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Revised one: Revisit Constitution to Craft Bharat Jodo in Spirit and not via Symbolism

SEPTEMBER 30, 2022

By Naresh Minocha, Consulting Editor

"JAT-Paat Ke Bandhan Toro, Bharat Jodo Bharat Jodo" (Break free from castes & sub-castes; Unite India).

This is not a clarion call from Rahul Gandhi, who is leading Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) of the Congress Party. This slogan has also not germinated from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 2021 vision "Bharat Jodo Andolan" (BJA).

This was one of the key slogans of an earlier Kanyakumari to Kashmir (KtoK) march led by late Baba Amte, a great social reformer, in 1986.

And there hangs a tale of many steps to unite India through long marches from South to North and From East to West over the decades. The other steps include initiatives to knit India through national policies, central and centrally sponsored schemes, pan-India projects and forums.

Mr. Modi has crafted alliterations, acronyms and rhymes to articulate 'Bharat Jodo' theme. A notable instance in point is GST-related "One nation. One Tax. One Market." Another example is One Nation. One Ration Card. And one in the works is One Nation. One Fertilizer.

The Bharat Jodo story is also riddled with counter-currents that can be collectively dubbed as Bharat Todo (Divide India) mission.

Every 'Knit India' movement including BJP's 1992 Ekta Yatra (Unity March) & 2006 Bharat Suraksha Yatra (India Security March) have failed to rein in fissiparous forces.

The key divisive, dangerous factors are: communalism, casteism, regionalism, parochialism & inter-state fights. More of this later in the column.

No significant political party would ever launch mass movement against such Bharat Todo tools. Can Congress or BJP embark on national padayatra (foot march) with a call to citizens to 'Give up Caste', 'Give up Rituals' and 'Give up job Reservations'? Can any party come to power without playing caste and communal politics?

Each political BJY thus creates heart burns in the rival parties. Every BJY initially becomes a subject of derision. Later, mockery turns into mud-slinging as is happening daily with Rahul's BJY gaining traction. At times, BJY, short or long marches, result in riots and bloodbath in few cases.

Does anyone remember communal disturbance at Palakkad when Ekta Yatra was passing through Kerala in mid-December 1991. The incidents led to police firing, causing death of one girl and injuries to several others.

Recall killing of four members of Ekta Yatra by militants near Phagwara in Punjab on 23 rd January 1992. With terrorism writ large in Kashmir, the core team of Yatra had to be airlifted from Udhampur to Srinagar! BJP, of course, paid the cost of air-lifting to J&K Government.

The core team was provided with ultra-high security to enable the then BJP president Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi to hoist National Flag at Lal Chowk, Srinagar on 26th January. Mr. Modi helped Dr. Joshi hoist and unfurl tricolour.

Notwithstanding the setbacks and negative reporting in dailies and magazines, BJP marketed Ekta Yatra as a new milestone in promoting national integration and in weakening terrorism. It is here pertinent to quote PM's personal website,

In an admin's blog posted on 15th June 2012, the website says "There couldn't have been a better eye-opener for a blind Congress Government in Delhi than the Ekta Yatra....Modi, whose organization skills proved invaluable as the Yatra progressed."

It is also apt to quote Uma Bharti from a Lok Sabha debate on Kashmir in which Ekta Yatra figured during February 1992. Uma stated: "I am surprised that perhaps the members of the ruling party do not like the word 'Ekta'. Before I could speak anything. Only by mentioning the word 'Ekta', it appeared as though boiling oil might have been poured on them while they go in for votes In the name Of 'Ekta'."

She added: "Ekta Yatra has created public awareness against the tendencies of separatism and terrorism in the entire country. But it is a matter of regret that the hon. Minister of Home Affairs…has given a statement to the effect that as a result of Dr. Joshi's Ekta Yatra the terrorist of Kashmir have got an opportunity to unite."

Participating in the same debate, Mani Shankar Aiyar took a jibe at Kumari Uma and dubbed Ekta Yatra as "Vibhajan (divide) Yatra."

BJP, which has organized maximum number of yatras, knows their value. Mr. L.K. Advani's Rath Yatra for Ram Mandir at Ayodhya is a household story. The yatras help polarize voters and consolidate the respective party's vote bank.

BJP knows that Kanyakumari is a passport to political power at the Centre. It perhaps fears that BJY might empower Rahul to Prime Ministership in 2024. Remember Chandra Shekhar's 1983 Bharat Yatra from Kanyakumari to Rajghat in Delhi. It perked up his stature as a Prime Ministerial prospect.

The Sunday Magazine, which covered well his yatra, ran one story with headline 'Chandra Shekhar - Candidate for PM.' As put by the story, "wherever he went on his 4000-Km long padayatra, Janata Party President Chandra Shekhar was greeted with folded hands and the kind of reverence normally reserved for holy men, not politicians".

