New Delhi: During the winter session of parliament, Congress leaders pressed for an unambiguous apology from the Minister of State for Skill Development Anantkumar Hegde for his widely reported statement that “the Constitution needs to be changed from time to time and we have come for that”.
Speaker Sumitra Mahajan prodded, and government had to budge with its minister expressing regret for the comments.
That demagogic rhetoric is a powerful instrument in right wing political mobilisation is a known fact. But then there are some strict no-go areas, especially in the complex caste matrix of India. And BJP leaders - to the detriment of the party - have at times crossed the Rubicon unaware of the political import and ramifications of their utterances.
In this regard, the theme of the day-long conclave organised by the Delhi Congress on Monday is well thought out especially in the backdrop of recent Dalit agitations across the country.
‘Save the Constitution’ has a larger leitmotif that seeks to address security and existential issues of an overwhelming majority of India’s population.
It addresses the apprehensions within the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes against any slacking of strong bail provisions in the Prevention of Dalit Atrocities Act. It addresses any fears of reservation provisions in the Constitution being tinkered with. And issues concerning security concerns of the religious minorities.
As the government of the day plans to provide statutory shield to Backward Classes reservations soon, the Constitution of India basically is a guarantee to affirmative action, positive discrimination and security concerns to more than 80% of its population.
The caste Hindus, derive their stature (political and social), security (economic and personal) from texts - both religious and mythological. From vedas to puranas and epics to smritis. The rights of the deprived and minorities are protected and guaranteed by only one book - the Constitution of India.
Any indications that the Constitution of India may be altered evokes sharp and instant response from these communities. Dalit protest against Supreme Court order on Prevention of SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act took political leadership by surprise. Especially in the north, west and central India where Dalit mobilisations have been peaceful and political in nature. On this occasion the outrage was evident and explicit.
The BJP and the RSS in the last four years have made extensive efforts to reach out to the Dalits. The BJP nominated Ram Nath Kovind in Presidential elections. The RSS has been running a campaign in the hinterland exhorting people towards one well, one cremation ground and one temple for all communities in the village.
These measures are either symbolic or reformatory. They do not address the existential issue and security concerns of the vast multitudes of the under-privileged.
The BSP has resurrected Dr Ambedkar as a Dalit icon for the constitutional safeguards and political rights that he ensured to the generations after him. Ambedkar statues in UP villages have the Dalit icon holding constitution of India close to his heart with his left hand.
It is this sacred book which is close to the heart of the backwards, Dalits, tribals and minorities. And any allusion towards its tinkering is bound to evoke a strong response.