'INDIA versus Bharat' or ‘'India that is Bharat’?

The opposition to the INDIA alliance is also rooted in the thesis which sees a ‘clash of civilizations’ (Samuel Huntington), in contrast to what the UN report emphasizes on Alliance of Civilizations, well articulated in Nehru’s belief system. 

Dr Ram Puniyani Jul 27, 2023
Modi-led NDA and INDIA alliance

The BJP has been in power for the last nine years in India. The opposition parties have gradually realized that it is not ruling along the lines of the Constitution and neither for inclusive India which should be based on Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and Justice. BJP has also been using the agencies like ED, CBI as the major tool to weaken the opposition parties apart from its policies which on the one hand have given a boost to the Crony capitalists, and also has been undermining democratic freedoms. Its politics is centered on the issues related to identity, Ram Temple, Love Jihad and many other jihads, Cow-Beef and hyper-nationalistic postures against one neighbor. Its policies have increased the sufferings of the average and poor sections of society, be it demonetization. Covid 19 lockdown at short notice or be it the rising unemployment, problems of farmers, or increasing atrocities against Dalits, Adivasis women and religious minorities. 

The selective use of central agencies is one of the major concerns apart from realization that BJP is the richest national party, enhancing its riches through electoral bonds. PM Care Fund is another of the mechanisms which are disturbing the apple cart of our system. To cap it all the BJP has vast support of manpower from the various affiliates of RSS, which work for this party during elections. All this has made the non-BJP parties come together and form an alliance, INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance). This got formulated in their second conclave in Bangalore where 26 opposition parties met to save democracy and the constitution and to take on the might of BJP, whose organization goes from booth level to national level and works as a well-oiled machinery.

 As their coming together was becoming more and more realistic, the BJP woke up to the march of the opposition parties. The first thing they did was to bring the NDA from the freezer and tried to put together some 38 parties, a few known and most unknown rag-tags, together under the umbrella of NDA. Most of the party leaders were bowing to the supreme leader, whose photo was the only one which was on the banner. They were deeply stung by the brilliant acronym INDIA. Apart from denigrating these opposition parties some of their leaders also said it is improper to use this acronym. As per them use of the name of INDIA will have undue influence and will be a "personation at elections," news agency ANI reported. They also filed a police complaint at a police station in Delhi.  

Narrow interpretation of Indian civilisation

Assam Chief Minister Hemant Biswa Sarma has tried to take the issue to a different level. As per him, "Our civilizational conflict is pivoted around India and Bharat. The British named the country India and we must try to free ourselves from colonial legacies. Our forefathers fought for Bharat and we will continue to work for Bharat.”

Responding sternly to him, Jairam Ramesh, the Congress party's principal spokesman, tweeted, “His (Sarma’s) new mentor, Mr. Modi, gave us Skill India, Start-up India and Digital India—all new names for ongoing programmes. He’s asked CMs of different states to work together as ‘Team India’. He even made an appeal to Vote India! But when 26 political parties call their formation INDIA (Indian National Developmental, Inclusive Alliance), he throws a fit and says the use of India reflects "colonial mentality"! ...”

Stung by this he changed ‘BJP for India’ to ‘BJP for Bharat’ on his Twitter handle! As such civilzational conflict and values, which he is mentioning, are being articulated by many pro-Hindutva writers. JNU Vice Chancellor Shantishri Dhulipudi Pandit pointed out “Reducing India to a civic nation bound by a Constitution disregards its history, ancient heritage, culture and civilization” Many other writers from this stable are saying that civilizational values, should be given preference over values of Indian Constitution.  

Their interpretation of Indian civilization is narrow; it harps on mainly Brahminical traditions of Hinduism. The interaction with Greeks and Huns is ignored and the coming of Islam and Christianity is looked down upon as being a "foreign" invasion on our civilization. This narrative is totally in contrast to the understanding of Indian civilization aptly put by India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, “She was like some ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously…” 

Carrying on colonial legacy of social division

The worldview of Hemant Sarma and company is fixated on the glorious past where Brahmanical values ruled. In their view even the great Indian traditions contributed by Charvak, Buddha, Mahavir, and Emperor Ashok, the contributions of Bhakti-Sufi traditions have no place. Their immense hatred for leftist historians like Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Ramsharan Sharma, Harbans Mukhia and the like is also rooted in their view of the civilization revolving around birth-based caste and gender hierarchy. These professional historians brilliantly brought out the deeper dynamics of society, they were concerned not just about the ‘religion of the ruler’, but deeply outlined the lives of Dalits, women, Adivasis among others, the real diversity of Indian civilization.

As such the colonial legacy is carried on today by the likes of the rightwing stream which looks at history through the constructs of colonial masters. Their goal was to divide society along religious lines so they introduced communal historiography (looking at history through the religion of the king). This is the premise of the likes of Hemant Sarma. Capping the communal historiography they have added the upper caste-patriarchal notions in their narrative and have made this the basis of their exclusive politics.

Their main obstacle is the Indian Constitution. As Indian nationalism started growing they began glorifying Manusmriti and its laws and labeled ‘Muslims, Christians and Communists’ as the internal threat to their nationalism. The opposition to the Indian Constitution has been openly articulated by this politics, most clearly by K.S Sudarshan, previous RSS Sarsanghchalak, who said the constitution was of no use for the people of the country”.

Undoubtedly, the opposition to INDIA is rooted in an ideological belief that opposes the inclusive values of India's civilization. The Indian Constitution itself is an outcome of an evolving Indian civilization. The opposition to the INDIA alliance is also rooted in the thesis which sees a ‘clash of civilizations’ (Samuel Huntington), in contrast to what the UN report emphasizes on Alliance of Civilizations, well articulated in Nehru’s belief system. 

(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views are personal.) 

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