Puttaparthi Narayanacharyulu (1914-1990), the great Telugu literary genius, was a polyglot adept in 14 languages. This versatile man had no formal academic qualifications. And thereby hangs a tale.
By the time he turned 12, he had already published Penugonda Lakshmi. As it was a work of fervour and imagination the Madras University prescribed it as a text for the Vidwan Examination. When goaded by a friend to acquire formal academic qualification, Puttaparthi took the exam and, ironically enough, failed! The apocryphal story is he was unaware of the various theories woven around his own poetry and hence failed.
To understand why I am recalling this anecdote, all you need to do is to substitute Puttaparthi with the venerable Ambedkar and Penugonda Lakshmi with the Constitution. You will easily realise that the doctrines woven around the Constitution would baffle even Ambedkar and the other members of the Constituent Assembly.
The Doctrine of Basic Structure (DBS) is the most important jurisprudential enunciation since we got the Constitution. It is as significant as the Constitution itself. But unlike the Constitution, which was created by a body constituted by the people for that purpose, the DBS is a judicial creation. Likewise, the Doctrine of Essential Religious Practices (DERP) is a judicial innovation for religious matters. Having been propounded in 1954, it is a precursor to the DBS. For any festival, ritual, custom, tradition or practice to judicially survive, it has to inter alia pass the DERP agni pariksha––its historicity or sentiments of the people notwithstanding.
Is DERP an indigenous innovation or inspired from elsewhere? The predominant indigenous religion Hinduism which primarily informs our ancient civilisation, is neither monotheistic nor monolithic. As Hinduism has no universal standard set of essential religious practices across time and space, it could not have been the source of DERP. Further, no other evidence is forthcoming to suggest its indigenous nature.
Broadly, religions are of two types––religions of books, and religions of The Book. The former are essentially organic syntheses of religious, philosophical and cultural practices evolved over millennia with no one founder, no one specific scripture and no central ecclesiastical organisation. In contrast, each of the major religions of The Book (collectively referred to as Abrahamism), has a set of easily discernible essential practices, from which the idea of DERP originates. Since our Constitution begins with ‘India, that is Bharat’, how Bharatiya is it to look at Bharatiya festivals, rituals and traditions evolved over centuries from the Abrahamic (or DERP) perspective and outlaw them?
The Doctrine of Basic Structure, both in its essence and scope, is a clone of the Abrahamic DERP. As in the case of a religion of The Book that has frozen its essentials for all times to come, the DBS also seeks to calcify certain aspects of our Constitution. Whether the DBS was actually envisaged by original framers of the Constitution is beside the point. The paramount concerns are the transgenerational implications of Abrahamising our Constitution, and thereby our religion, culture and ancient civilisation.
Seeking uniformity is the core object of Abrahamism. Whereas our ancient civilisation and its obverse Hinduism seek unity while celebrating diversity. As such, DERP and DBS are antithetical to the very foundational principles of our ancient civilisation as they seek to obliterate the diversity as expressed in our festivals, customs and traditions. The diversity in our civilisation mirrors Nature which abhors uniformity.
Our previous generation created the Constitution incorporating thoughts and ideas of their time. They never intended it to be morphed into some divinely ordained Book, good for all times to come. They were conscious that no divine authority can be conferred on a particular generation to deny a future generation the right of choice in all walks of life, for, when men are considered born free, how can they be enslaved to the system of their progenitors? Hinduism teaches that the past undoubtedly can be a guide but it cannot be used to create slaves of the past. Yet, the doctrine sophistry seeks just that. One of the greatest things about our ancient civilisation, primarily informed by Indic religions, is its profound notion that nothing including the universe is permanent. This civilisational concept of pervasiveness of anithya or impermanence is diametrically opposite to the Abrahamic notion of permanence.
The Constituent Assembly, cognisant of the nature of Hinduism which is the foundation of our ancient civilisation, crafted a flexible Constitution. They also embodied in the Constitution the fundamental laws of change and anithya, as Article 368 to prevent its fossilisation. However, as empirically evidenced, the DERP and DBS are seeking to convert us from the people of books to the people of The Book (Constitution), spelling a death knell to our ancient civilisation. Our civilisational continuity and dharmic existence are under threat. So a profound question that begs an answer: Whether the system is for the people, or the people are for the system?
We are into the 70th year of promulgation of the Constitution. Three generations have come into being since then. So a debate on the nature of our constitutional and legal systems and their attitude towards indigenous religions and culture is overdue before they automatically rollover to the next generation to further erode Bharat, the longest extant civilisation in the world.
Sabka Vikas by definition includes vikas of our ancient civilisation, our indigenous religions and our culture as well, for, dharmik/saanskritik vikas that gives us our identity is the obverse of aardhik vikas.
M Nageswara Rao
The author is a serving senior IPS officer. Views are personal.