Indianisation is repeatedly and dubiously preached by ‘Hindutva’ nationalists as an agenda of supremacist cultural homogenization of India. As a result, after the coming into force of the Constitution of India, the term Indianisation meant predominantly the ideal of ‘Hindutva’.
This is the first of a two-part response to Prof Jose Verghese’s two-part series critiquing Dr. Raju’s original article from earlier this year.
WITH regard to the recent calls for the Indianisation of the legal system in India, two major questions raised by Prof Jose Verghese (in the accompanying critique of my article in The Leaflet on January 15) may require closer scrutiny. They are, first, the need to define the term Indianisation’ and the second, the suggestion to see the call for Indianisation of the Indian legal system as a call for constitutionalism. A few of the other premises which require rejoinder may also be dealt with.
Out of the above said two issues, the problem of not properly defining the term ‘Indianisation’ might have been causing a dangerously confusing vagueness. This sin of vagueness can be more a deliberate strategy than due to ignorance or a methodological failure. Such tactics to confuse and mislead using half-truths are similar to the ages old one in the trick of the ‘Ashwathama fallacy’. This is more so since the term ‘Indianization’ has already acquired a particular and predominant meaning during the post-independence and post-constitution period which has been taken judicial notice of by the Supreme Court and a few high courts.
But whose is this apparent sin of omission? Of those who make the call for Indianisation, or of those like us who criticize such calls on the ground, among others, of calculated vagueness or of those who come out wholly supporting such a call for Indianisation? Though different quarters have been using the term Indianisation to denote various meanings, the recent calls for Indianisation of the legal system is specifically intended to convey a specific meaning, even if the speakers have by design or default allowed the vagueness to creep in. However, after the Indianisation of the legal system has been brought about through a process of its constitutionalizing, especially after the coming into force the Indian Constitution, the allegation that Indian Constitution and legal system require Indianisation does not seem to be innocuous especially when they come from very learned persons holding high constitutional offices of responsibility.
This problem has been impliedly highlighted by the former Chief Justice of India (‘CJI’) N.V. Ramana (see his widely reported speeches from September 2021 and April this year) when he thought it necessary to explain his intended meaning, which does not have even any distant connection with the ordinary meaning or the one attributed by the vocal votaries of Indianisation.
Like CJI Ramana, Prof. Jose also tries to attribute a different meaning while leaving the space for being partially interpreted as close to the sense projected by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (‘RSS’) and its satellites. It is their clear argument and agenda that the Indian Constitution and legal system have nothing Indian in them at all, and they need to be Indianized and decolonized in terms of the Manusmriti, among other things.
It had already been shown in my article that the recent calls, including the one by Justice S.A. Nazeer, did not leave any room for doubt since the listeners were mainly members or sympathisers of RSS and its affiliates, and more since the term was used in the sense of reviving or relying on the ancient legal systems of “Manu, Kautalya, Katyayana, Brihaspati, Narada, Parashara, Yajnavalkya, and other legal giants of ancient India”.
In fact, the term Indianisation has already been used in a few specific meanings during both our pre-Constitution period and post-Constitution period. Three usages have come to stick in the writings both popular and academic, namely, (i) Hindu or Buddhist cultural influence on non-Indian regions, (ii) Indians displacing the British in posts and positions, and (iii) Indianisation as synonymous with ‘Hindutva’ as the development of uniform culture by obliterating the difference between all cultures co-existing in the country.
In 1926, the ‘Greater India Society’ was established to enlighten the role of India in Southeast Asia. The region was regarded as a colony of India. Its members referred to Indian adventurers going in ships and setting up kingdoms after kingdoms.
The last one, though not welcomed by people at large, is the one mainly, though wrongly, relied on and noticed judicially by the Supreme Court and certain high courts.
Also read: In order to ‘Indianise’ justice delivery systems, we must follow the Gandhian way
From the time prior to the making of the Indian Constitution, some academics have been using the term ‘Indianisation’ to mean colonisation by Indians, at least in terms of cultures and religions, which occurred in the regions of Southeast Asia.
