Khap panchayats and other such paternalistic bodies of caste hegemony are described as institutions of local democracy. This is to undo all the democratic battles waged by materialist philosophic traditions and to promote caste as a democratic social orga

A crowd carrying saffron flags, BJP flags and the BJP symbol.
Features Opinion Thursday, January 05, 2023 - 10:53

“India, to the great surprise of the world, with all its multiple plurality, is today the world’s largest successful working democracy, because Indian people, infused with the spirit of equality, have had since the very Vedic times a loktantrik-parampara,” read a concept note released by the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) for observing November 26, India’s Constitution Day, as ‘Bharat: Loktantra ki Janani Day’ (India: Mother of Democracy). A month later, in December 2022, Union Minister of Education and Skill Development Dharmendra Pradhan declared, “Students across the country will be taught a corrected version of Indian history under the National Education Policy (NEP 2020) from January 26, on the occasion of Vasant Panchami''. With this statement, he initiated a correction of history by redefining January 26, India’s Republic day, as the day of Vasant Panchami (festival of Saraswati).

When the Modi government mandated that Constitution Day be observed as Bharat: Loktantra ki Janani Day, all government bodies were instructed to strictly follow the theme and the explanation provided by ICHR in its two-page concept note. The note stated that India's democratic traditions are ancient and original when compared to other civilisations. It claimed that Indian democracy thrived during the times of the Vedas (Hindu scriptures) and that it was India that taught the world about democracy, hence making the country the mother of democracy. ICHR also brought out a book by the same title, with the ostensible objective of providing “a new dimension to our knowledge system, one that is neither Eurocentric, nor influenced by Mughal history,” as described by the University Grants Commission (UGC) chairman Jagadesh Kumar.

This ‘correction’ of history is portrayed as a civilisational project for decolonising the Indian mind. NEP 2020, which had 19 paragraphs on promoting Indian knowledge systems and providing rootedness to young India, had hinted that this Indianisation will be sourced primarily from Vedic and Brahminical literatures. However, it had also mentioned Buddha and Mahavira in passing. On the contrary, that it was in Buddhist Bhikshu Sangha where democracy was first practised is completely absent from the ICHR note. A Sangha is a monastic community of Buddhist monks and nuns who function on the principle of one monk, one nun, one vote. In a sangha , it is the community that holds power, and not a person. Instead, Khap panchayats (village assembly of community elders based on patriarchal and caste norms) and caste institutions are cited as examples of Loktantra. Mahajanapadas (parliament of tribal chiefs or oligarchy of Brahmin lords) is portrayed as the ancient Prajatantra (democracy). In a recent interview with The Hindu, Professor Kesavan Veluthat, General President of the 81st session of the Indian History Congress, said, “Republics were only about the chiefs, the landed magnates of that region, who among themselves, looked after the affairs. Oligarchy was confused as democracy.” About these practices, Ambedkar wrote, “What is a village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and communalism?”

Rejuvenating this casteist Loktantra is the grand democratic vision of the Hindu nation. This re-Brahmanisation is packaged as Bhartiyata, Bharatiya Jnana Parampara, or Bharatiya values, as against the systems introduced by the ‘invaders’ and colonisers. This is achieved by promoting only Brahminical literatures, traditions, personalities, and history as authentically Indian, and elevating Sanskrit to the level of Bharatiya sanskriti (Indian culture), hence projecting it as the only means towards rootedness. 

What was a hidden agenda a decade ago — building a new republic with its own code of citizenship and its own ‘corrected history’ — has today become the official state project. But the irony is that the political party and the organisation (Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)) that never approved of the country’s Constitution or its republic form is now claiming the crown of ‘mother of democracy’. According to Ambedkar, the democratic republicanism enshrined in the Constitution was a revolution against the 3000 years of internal colonialism, namely Brahmanism and its social order sanctioned by the Vedas, Puranas, and Smritis.

The audacity and the ingenuity of the RSS-BJP regime lie in their efforts to rejuvenate the Brahmanical-Manuwadi ideals by using the vocabulary of modern democracy. In the process, they repackage and re-present all that existed in the Brahminical tradition as the native and ancient form of modern democracy. This repackaging of ‘traditions’ is further valourised by defining the process as the new freedom movement that will liberate Indians from the colonial clutches of the British and Mughals. 'Brahmanya' is thus offered as 'Bharatiyata', the authentic repository of all the political virtues that are being celebrated in the modern world, and thereby justifying re-Brahmanisation of the society and polity as a project of decolonisation. BJP-RSS have become more aggressive and unapologetic in this after the second electoral victory of Modi in 2019.

An analysis of ICHR’s concept note for November 26th (India: Mother of Democracy) would unmask the academic and political blueprint prepared for this cause. As Ambedkar puts it, “The history of India is nothing but a history of mortal conflict between Buddhism and Brahmanism.” A cursory look at the concept note makes it clear that while Buddhism is killed by ignoring it, Brahmanism and all its social, cultural, and political instruments of hierarchy and hegemony are celebrated as great democratic traditions.

Few examples from the concept note would suffice to illustrate this. The very first sentence starts with the claim, “The idea of Bharat needs to be cherished as there are millions and millions of Indians across the globe since times immemorial. lt is so because Bharat and its Loktantra have influenced civilizations across the world.” There is no evidence whatsoever to prove both the statements, since the very entity called India is a recent and modern political formation. The very purpose of this statement is to breed a sense of being a superior civilisation/race, exactly like Hitler did in Nazi Germany. Subsequently, the note suggests, “In India, from the Vedic times itself, two kinds of states, janapada and rajya, have been in existence. The Indian experience evolved its own form of governance at the levels of the village and the central polity.”