Even development projects & schemes that directly or indirectly imply national integration turn foul with rival party. A case in point is Vajpayee Government's Pradhan Mantri Bharat Jodo Pariyojana (PMBJP), a special initiative for national highways development in 2003-04.

PMBJP name was not retained by UPA Government perhaps because the abbreviation had 'BJP' in it. PMBJP, if retained, would have given political mileage to BJP during the UPA tenure.

Similarly, UPA's umbrella initiative to connect rural India with urban India through multi-facet rural development didn't click with the BJP. In fact, late Sushma Swaraj dubbed Bharat Nirman (Build India) as 'Bharat Pareshan' (India worried) in 2013.

Even National Integration Pledge has undergone complete change from Nehru days to the present Modi era. This, however, requires a separate story. Put simply, Bharat Jodo has always been a bone of contention between BJP and Congress, both always hungry for power.

Revert now to divisive forces that work against BJY. Separatism has led to increase in number of States and Union territories (UTs) from 27 in 1949 to 36 at present. This has multiplied inter-state border, water and administrative disputes, leave aside fiscal and financial woes.

Consider colossal waste of time of Parliament in amending Constitution and in enacting laws for reorganisation of states and UTs. Ponder over the demand for more states or more autonomous regions.

Of the five Bharat Todo forces, we would focus only on reservations to illustrate how castes-centric India stands as a house divided more since November 1949 when the Constitution was notified.

Factor in the tide of never-ending petitions and agitations for inclusion of certain castes in reserved categories of scheduled castes (STs), scheduled tribes (STs) and other backward classes (OBCs).

The latest instance in point here is agitation by Kurmis in Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha for their inclusion in the STs list. Their rail blockade agitation led to cancellation of a few hundred trains.

Take note of the demand for a caste-based census voiced even by national leaders in the Opposition. Modi Government had virtually accepted this idea in 2019 but later backtracked. This has left Bihar's political parties to arrive at consensus for head-count of all castes in the States.

Reckon the Centre and States' moves to split OBCs into sub-categories for jobs. Modi Government has obviously realized that its consolidated OBCs vote bank would split once it makes public report of National Commission on sub-categorization of Other Backward Classes (OBCs). No wonder, the Commission's term was extended 13th time in July this year to 31 st January 2023! Constituted in October 2017, the Commission has reportedly proposed to divide central list of OBCs into four sub-categories for splitting 27% of total civil posts among the proposed sub-categories.

In its first tenure, Modi Government had amended the Constitution to provide for 10% post of total posts for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) that didn't come under SCs, STs and OBCs list.

Don't overlook perverse 'Vocal for Local' quotas. This is a domicile or residence-certificate led reservation of certain income-level jobs by States in private sector for sons of the soil. It checkmates free flow of manpower and skills across the country. Domicile matters in education too as many schools and universities reserve seats for residents of the State.

The web of quotas woven by the States and the Centre has become highly complex over the decades. The number of times Constitution has been amended to expand and revise reservations of seats in Parliament and legislative assemblies and civil services jobs is mind-boggling. Reckon how the judicial system has been clogged with petitions for and against reservations.

This makes a mockery of the Bharat Jodo. It is testimony of governance failure - the failure to expand educational institutions and employment opportunities matching with population explosion.

Repeated extension of SC & ST seat reservations in Parliament and State has kept burning the ember of caste politics. The caste divisions get reinforced and embittered by frequent tinkering of reservation of posts and promotions in civil services. The Constitution has thus become a means to promote casteism.

It is high time we pay heed to the bitter truth that Dr. B. R Ambedkar, the chief architect of Indian Constitution, delivered at Constituent Assembly on 25th November 1949.

Dr Ambedkar stated "How can people divided into several thousands of castes be a nation? The sooner we realize that we are not as yet a nation in the social and psychological sense of the world, the better for us."

He continued: "For then only we shall realize the necessity of becoming a nation and seriously think of ways and means of realizing the goal. The realization of this goal is going to be very difficult-far more difficult than it has been in the United States. The United States has no caste problem. In India there are castes. The castes are anti-national."

Let Parliament debate how Constitution and Governance should be used to Unite India. Let it be amended to provide for 1) uniform civil code, 2) total separation of religion from politics and governance; 3) substitution of all reservations with free, good-quality education right up to doctorate degree for all poor people, irrespective of their caste and religion; 4) Freeze of reorganisation of State boundaries, etc. and 5) Transfer of water and electricity from Concurrent to Central Lists.

This list is only illustrative. Let the Government bite the bullet on amendment of Constitution to pave the way for United, Resurgent India that gives fair and equal opportunities to all. New India needs New Constitution that focuses on equitable access to natural resources coupled with strict population control. (See: Cacophony against amending Constitution is Music for the Ignorant )


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