In 1944, the French scholar of southeast Asian archaeology and history, G. Coedes wrote about the Indianization of Southeast Asia: “Indianization must be understood essentially as the expansion of an organized culture that was founded upon Indian conception of royalty, was characterized by Hinduist or Budhist cults, the mythology of the Puranas, and the observance of the Dharma sastras, and expressed itself in the Sanskrit language.” It is for this reason that we sometimes speak of “Sanskritization” instead of “Indianization”. Coedes writes that the Indianization of Southeast Asia is the “[c]ontinuation overseas of a ‘Brahmanization’ that had its earliest focus in North-west India”, and the process began before Buddha and “is continuing in Bengal and South India”.
History professor Patit Paban Mishra described it in these words in a 1997 article: “Indianization is a term generally used for the Indian cultural influence upon Southeast Asia.” According to him, the earlier tendency of scholars had been to regard the process of Indianization as an Indian initiative. Southeast Asia was perceived as being at the receiving end, and playing a passive role. The region was described by nationalist historians of India as ‘colonies’ of India. In 1926, the ‘Greater India Society’ was established to enlighten the role of India in Southeast Asia. The region was regarded as a colony of India. Its members referred to Indian adventurers going in ships and setting up kingdoms after kingdoms.
According to Mishra, various theories regarding the motives and process of Indianization have emerged. Even the use of the term Indianization has been criticized because “it may suggest a conscious effort on the part of Indians to spread their culture over major part of Southeast Asia”. Some Western scholars have preferred the term ‘classical’, and terms like ‘Indic’ and Indianization have been discarded. Mishra discusses various theories like the Kshatriya theory, the Vaishya theory and the Brahmana theory, and then concludes that “all the three hypotheses… contain some amount of historical truth. The whole process of Indianization was the outcome of endeavours of warriors, traders and priests along with the indigenous initiative.” Such meanings are not relevant to the present context.
Indians displacing the British on posts and positions
Before and during the process of Constitution-making, Indianisation had a specific meaning, that is, making Indians to hold the offices and positions which were being occupied by non-Indians, mostly by the British. For example, the Commonwealth of India Bill 1925 had provided for Indianisation of the Defence Forces. It was first drafted by the ‘National Convention’ in April 1924 in the context of the Indian nationalist movement that believed it was time for Indians to be governed by a Constitution framed by Indians. This Bill had required that the new Government should appoint a Committee “[t]o report on the progress made in the lndianisation and training of the Defence Forces of the Commonwealth, so as to enable the people of India to undertake their own defence as soon as practicable.” [Article 116]
In almost similar terms, the Sapru Committee Report of 1945 (under the Chairmanship of freedom fighter, lawyer, and politician Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru) had also called for Indianisation. Stressing the need for making provisions in the new Constitution for recruiting sufficient number of Indian officers and ceasing the recruitment of British officers, the Sapru Committee Report recommended that “…all defects existing in the present system which prevent rapid Indianization or the creation of Indian officers capable of assumeng leadership should be forthwith removed.”
Indianisation of the judiciary also was contemplated in similar terms and was understood as under way even prior to independence and the coming into force of the new Constitution. In its 121st Report published in July 1987, the Law Commission of India, under the Chairmanship of Justice D.A. Desai, has considered the issue of the Indianisation of the judiciary in India, and has stated in the second chapter titled ‘Historical evolution of the Method of Appointment of Judges of Superior Judiciary in India’, “A process of Indianisation of judiciary was in the offing and ground norms were laid for the same in the Government of India Act, 1915-1919.” According to this usage and meaning, the process of Indianisation of the legal system, including the judiciary, at least substantially and what still remains, is not Indianisation but constitutionalization of the legal system in terms of the pluralistic and composite constitutional culture, and the universal values behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Also read: ‘Indianisation’ of the justice delivery system
Indianisation as a synonym of ‘Hindutva’
Contrary to the above views, Indianisation is repeatedly and dubiously preached by ‘Hindutva’ nationalists as an agenda of supremacist cultural homogenization of India. As a result, after the coming into force of the Constitution of India, the term Indianisation meant predominantly the ideal of ‘Hindutva’ as propagated by a few sections of the polity, mainly the RSS, the Jana Sangh (now the Bharatiya Janta Party), and their affiliates or cohorts
Before and during the process of Constitution-making, Indianisation had a specific meaning, that is, making Indians to hold the offices and positions which were being occupied by non-Indians, mostly by the British.