What is this Indian form of village-level governance that is claimed as a unique form of self-governance? They are “panchayats and Khaps, that enabled (village communities) to remain unaffected by the changing kingdoms/empires, particularly those of the invaders hostile to Hindu culture.” Thus, Khap panchayats and other such patriarchal, paternalistic village bodies of caste hegemony are described as institutions of local democracy. This is to undo all the democratic battles waged by materialist philosophic traditions like Charvakas, Lokayats, Samkhyas, Buddha, and Jains, against the Vedic Varna system and its philosophies.

While explaining how these otherwise authoritarian institutions provided social stability, ICHR’s note uses Indian culture interchangeably with Hindu culture. Invasion on India, hitherto a geo-political entity, becomes invasion on Hindu culture, serving and amplifying the ideal trope of Hindutva politics. This Hindutva myth is continued in the garb of sacred historical truths when it claims, “This explains the survival of Hindu culture and civilisation in the face of 2000 years of invasions by alien ethnicities and culture, and from ancient times a geo-cultural definition has been given to this entity, Bharata.”

Thus the popular mythology of RSS that only migrations and invasions after the Aryans were of alien ethnicities, which certifies the RSS myth of Aryans as original inhabitants of this country, is officially doped into the veins of public. Even the modern concept of Rashtra has been attributed to ancient India. The political subterfuge of ICHR violates all limits when it suggests in the next paragraph, “The roots of people’s self-governance also lie in India’s Vedic period going back, vide the recent archaeological excavations at Rakhigarhi and Sanauli, to at least 5000 BCE, if not more”. Even though multiple conclusions are made based on the archaeological excavations at Rakhigarhi, research based on the excavation has concluded that the Rakhigari settlements belong to Harappan civilization and do not have any connection with the Aryans. Most studies conclude that it belongs to ancient Dravidian settlement dating prior to Aryan invasion/migration.

The hidden cultural phobia of the authors of the note is unveiled in the subsequent point when it states, “The Vedic term for law is Dharman. In this age, in other parts of the world, law meant ‘eye for an eye’; A Vedic prayer notes: If I play false, may I lose the merit of all my religious performances, gifts of good deeds, my life, and even my progeny.” It is anybody's guess what and who is being referred to and targeted here. But the note is unashamedly silent on the nature of punishments prescribed for Shudras and women for transgressing the boundaries of Varna and Svadharma, in Manusmriti and Garuda Purana, or the stories of varna victimisation of Ekalavya and Shambhuka. 

One of the biggest lies and the cruellest hypocrisy of the concept note is when it boasts of no birth-based prestige in this country. It says “Another key difference that separates Bharat from other ancient civilizations is that there was no concentration of the prestige of birth, influence of wealth, and political office that made social organisations autocratic and aristocratic. There was no aristocracy in India like, say, in Greece.”

While these are a few examples of what and how the Modi Government wants to extol as democratic tradition in this country, it is not to say that ancient India did not have any institutions which had primitive democratic traditions. For that matter, all the civilisations of the world did have some or other form of democratic deliberations, consultations and sharing while they existed as tribal societies. Likewise, primitive India in its tribal phase had tribal democratic governance and socio-political organisations called Ganas. India can also claim a higher form of early democracy when compared to other civilisations of those days. But they existed in Buddhist Bhikshu Sanghas with Buddhist values of equality and compassion, not in Vedic societies that perpetuated Vedic values of Varna-based discrimination, which further ossified into castes later. But the ICHR concept note or the 15 themes suggested by it do not mention the democratic traditions of the Buddhist epoch.

Ambedkar in his last speech to the Constituent assembly on November 25, 1949, said, “It is not that India did not know what democracy is. There was a time when India was studded with republics, and even where there were monarchies, they were either elected or limited. They were never absolute. It is not that India did not know parliaments or parliamentary procedure. A study of the Buddhist Bhikshu Sanghas discloses that not only were there parliaments, for the Sanghas were nothing but parliaments.” But we lost this democracy, bemoaned Ambedkar. “This democratic system, India lost. Will she lose it a second time, I do not know. But it is quite possible in a country like India — where democracy, from its long disuse, must be regarded as something quite new — there is danger of democracy giving place to dictatorship. It is quite possible for this new born democracy to retain its form but give place to dictatorship If there is a landslide, the danger of the second possibility becoming actuality is much greater.”

In another work of his, Revolution and Counter Revolution in Ancient India, Ambedkar vividly described how the Buddhist democracy was destroyed by the triumph of Brahmanism. That was made possible by the ossification of the discriminatory Varna system into the fortified caste system. This fortification and practice of social discrimination was made the new normal then, by providing caste practise a divine sanction, elevating it to the level of religious duty through the Vedas, Puranas, Shastras, and Smritis. Ambedkar declared that unless the Vedas, Shastras, and Puranas are exploded with dynamite, Hinduism can not become a religion, India cannot become a nation, and a Hindu can not become a normal human being. Contrary to this, the Modi government is re-establishing neo-Brahmanical social order. In fact there was no dissent worthy of mention that was shown by any opposition party, including the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party, or the Left. This is important as it reflects the deep-rooted hegemony of Hindutva ideology. Thus defeating fascism is not just defeating BJP electorally. It is a counter revolution. Brahmanism is internal colonialism. No decolonisation is possible without de-Brahmanisation.

(The author is an activist and freelance journalist. Views expressed are author’s own.)

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