Hindus and the Mirage of Constitutional Patriotism

The latest buzzword after the speech of former President of India, Pranab Mukerjee, is ‘constitutional nationalism’. The term constitutional nationalism or constitutional patriotism is derived from the German word Verfassungspatriotismus that originated in post-war Germany, promoted by political theorists like Karl Jaspers, Dolf Sternberger and Jürgen Habermas, who promoted the idea as a protective means to ensure political stability to maintain peace in Germany. Among its basic ideas was that people should form a political attachment to the norms and values of a pluralistic liberal democratic Constitution rather than a national culture or cosmopolitan society. In Europe’s post-national democratic states, countries where multiple cultural and ethnic groups converged in the last decades for livelihood and better means of living, this idea attempted to re-conceptualise group identity with focus on the interpretation of citizenship as a loyalty that goes beyond individuals’ ethno-cultural identification, and thereby forge loyalty towards the land of choice rather than the land/culture of origin of immigrants.

Mr Mukherjee’s advice looks sagacious and timely in the context of the controversy surrounding his address at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, however it is erroneous given the unique historical context of India which has been a veritable melting-pot of ethnicities and religious groups over the centuries and comprises within its milieu a mindboggling diversity. Acceptance of diversity was never a problematic prospect for Indians where cultural ‘uniformism’ was never an imperative. What however India required in its present form as a modern nation-state was a commitment to the civilisational ethos that permits such coexistence. The task before Indians is therefore not achieving compliance to a written word to evoke native feelings, but to ensure that the Constitution reinforces the bearers of this spirit of integration thereby protecting the ecosystem, instead of catering to disparate refractory groups that assail it and ideologies that run counter to it. Seen in this light, the Indian Constitution fails miserably in the very purpose it was designed for, preserving the unified awareness of the Indian people. The former President’s advice moreover leaves one unimpressed at a closer scrutiny of the peculiarities of India’s Constitution in relation to its people on following counts.

First, the purpose of a nations’ Constitution should be to safeguard the integrity of State, provide a framework for governance and foster development of its constituents, i.e. people whom the constitution is supposed to serve. However, India’s Constitution shows an uncanny bias against the biggest stakeholder among its constituents, i.e, the Hindu majority population of India and accords far more privileges to minorities than that commensurate with their contribution in nation building. This obsession with protection of minorities at the cost of majority Hindus has resulted in an unnatural vying for minority tag among the communities, the Lingayat issue in Karnataka being the latest example of this trend.

This can aptly be called as ‘constitutional minority-ism’ which basically means a system designed to promote selective minorities by taxing and discriminating against the vast majority of its citizens, till the said minority becomes powerful enough to have its say in all matters of national governance. This will eventually result in a politically marginalized majority and our Constitution is silent on how it intends to address concerns of Hindus who are already a minority in certain states like Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland, Mizoram, and others.

To further aggravate the matters, our Constitution promotes a kind of ‘constitutional caste-ism’ with its provisions of affirmative actions which have been grossly misused by political class to extend perpetual reservation benefits far in excess of what were intended by drafters of the Constitution. Almost every caste group including those socially dominant like Marathas, Rajputs and Jats have demanded reservation benefits. It also undermines the basic principles of democracy by reserving 133 out of 543 seats reserved for those belonging to SCs/STs. An upper caste person can vote in the reserved constituencies but cannot contest elections. Provisions like these have rendered the position of caste Hindus (savarna) even more vulnerable within the society and they are in real sense the actual minority of India, the ones without a political or constitutional voice.


(Source: The Indian Express)

Second problem is the selective application and distortion of the Constitutional provisions. Take for instance the idea of secularism as enshrined in the Constitution. By its very definition, secularism is the separation of church and state. However, in actual practice our Constitution and its upholders (i.e. courts) routinely meddle in practically every sphere of religious and cultural affairs of Hindus in the smallest of pretexts and legislate on issues like height of ‘Dahi-Handi’, but shies away from their responsibility when it comes to issues of real significance concerning the community’s interest like the building of the Ram temple at Ayodhya.


                   (Source: ResurgentIndia.org)

India’s secular moves have been consistently undermined by the political class and courts alike. Interested readers can refer to recommendations of the Sachar committee report, which was instituted by erstwhile UPA government with the aim of increasing participation of Muslims in all sphere of public life. Its recommendations seeks an elaborate system of exemptions and benefits for Muslims, for their social and economic upliftment in line with what Man Mohan Singh later described as Muslims having first right on nations resources. One of the recommendations was reserving parliamentary constituencies exclusively for Muslim candidates through delimitation, much like the current system of reserved seats for SC/STs. There is no reason why other minority communities would not demand similar government backed initiatives to enhance their influence.

The most glaring example of violation of secular principles is the presence of personal laws for communities that goes against the clause of Directive Principles of having a Uniform Civil Code applicable to all citizens of India. Even Hindu temples are not free from government control and a big portion of their earnings is taken by away by the government to fund various initiatives of purely secular nature. Nowhere does the definition of secularism demand that a place of worship can be selectively taxed to fund government initiatives. This happens while churches and mosques continue to maintain their communal immunities and prerogatives, of freedom from taxation and obligation towards Constitution in matters of employment, education, social and even culpable activities of members.

An ideal constitution within a democratic setup is one which represents the will of the majority, while ensuring that those belonging to minority are not given a raw deal. Indian constitution as tool of democratic state inverts this basic principle and achieves exactly the opposite end. It purports to foster harmony among various sections of society, but resorts to social engineering of the worst kind to achieve its stated aim and ends up fragmenting society along the faultlines of caste and religion.

Hindus are the biggest stakeholders in the polity of this nation and the sole inheritors of the world’s oldest civilization, which has been under assault for a millennium but has never persecuted anyone for holding a belief. Till the Constitution and its provisions recognize Hindus as first among equals and the actions of our political class reflect it, the ideal of constitutional patriotism will remain a useless abstraction for vast majority of Hindus.

Hindus on their part should continue to invest their energies in civilizational and cultural nationalism as opposed to Constitutional one, because former is rooted in collective wisdom of several thousand years of Hindu philosophical experience (darshana) while latter is just patchwork of assorted ideas contained in a book of ephemeral relevance.

Cover Picture: (Source: IndianFolk.com)

Author: Ankit Sharma

Published: June 13, 2018

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