India’s existence as a nation cannot be questioned

The journey of the Indian National Congress from being a national party with centrist, big tent views to one that has taken fringe positions is best illustrated by two speeches that are 73 years apart. The first is a speech by Kallur Subba Rao during the Constituent Assembly debates and the second is a recent speech by the MP from Wayanad, Rahul Gandhi.

On September 18, 1949, Rao, a freedom fighter and INC member, said, “The name Bharat is in the Rig Veda … also in the Vayu Purana the boundaries of Bharat are given. ‘Idam tu madhyamam chitram shubhashubh phalodayam, Uttaram yatsmudrasya hima vana dakschnam chayata.’ It means that the land that is to the south of the Himalayas and north of the (southern ocean) samudra is called Bharat. So, the name Bharat is very ancient.”

A Congressman had openly spoken about India’s civilisational heritage and the cultural linkages to our ancient past. The Congress of 1949 was a party that represented people from all walks of life and, hence, included those who believed that India was spiritually linked to its glorious past. The party also included those who wanted to break away from our civilisational past. Nevertheless, the party still accommodated all these opinions under one big umbrella.

India’s existence as a nation cannot be questioned

Compared to that, today’s Congress seems to abhor anything that links us to our cultural past. Today, Congress members do not reflect the plurality of the country and one need go no further than Gandhi’s speech during the Motion of Thanks to the President on February 2.

He remarked, “If you read the Constitution of India, you will find — and many of my colleagues who have not read it should look at it …India is described as a ‘Union of States’. India is not described as a nation, it is described as a ‘Union of States’. Meaning, it is a negotiation, a conversation.”

There is no denying that India is a “Union of States” as stated in the Constitution. The construction of this phrase is best explained by B R Ambedkar himself. While drafting the Constitution and during the Constituent Assembly debates, Ambedkar and the members worked with several ideas of how Article 1 of the Constitution should be constructed. The final version was “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”.

On November 4, 1948, during the motion to discuss the draft constitution, Ambedkar explained this phrasing: “The Drafting Committee wanted to make it clear that though India was to be a Federation, the Federation was not the result of an agreement by the states to join in a Federation and that the Federation not being the result of an agreement no state has the right to secede from it. The Federation is a Union because it is indestructible.”

Ambedkar then stated that though the country and the people may be divided into different states for convenience of administration, the country is one integral whole whose authority is derived from a single source.

He said that while the Americans had to wage a civil war to establish that the states within the US have no right of secession and that their federation is indestructible, the Drafting Committee thought that it was better to make this clear about India at the outset rather than to leave it to speculation or dispute.

There is a fundamental difference between Ambedkar’s vision of an India that is indestructible and Gandhi’s botched attempt to balkanise this country. The latter’s idea of a negotiated settlement where India’s territorial integrity and its existence are up for debate cannot be condoned. If this was a one-off statement, it could be taken as the immaturity of a “coming-of-age” politician. However, Gandhi’s speech in the Lok Sabha cannot be seen in isolation. In April 2021, while India was battling the second wave of Covid-19, he seemed to make similar statements.

Therefore, one needs to consider such statements seriously. Under the garb of a debate about civic nationalism and civilisational nationalism, there seems to be a concerted effort to question the legitimacy of the very existence of this great country. We, the people of India, will push back against this.

(The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP)

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