to constitutional methods, and, secondly, disavowal of Bhakti or hero-worship in politics which would otherwise lead to eventual dictatorship. How accurately did Ambedkar predict the challenges to Indian democracy and the Constitution we are experienced today!
Ambedkar’s third caution was to ensure that our political democracy became a social democracy. He goes on to explain that political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. In answering the question as to what social democracy means he explains: “It means a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. These principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items in a trinity. They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality, equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Nor can liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity. Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many. Equality without liberty would kill individual initiative. Without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of things.”
For Ambedkar, the roots of democracy lie not in the form of government, parliamentary or otherwise. On the contrary, a democracy was more than a form of Government; it is primarily a mode of “associated living”. On December 22, 1952, Ambedkar delivered a speech at a programme organised by the Poona District Law Library, wherein he declared that the purpose of modern democracy is to bring about welfare of the people, going as far as to say that democracy was “a form and a method of government whereby revolutionary changes in the economic and social life of the people are brought about without bloodshed.” In the course of this speech, Ambedkar summed up the conditions necessary for the success of democracy, which are summarised below.
Firstly, the absence of glaring inequalities in society is necessary for democracy, since history is replete with examples of the breakdown of democracy due to the existence of extreme social cleavages. Incidentally, this view is mirrored by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in the Minerva Mills case, which held that the abrogation of democracy, and to “substitute for it a totally antithetical form of Government” can be “most effectively achieved ... by a total denial of social, economic and political justice to the people, by emasculating liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship and by abjuring commitment to the magnificent ideal of a society of equals.”
Without doubt, any person must at least have enjoy certain basic rights to participate in a democracy i.e. shelter and basic amenities, adequate standard of living, job/wage security, education, free health services, etc. However, these very basic rights today are denied to the majority of the population. The current neo-liberal economic policies are inimical to democracy, deny humanity to the majority of the people while compelling them to live in animal-like conditions, in fear and insecurity – as slaves. This while the share of the top 1% in national wealth has risen from 11.87% in 1961-1970 to 31.55% in 2011-2020, and the share of the bottom half has declined over the same period from 12.29% to 6.12%.
Secondly, the presence of a functional opposition is a condition precedent for democracy, which is to say that there must always be an alternative to the ruling party, especially in parliament to challenge the Government. On the contrary, Hindutva does not have any space for opposition let alone dissent. It has become a veritable election-winning machine and has made its ambitions of wiping out the Congress and all other opposition parties explicit. In September 2019, Amit Shah told a convention organised by the All India Management Association that, “After nearly 70 years of independence, there was a question in the minds of the people whether the vision of the founding fathers had really been realised. Whether the multi-party democratic system had failed to fulfil the aspirations of the citizens of the country.” The hint at a single-party rule was not lost on anybody.
Ambedkar said that the third condition precedent for the success of democracy is equality in law and administration implying that the administration would treat all persons equally without fear or favour of the ruling regimes. What we witness today is the RSS packing all levels of administration and institutions with its own people resulting in an alarming erosion, if not outright decimation, of their independence, transparency and accountability.
Fourthly, the observance of constitutional morality was essential for democracy. By this Ambedkar reasoned that the parties in power would not target their ideological and political opponents since this would damage the Constitution and democracy. What we are witnessing, on the contrary, is the vicious use of political power to decimate the opposition and clamp down on any form of dissent. A new phrase “Operation Kamala” has entered the lexicon to describe BJP’s strategy of toppling opposition led governments by bringing over opposition MLAs to its side.
Ambedkar also warned that the tyranny of the majority over the minority is antithetical to democracy, adding that, “The minority must always feel safe that although the majority is carrying on the Government, the minority is not being hurt, or the minority is not being hit below the belt”. Ambedkar hastened to add that a democracy requires the functioning of moral order in society. Finally he said that a democracy requires ‘public conscience.’, that is a sense of indignation at every injustice and the overwhelming willingness to stand in solidarity with those “who are absolutely crushed under the burden of injustice”. Today lynch mobs are the norm while communal hatred is peddled in the name of religion and politics.
