RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s demand that our Constitution and jurisprudence should align with the value systems of the country smacks of ignorance not only about the Constitution but also, and more importantly, of Hinduism. Which is not surprising because the proponents of Hindutva are largely an ignorant lot.
“Our Constitution was written based on the understanding of the ‘Bharatiya’ ethos of our founding fathers, but many of the laws that we are still using are based on foreign sources and were made as per their thinking. Seven decades have passed since our Independence… this is something we must address,” Bhagwat said on Sunday at the concluding ceremony of the silver jubilee celebrations of Akhil Bharatiya Adhivakta (Advocates) Parishad in Hyderabad (The Times Of India, September 12).
This is rubbish. Our Constitution, especially after the Supreme Court’s privacy judgment, is illuminated with the ethos, ideas, and ideals of the Enlightenment. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Enlightenment was “a European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries in which ideas concerning God, reason, nature, and humanity were synthesized into a worldview that gained wide assent in the West and that instigated revolutionary developments in art, philosophy, and politics. Central to Enlightenment thought were the use and celebration of reason, the power by which humans understand the universe and improve their own condition. The goals of rational humanity were considered to be knowledge, freedom, and happiness.”
If Bhagwat and other Hindu nationalists really believe in the grand motto of Hinduism, Vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the world is one family), they shouldn’t be bothered about where the great enlightenment ideas emanated from. It may swell Bhagwat’s and other Hindutvists’ hearts, though, to know that the doctrines of some Indian philosophy did play some role in shaping the contours of the Enlightenment. A great philosopher, Spinoza (1632-77), was deeply influenced by the Hindu theories propounded by Vedanta, Samkhya, and Yoga.
The same was true for another great philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). As Fredrich Wilhelm and H.G. Rawlinson wrote in A.L. Basham-edited A Cultural History of India, “Kant’s great central doctrine, that things of experience are only phenomena of the thing-m-itself, is essentially that of the Upanishads. This may be a coincidence. However, Kant was indeed deeply concerned with Indian culture, and lectured on India on the basis of the knowledge available at that period Thus his judgment of the Hindus was that ‘They are gentle, that is why all nations are tolerated amongst them and why they are easily subdued by the Tartars [read Muslims]… They are industrious and upright in their business and much more honest than the Chinese’.”
In short, if Hindu thought played some role, even minuscule, in fashioning Enlightenment ideas, what’s wrong in having “the laws that… are based on foreign sources”? In fact, the entire Indian Penal Code, which came into force in 1862, was written by Thomas Babington Macaulay, a person whom Hindutvists hate from the core of their hearts. More than one and a half century later, 70 years after the departure of the British, it is still in force with slight amendments (The same is true for the Bangladesh. Owing to decades of Islamization, the Pakistan Penal Code has incorporated several Shariat measures, but Lord Macaulay’s template is still exists in a truncated manner). The fact that Lord Macaulay’s code has worked for so long is proof of its utility and aptness.
The fact that the fruition of noble ideas like freedom and fairness has happened in the West doesn’t affect their universality, in the same manner as the discovery of the law of gravitation by Newton in England doesn’t make it less applicable in India, China, or Russia. But Bhagwat and his ilk, ignoramuses as they are, are unable to grasp this truth. As Dr. S. Radhakrishnan wrote in the same book, “The vision of India, like that of Greece, is Indian only in the sense that it was formulated by minds belonging to the Indian soil. The value of that vision does not reside in any tribal or provincial characteristics, but in those elements of universality which appeal to the whole world.”
The appeal is still there. As Lisa Miller, a journalist and author, wrote in an article in Newsweek (August 14, 2009), “America is not a Christian nation. We are, it is true, a nation founded by Christians, and according to a 2008 survey, 76 per cent of us continue to identify as Christian (still, that’s the lowest percentage in American history). Of course, we are not a Hindu—or Muslim, or Jewish, or Wiccan—nation, either. A million-plus Hindus live in the United States, a fraction of the billion who live on Earth. But recent poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity” (emphasis added).
The reason is that Hinduism is the only truly inclusivist faith that lets other faiths coexist without compromising on its essence which is mentioned in the Rig Veda and quoted by Miller: “Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names.” This is quite unlike the belief of the Christian missionary that Jesus is the way and the fanaticism of the Islamist that the entire world has to be made Muslim.
This simple truth can be comprehended by a Western journalist but not somebody who is ostensibly devoted to Hinduism. Shakespeare said that there is no darkness like ignorance. Folks like Bhagwat, by reveling in their benightedness, resolutely oppose anything that comes from the Enlightenment. They certainly don’t have any regard for the Upanishadic wisdom of Tamaso mā jyotir gamaya (Lead me from darkness to light).
P.S.: To the teacher’s query what does Tamaso mā jyotir gamaya mean, the blockhead said, “Tum so jao, Ma, main Jyoti ke ghar ja raha hoon” (Go to bed, Mom, I am going to Jyoti’s place).