This is the main meaning as taken notice of by the Supreme Court and a few high courts. ‘Indianisation’ and ‘Hindutva’ were treated by these quarters as synonymous, and it meant the “development of uniform culture by obliterating the differences between all the cultures coexisting in the country”. They have succeeded in getting it raised again and again, though unsuccessfully so far, in the public realm to some extent.
Post-Constitution, it was generally felt that the new Constitution is an Indian one and it has brought about the required Indianisation of the legal system also like defence services, the bureaucracy, and so on. It was only some fringe quarters, like the mouthpieces of the RSS, which refused to accept the Constitution of India as Indian.
The agenda of adopting a Hindu/Aryan/Shastric supremacist constitutional and legal system instead of a pluralist and composite one has been continuously attempted to be pushed into the mainstream. This has been in fact a modern version of the mono-cultural, brahmanical, supremacist, and uniformist trend seen from ancient times in the Indian history off and on.
Manusmriti, the Dharmasastra attributed to the name of Swayambhuva Manu but generally considered as authored mainly by Sumati Bhargava, has itself been understood as an instance of such an agenda. Yajnavalkya and Arthasastra (Dandaniti) traditions, together with various schools of the Buddhist, Jaina, Ajivika, Lokayata and tribal ones, fought back, challenging the Manusmriti traditions and at the same time allowing its desirable elements to continue. However, many Western and Indian authors, including the colonialist ones, had projected Manusmriti as the greatest and the most representative of the Indian traditions of law, morals, and constitutional theories. This hypothesis came handy for the divide and rule policy of the colonialists and supremacists. This has been sufficiently highlighted and disproved by expert studies by many modern authors like historian and lawyer K.P. Jayaswal (‘Manu and Yajnavalkya – A Comparison and a Contrast’, 1930), and legal scholar and novelist Nares Chandra Sen-Gupta (‘Evolution of Ancient Indian Law’, 1953).
The movements serving the cause of colonial and brahmanical agenda were unhappy with the composite and pluralistic unity of our constitutional endeavours and freedom struggle. Even one of the earliest and most famous struggles for independence and Constitution-making, known as the 1857 war of independence, was the result of such a composite and pluralistic endeavour. The colonialists, with the help of the advocates of uniformity among Hindus and Muslims, instigated and initiated such supremacist movements among various cultural and religious groups. These movements, such as the Hindu Mahasabha, the RSS and the Muslim League, attempted to weaken the freedom struggle and the constitutional program, but could not succeed much then.
The agenda of adopting a Hindu/Aryan/Shastric supremacist constitutional and legal system instead of a pluralist and composite one has been continuously attempted to be pushed into the mainstream.
After Independence, these movements were unhappy with the new Constitution of India and the constitutionalizing of the Indian legal system on the false ground of these being not sufficiently Indian in view of their supremacist agendas. They had wanted a constitutional and legal system in terms of Manusmriti and the supremacist traditions which they claimed as the true and only ancient Indian heritage. Some colonialist authors have been performing as their torch-bearers, picturizing the ancient Indian traditions as monolithic, Aryan, and supremacist. Some other academics, including a few Marxist ones, supported them indirectly while attempting to counter them, but falling into the trap of the opposite extreme of completely negating the ancient systems of thought in the Indian sub-continent.
Also read: Hindutva is a Political Movement, not a Religious One: Shashi Tharoor
However, the leaders of our independence movements took a more realistic middle path of appreciating whatever good and ideal in our various traditions, including the ancient Brahmanic/Aryan/Shastric, Sramanic and materialist ones, as also the modern Persian, Mughal, British, Portuguese, French, Parsi, Sikh and other Panthic and tribal ones, and at the same time keeping our windows open towards the whole world and its various value-systems and traditions.
