Musings from a republic day morning: A post-Pulwama retrospection
The following is the reproduction of a speech which I had delivered before an audience consisting mainly of university students and staff. This transpired on January 26, 2019, i.e. on a Republic Day morning, exactly eighteen days before the Jihadi massacre at Pulwama took place; and precisely one month before the Indian Air Force avenged that massacre by conducting air strikes on Jaish-e-Mohammed’s Jihad-training camps at Balakot, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan.
In retrospect, the speech appears to have anticipated the massacre of Indian lives by Maulana Masood Azhar’s band of Jihadi terrorists, which is but one in a series of many such murderous acts by them and other terror groups of their ilk. Such anticipation is due to the inherent flaws and contradictions in the way our republic has been imagined and constituted, which is what compels us to take up the subject time and again (and especially on a Republic Day morning), until those flaws are finally rectified and the lives of Indian citizens are secured against the malicious, imperialistic aspirations of Jihad for good. This is exactly what the present speech attempts to do. And when we speak of the lives of Indian citizens, we must also count those that serve in our armed forces – the vigilant peacekeepers in areas which have been fractured by those very flaws of our republic, perhaps beyond repair.
The Balakot air strikes have no doubt been a positive step towards ensuring the safety of India’s people and her borders, but it is far from a systemic, permanent solution. Such a permanent solution can only be brought about by undoing the political machinations meant for a deliberate and gradual weakening of our republic’s foundations, especially of its civilizational foundation. The questions raised through the following meditation on that problem and the contradictions of the Republic indicated therein make it worthwhile to look back on this speech. It is hoped that the retrospective reading of this openly apprehensive speech, in light of the Pulwama tragedy, might spur those who wield the most direct means of change into taking positive action. To that end, we reproduce the speech here in toto:
Precisely sixty-nine years ago on this day, the Constitution of India came into force. Simultaneously, the country which had been granted its independence from a full hundred-and-ninety years of the British Raj, conferred upon herself the moniker ‘Republic of India’. At the time, the Constitution had been content to define the country as a ‘sovereign democratic republic’, and not the ‘sovereign socialist secular democratic republic’ that it was later styled into, during the 1976 emergency declared by Mrs Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India. I believe it is most remarkable in the history of constitutions of the world at large, that a government had to suspend the very democracy that was so characteristic of the republic in order to ‘upgrade’ it. In fact, anyone familiar with this history of the Indian constitution will not fail to notice that democracy is conspicuously a more fundamental characteristic of the Republic of India, compared to the characterisations ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’, which were surreptitiously appended to the constitution in the 42nd amendment during what has been described by many as the darkest period of the modern history of our country.
As such, all of us may agree that it won’t be too impertinent to briefly reflect on the impact of these appendages to the constitution on a day that is meant to celebrate its coming-into-effect. Here is an illustration of such impact in the popular domain of colloquial communication: in recent times, a peculiar word has crept into the vocabulary of social network users in India as well as those of the Indian diaspora. The word in question is ‘sickular’ – a tongue-in-cheek fusion of the English words ‘sick’ and ‘secular’. It is used disparagingly to highlight the politics of those academics, intellectuals and politicians who claim to promote ‘secular’ values in India in a manner that often turns out, in the final analysis, to be counterproductive and distinctly non-secular. What, we may wonder, has prompted the coinage of this term amid the lively democratic discussions that take place on social media? Apart from being a striking linguistic phenomenon, the coining of this curious word must be read in its proper political context, lest it is misunderstood. Used as a pejorative, it may appear that the user of the term rejects egalitarianism, secularism as well as all democratic values. Indeed, in left-liberal quarters it is customary to find any criticism of the Indian brand of secularism being labelled as rantings of the extreme right. But in the context of India’s recent socio-political history, one that confronts a serious threat to the very foundations and possibility of a real secular state, the word sickularism actually highlights the crucial and often unspoken limits of secularism.
The prolonged existence of Article 370, for example, is a testimony to that flirtation with insincere, ill-defined and ill-implemented secularism. That self-defeating article from the Indian Constitution allows autonomy to an Indian state where the so-called minority is in the majority, and where they rule over the real minority with a parallel constitution, refusing to provide basic human rights to this minority: viz. the Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists of Jammu and Kashmir. Again, article 35A mockingly undermines the very sovereignty of the republic which we are supposed to celebrate today. This article of our constitution is squarely exploited by those who wish to establish a theocratic state in India. By granting hundreds of acres of Indian territory and rights to illegal immigrants in order to change the demography of Hindu-majority Jammu and to provide safe havens for carrying out anti-India activities, including jihadi terrorism on Indian soil, this diabolical article functions as an instrument of undoing the Indian republic and remains a cruel joke on all the celebrations and charades of development, military power and patriotism.
What use is such secularism which perpetuates unequal laws and injustice?
What use is such secularism that teaches us to be blind to the genocidal activities of certain groups, and demands that we condone the same?
What good is such socialism which has a legacy of not only discrediting but even disrespecting modern India’s greatest Kshatriya Netaji Subhash Chandra Basu – whose birthday passed almost unnoticed only three days ago on the 23rd of this month – with foul words?
It is this set of concerns that forces us to be cynical about the nature of our Constitution. It is this set of doubts that cloud our mind regarding the ulterior motive of our lawmakers. It is this set of questions that prompts us to pose a further question, with an even bigger question mark after it: Whither Indian republic, then?
Sreejit Datta teaches English and Cultural Studies at the Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University in Mysore. Variously trained in comparative literature, Hindustani music and statistics; Sreejit happens to be an acclaimed vocalist who has been regularly performing across multiple Indian and non-Indian genres. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org