Sunday, October 20, 2019

Sri Lokanath Misra: A Forgotten Hero Who Fought Against Nehruvian Secularism

It is said that it’s not merely enough to state the truth but to state the truth beautifully. One such iconic truth regarding nations, which is also couched in beautiful language is attributed to the ancient Greek historian, Thucydides.

A nation that confounds its scholars with its warriors will have its laws made by cowards and its wars fought by fools.

Nowhere has this truth rung so horribly true as in whatever is left of Bharatavarsha after 1947. The immediate and pointed example of this is available in India’s pathetic humiliation at the hands of China in 1962. In Thucydides’ parlance, two obvious names denote, respectively, the coward and the fool: Nawab Jawaharlal Nehru and General Pran Nath Thapar. A dishonourable mention accompanying P.N. Thapar is General Brij Mohan Kaul, a Nawab Nehru-appointee who led India’s defeat from the front.

There is a subterranean indivisibility between war and law akin to a two-way mirror. No matter how valiantly our ill-trained and poorly-equipped soldiers literally put their necks on the Chinese chopping block on the icy Himalayan heights, we lost because we were led by a coward who, even after presiding over our national humiliation, preferred to offer General Kaul and Krishna Menon as scapegoats instead of quitting on moral grounds. In a manner of speaking, we can sum up Nawab Nehru’s legacy in a single phrase: the art and intrigue of looking good. Never before or since did India have such a thin-skinned Prime Minister. After 1962, the red rose on Nawab Nehru’s breast pocket was made with the blood of these slain soldiers. The latest lamb-heap in a long line of unsung and forgotten heroes. More accurately, heroes who were made to be forgotten. One recalls this phrase from the legendary R.C. Majumdar, “history is no respecter of persons.” And so, the courageous Brigadier John P Dalvi immortalized Nawab Nehru’s infamy in his The Himalayan Blunder, which as expected, was instantly banned by Nawab Nehru’s daughter, Sultana Indira Gandhi.

But we are on the topic of laws, not wars. More precisely, on the process that led to the formation of the Indian Constitution. Specifically, on secularism, one of the hottest items of the Constituent Assembly Debates. Of the role of a forgotten hero who tore off the Burqa that concealed the practical consequences of the secularism that Nawab Nehru espoused.

His name is Sri Lokanath Misra, who eventually became a member of the Rajya Sabha and served variously as the Governor Assam, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh. His younger brother is the former Chief Justice of India, Sri Ranganath Misra of the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission of Inquiry fame, investigating the 1984 Sikh genocide.


The date 6 December evokes all sorts of feelings in India for obvious reasons. But it was on another 6 December exactly forty-four years before 1992 that Sri Lokanath Misra sounded an alarm, almost predicting occurrences like the Babri Masjid demolition, if his passionate caution went unheeded.  


The Constituent Assembly Debates: Monday, 6 December, 1948  

At 10 O’ Clock, the Constituent Assembly convened. The first topic was the continuation of the debate on Article 19. Just the year before, the separate Muslim state of Pakistan had been carved out of undivided India. Pakistan was unequivocal in declaring itself as an Islamic Republic, whatever that means. Whereas India was debating about something called secularism.

Sri Lokanath Misra stood up and said this:

Sir, it has been repeated to our ears that ours is a secular State. I accepted this secularism in the sense that our State shall remain unconcerned with religion, and I thought that the secular State of partitioned India was the maximum of generosity of a Hindu dominated territory for its non-Hindu population.

The words, “maximum of generosity” deserve attention. Sri Misra’s contemporaries like Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had actually advocated for a full population exchange—all Hindus should come to India and all Muslims should go to Pakistan.

Then Lokanath Misra offers superb nuggets of what is known as nuanced debate:

I did not of course know what exactly this secularism meant and how far the State intends to cover the life and manners of our people. To my mind life cannot be compartmentalised and yet I reconciled myself to the new cry.

The wily Nawab Nehru was quick to object to this, sensing the direction this reasoning was taking. The basis of his objection? Lokanath Misra started to read out manuscripts (i.e. primary sources) as evidence to support his argument. The Vice President dismissed the Nawab’s objection. Sri Misra wanted to introduce an amendment to Article 19, and continued:

Gradually it seems to me that our `secular State’ is a slippery phrase, a device to by-pass the ancient culture of the land. The absurdity of this position is now manifest in articles 19 to 22 of the Draft Constitution. Do we really believe that religion can be divorced from life, or is it our belief that in the midst of many religions we cannot decide which one to accept? If religion is beyond the ken of our State, let us clearly say so and delete all reference to rights relating to religion. If we find it necessary, let us be brave enough and say what it should be.