Acceptance of our pluralistic and composite culture celebrating the unity in diversity by the Constituent Assembly, and the declaration of the Indian culture as a composite one by the Constitution, was a Himalayan threat to the cultural, religious and linguistic supremacists. Hence, they declared the Indian Constitution and the constitutionalized legal system as un-Indian and colonial. Therefore, the ‘Hindutva’-ization of the Indian constitution and legal system was inseparable from the RSS’s agenda of Indianization, which is repeatedly resurrected as in the case of the present call for Indianization of the Indian legal system.
The RSS has been unhappy with this Constitution and had wanted it to be replaced by the Manusmriti (Codes of Manu). Organiser, the mouthpiece of the RSS, in an editorial (‘The Constitution’) on November 30, 1949 specifically expressed this, writing: “The worst about the new constitution of Bharat is that there is nothing Bhartiya about it.” It further wrote, “In our Constitution, there is no trace of ancient Indian constitutional laws, institutions, nomenclature and phraseology. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity (among Hindus). But to our constitutional pundits all these mean nothing”
M.S. Golwalkar, who was the second sarsanghchalak of the RSS (1940-1973), had expressed similar sentiments in his book ‘Bunch of Thoughts’, stating that our Constitution has “absolutely nothing, which can be called our own”, and that it contained some lame principles from the United Nations Charter and some features from the American and British Constitutions which have been “just brought together in a mere hotchpotch.” Golwalkar tries to prove his point by referring to the statue of Manu in Siam, “When Siam became independent and their parliament was to meet in the hall, they all unanimously decided to place the statue of Manu as the presiding deity. The inscription in Siamese reads: ‘Bhagwan Manu, the first and the greatest lawgiver of mankind.'”
The leaders of our independence movements took a more realistic middle path of appreciating whatever I good and ideal in our various traditions, including the ancient Brahmanic/Aryan/Shastric, Sramanic and materialist ones, as also the modern Persian, Mughal, British, Portuguese, French, Parsi, Sikh and other Panthic and tribal ones.
Politician, activist and writer V.D. Savarkar too, as a philosopher and guide of the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS, had wanted Manusmriti to take the place of the Indian Constitution and legal system, as the basis of our culture-customs, thought and practice in the Hindu Nation.
“Manusmriti is that scripture which is most worship-able after Vedas for our Hindu Nation and which from ancient times has become the basis of our culture-customs, thought and practice. This book for centuries has codified the spiritual and divine march of our nation. Even today the rules which are followed by crores of Hindus in their lives and practice are based on Manusmriti. Today Manusmriti is Hindu Law. That is fundamental.” Savarkar was of the view that that once laws given by Manu were enforced, “our Hindu nation shall prove again as unconquerable and conquering a race as we proved once…”.
Also read: Savarkar: the original divider-in-chief of India
With the purpose of marketing the ideology of ‘Hindutva’ as a supremacist nationalism, and to attack the Constitution and a constitutionalized legal system, the RSS and the Bharatiya Jan Sangh started to present their ‘Hindutva’ program as a program of Indianisation. The Resolution on Indianisation passed by Bharatiya Jana Sangh, at its Plenary Session held at Kanpur, in December, 1952, with politician, barrister and academic Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherji as its President, had the following:
“…Jana Sangh resolves that in the interest of proper evolution of Indian nationalism and a national outlook it is essential that the concept of the whole of India and all its people irrespective of their way of worship, sect or region being one nation with one culture be stressed and propagated among the people. To achieve that end the people and Government must act on the following lines:
- Education should be based on national culture and tradition. Knowledge about Upnishads, Bhagavad Geeta, Ramayana, Mahabharata …be disseminated and efforts should be made to bring that day nearer when knowledge about this common cultural stream will be considered essential by the people of all parts of the country.
- The major festivals of the country like like Holi, Diwali, Raksha Bandhan and Vijaya Dashami be treated as national festivals and celebrated as such.
- Sanskrit language should be revived and its knowledge be made compulsory for all votaries of higher learning. At the same time Devnagri should be popularized and accepted as the common script for all Indian languages.