In addition we can add that protecting political freedom too is a necessity for democracy. As Lenin said, it has always been the aim of the class-conscious proletariat to wage a determined struggle for complete political freedom and the democratic revolution, without which a broad, free, and open class struggle, and rallying of the masses of the proletariat are inconceivable.
The hollowing out of democracy that we bear witness to today under this fascist assault, has reduced democracy to, at best a meaningless superficial phrase, and at worst, a doublespeak for Hindu majoritarianism. Hindutva is contrary to the Constitution and democracy and has found an able ally in neoliberalism. This is exemplified by the degeneration of corporate media, the so-called fourth pillar of democracy, into veritable lapdogs of the RSS and the BJP.
The effort at effacing democracy is integral to Hindu majoritarianism’s goal of wiping away the legacy of the Freedom struggle, particularly the Constitution.
Ambedkar, alive to the threat of Hindu supremacists, was most explicit in his warning that the Hindu Raj will be the greatest calamity for this country adding that: ”No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.” However, this is not the only time that Ambedkar recognised the threat fascism poses to democracy. In his address “If Democracy Dies, it will be our doom” at the All-India Depressed Classes Conference held at Nagpur on 18th July 1942, Ambedkar expressed his opposition to Nazism as they are barbarous, racial and enemy of democracy. To quote: “…This is a war between democracy and dictatorship - not an enlightened dictatorship but a dictatorship of the most barbarous character based not on any moral ideal but on racial arrogance. If any dictatorship needs to be destroyed, it is this vile Nazi Dictatorship. Amidst all the political dissensions that one witnesses in this country, amidst all uncertainties of the future which some feel, we are likely to forget what a menace to our future this Nazism, if it wins, is going to be. What is more important is that its racial basis is a positive danger to Indians. If this is a correct view of the situation, it seems to me that there lies on us a very heavy duty to see that democracy does not vanish from the earth as a governing principle of human relationship. If we believe in it, then, we must both be true and loyal to it. We must not only be staunch in our faith in democracy but we must resolve to see that in whatever we do, we do not help the enemies of democracy to uproot the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. On that point I hope we are all agreed and if you agree with me, then if follows that we must strive along with other democratic countries to maintain the basis of democratic civilization. If democracy lives, we are sure to reap the fruits of it. If democracy dies, it will be our doom. On that there can be no doubt.”
If we believe that democracy is the biggest gain we made from our freedom movement, then it must be saved at all costs. Without a doubt, as Lenin said, democracy in a capitalist society “is always hemmed in by the narrow limits set by capitalist exploitation” with the “majority of the population is denied participation in public and political life”. That being the case, saving democracy means advancing the task of democratisation. Indeed, the anti-CAA struggle against Nazi-inspired citizenship laws, farmer protests against the three farm laws, working class struggles against the Labour Codes, anti-caste struggles, women’s liberation struggles, etc. are all struggles towards democratisation.
Vinod Mishra rightly declared that the basic challenge facing Marxists today is to explore the broadest form of proletarian democracy (beyond the limits of parliamentary democracy) so that the inevitable defeat of world capitalism is seen as the victory of both, socialism and democracy. For this the proletariat cannot, as Lenin said, “pin its faith in general democratic slogans but must contrapose to them its own proletarian-democratic slogans in their full scope.”
Thus, the battle for democracy against the fascist forces, encapsulates the struggle against feudal remnants, the battle for annihilation of caste and gender equality, the struggle for ending religious fundamentalism and communalism, all of which remain a stumbling block to a thorough democratisation of Indian society and polity. The political and economic struggle for democracy against corporate raj, forms the other plank for democratisation and can forge a unity of the masses. As Lenin declared, the “proletariat cannot be victorious except through democracy, i.e., by giving full effect to democracy and by linking with each step of its struggle democratic demands formulated in the most resolute terms.” The fascist campaign for decimation of democracy must be countered by making the battle for democracy more comprehensive, determined and through-going.