A minor pandemonium erupted and silly objections were raised such as: “the honourable Member is reading too fast.” Undaunted, Lokanath Misra continued:

this unjust generosity of tabooing religion and yet making propagation of religion a fundamental right is somewhat uncanny and dangerous. Justice demands that the ancient faith and culture of the land should be given a fair deal, if not restored to its legitimate place after a thousand years of suppression.

We have no quarrel with Christ or Mohammad or what they saw and said. We have all respect for them. To my mind, Vedic culture excludes nothing. Every philosophy and culture has its place but now (the cry of religion is a dangerous cry.) It denominates, it divides and encamps people to warring ways. In the present context what can this word `propagation’ in article 19 mean? It can only mean paving the way for the complete annihilation of Hindu culture, the Hindu way of life and manners. Islam has declared its hostility to Hindu thought. Christianity has worked out the policy of peaceful penetration by the back-door on the outskirts of our social life.

Read that again. And again. And once more. Spoken on the floor of the Constitution Hall. By a Member. Close your eyes and shiver at exactly how far, and how precipitously we have fallen—to the extent that today, it needs courage on the part of a vast majority of Hindu MPs of a Hindu party to even muster the word “Hindu” in Parliament. But let’s return to Lokanath Misra:

This is because Hinduism did not accept barricades for its protection. Hinduism is just an integrated vision and a philosophy of life and cosmos, expressed in organised society to live that philosophy in peace and amity. But Hindu generosity has been misused and politics has over run Hindu culture. Today religion in Indian serves no higher purpose than collecting ignorance, poverty and ambition under a banner that flies for fanaticism. The aim is political, for in the modern world all is power-politics and the inner man is lost in the dust. Let everybody live as he thinks best but let him not try to swell his number to demand the spoils of political warfare. Let us not raise the question of communal minorities anymore. It is a device to swallow the majority in the long run. This is intolerable and unjust.

Seventy years of secularism have shown that the clan and cult of Nawab Nehru did exactly the opposite of what Sri Misra decried: “Let us not raise the question of communal minorities anymore. It is a device to swallow the majority in the long run.” The logical outcome: the deadly Right to Education Act and the even more brazen attempt to push the so-called Communal Violence Bill. Sri Lokanath Misra was unstoppable:

Indeed in no constitution of the world right to propagate religion is a fundamental right and justiciable. The Irish Free State Constitution recognises the special position of the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens. We in India are shy of such recognition…

If people should propagate their religion, let them do so. Only I crave, let not the Constitution put it as a fundamental right and encourage it. Fundamental rights are inalienable and once they are admitted, it will create bad blood. I therefore say, let us say nothing about rights relating to religion. Religion will take care of itself. Drop the word `propagate’ in article 19 at least… Let us beware and try to survive.

In hindsight it is clear that this civilizational hero’s passionate and honest appeal was thrown in the dustbin and the Constitution became what it is. A cocktail of borrowed theories, a mere document that almost opposes the practical life, customs, traditions, and practices of Hindus, and has absolutely no place for the unbroken civilizational and cultural genius of Bharatavarsha. A real-life example will illustrate this clearly. We must thank our stars that Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi is not physically present among us today. He was perhaps the last of the luminous expressions of this Sanatana genius. Now, recall the ease with which the Kanchi Shankaracharya was thrown in jail and subjected to the most atrocious humiliation possible. The same would have happened to even Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi if it meant that it would result in a vote harvest or an improvement in the political capital of some politician bearing a Hindu name.

Secularism.


Postscript

Bharatavarsha can take inspiration from portions of the text of Israel’s Declaration of Independence:

The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance.

As also from the Basic Law of 1985. Its stipulation for who cannot contest elections in Israel is a good model for India as well:

“7A. A candidates list shall not participate in elections to the Knesset, if the goals or actions of the list, expressly or by implication, include one of the following:
(1) negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state;
(2) incitement to racism;
(3) support for armed struggle by a hostile state or a terrorist organization against the State of Israel.”

Compare and contrast. A “new” or “powerful” India cannot be built by slaughtering its very Sanatana definition.


References

  1. Constituent Assembly Debates On 6 December, 1948 Part I. Emphases added.
  2. Proclamation of Independence: Knesset https://www.knesset.gov.il/docs/eng/megilat_eng.htm. Emphasis added.
  3. Basic Law- The Knesset -1958: https://mfa.gov.il/mfa/mfa-archive/1950-1959/pages/basic%20law-%20the%20knesset%20-1958-%20-%20updated%20translatio.aspx. Emphasis added.
Writer, author, and translator. Author of the bestselling "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore," "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History," and "Seventy Years of Secularism." English translator of Dr. S L Bhyrappa's blockbuster Kannada novel, "Aavarana".

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