“Along with this internal reform it is the duty of the Hindu society to make concerted efforts to Indianise those sections of the Indian society which have been cut off from the national mainstream because of the influence of foreign invaders and foreign missionaries or have remained cut off from it for other reasons.”
This agenda of Indianisation as ‘Hindutva’ supremacism has been attempted through several strategies. Gradually, the Jana Sangh and the RSS appeared to have decided to give it more momentum.
As part of this strategy of the Jana Sangh, political activist and politician Balraj Madhok, who was one of the two co-founders of Jana Sangh at the instance of the RSS, advocated on the need for Indianising the minds of the Indian people. One such occasion was on September 27, 1969 while speaking at a Symposium on Rabat Conference of Heads of Islamic States and India, at the Constitution Club. This renewed campaign by Jana Sangh and RSS had to confront stiff opposition from various political parties and the people at large. But it succeeded in attracting attention in the media and even in the Parliament.
Indianisation discussed in Parliament
The issue of Indianisation was brought before the Parliament also. In response to this call for Indianisation, then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi led the attack on the Indianisation lobby in the Parliament by decrying the concept and asking what they meant by Indianising the Indians.
With the purpose of marketing the ideology of ‘Hindutva’ as a supremacist nationalism, and to attack the Constitution and a constitutionalized legal system, the RSS and the Bharatiya Jan Sangh started to present their ‘Hindutva’ program as a program of Indianisation.
Jurist, diplomat and former Union Minister M.C. Chagla gave a speech on Indianisation during a debate in Rajya Sabha on the topic of Indianisation. His speech is reproduced by Madhok in his book on Indianisation. Even though Chagla had supported the need for stressing on national unity and communal harmony, he was against the term ‘Indianisation’ and how the resolution calling for Indianisation was worded. He had said, “…I do not understand Indianisation. Every citizen of India is an Indian. He does not need Indianisation. He has all the rights under the Constitution. All the fundamental rights are guaranteed to him. We can proudly say we do not have two classes of citizenship. We have repudiated emphatically, unequivocally, the evil, vicious, theory of two nations. Therefore, whatever the community, whatever the caste, all the people who are the citizens of India are equal. I also regret that the expression ‘Indianisation of Muslims’ should have been used.”
On October 16, 1969 the Standing Committee of the National Integration Council adopted a statement, “We condemn the spread of the idea that any community requires to be Indianised.” An all-party conference was convened under its auspices on November 3, 1969, with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the chair. It denounced ‘Indianisation’. The Jana Sangh alone opted out.
The Jana Sangh decided to intensify its agenda. A resolution by it passed at its Plenary Session at Patna on December 30, 1969 had the following:
“Bharatiya Jan Sangh … demands …
…Indianisation – by which we mean the subordination of all narrow loyalties like those of religion, caste, region, language or dogma to the overriding loyalty to the nation …”
On February 22, 1970, Golwalkar further clarified and said: “The one hope of redemption is nationalism which, in the case of Hindusthan, is Hinduism.”
In May 1970, Madhok’s book on Indianisation was published. He clearly placed the concept of Indianisation as diagonally opposite to the constitutional ideal and concept of Composite Culture of India. He wrote that “… no country calls its culture composite culture because that militates against the unity of the nation.” (Ibid, p. 27). He even claimed that to call Indian culture a composite culture is nonsensical. At the same time, with fallacious logic, he pretended to be arguing for Indianisation as nothing but the inculcation of a strong sense of nationalism in all Indians. However, it was clear that the nationalism he was advocating was a supremacist cultural nationalism.
Also read: Sangh parivar has to do away with ideology of destructive hatred
The Ayodhya movement was part of this strategy. Replacing the Constitution and the constitutionalized legal system in a purported Indianisation was an integral part of the political and cultural movement side by side with the Ayodhya movement of the RSS.
Before and after the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, there have been instances of releasing booklets denouncing the Constitution as “anti-Hindu” and putting forward a prototype of the kind of Constitution visualised by them. On January 14, 1993, RSS leader Rajendra Singh, in an interview given to Indian Express, called for a new Constitution more suited to the ethos and genius of this country since India’s was “not a composite culture”.
Part II of Dr.M.P.Raju’s response can be read here.