I read “Breaking Free of Nehru”, Sabhlok’s book on overthrowing Nehru’s legacy. Definitely, we have outlived the socialist policies of Nehru and some of his ideas of rectifying historical discrimination by punishing current generations.
However in defense of Nehru, I would like to point out that at the time of Independence, India was in an abysmal state of poverty. We were not able to feed ourselves and we really had no large industries. Our manufacturing capabilities had been eroded by the British and even in agriculture, we were basically managing on subsistence farming. So one does have to credit Nehru for ushering in the green revolution whereby we were able to get agricultural surpluses such that today, we can provide a diet of at least 2000 calories to every Indian (although I understand that is has gone down recently with reverses in productivity).
In industry, while free market capitalism as espoused by Sabhlok is the ideal, it does not simply come into existence without concomitant financial resources and technological know-how. At the time of Independence we were cash poor and we really did not have many of the large industries in place. Also, the western countries were not exactly falling over themselves to help us—they were quite condescending of our national aspirations. In fact Russia was one of the few countries to respect our desire to be a nation and give us the necessary technology not only in major industries like steel etc. but also in our defense industries. Let us also not forget that Nehru was trying to urbanize India and remove her masses from dependence on land and farming and trying to employ her people in various productive endeavors. While we may laugh at the notion of a government wanting to make bread and cloth and other varieties of consumer goods, this for Nehru served as means to employ more people. So while we need not preserve such socialist ideas, let us give the poor man (Nehru) some credit.
Secondly with reference to using a punishing caste based reservation system to right the wrongs of the past, we do need some kind of affirmative action to give opportunities to backward classes. While we need not narrowly define backwardness by caste distinctions alone, we do need to recognize that some people continue to suffer because of the social structures that are in place.
There were a couple of areas where I found Sabhlok’s conclusions disingenuous and sometimes dangerous.
One of the key areas that Mr. Sablok feels that we should not meddle is the concept of a Uniform Civil Code which according to him if we create a uniform civil code “it would amount to an insidious way of imposing majority rule in a democracy: pure mobocracy. Either way, the whole thing of a UCC is incompatible with the tenets of freedom and democracy and must be scrapped.”
I found this statement extremely dishonest and hypocritical for two reasons: 1) the country that he extols for having a free society (the USA) has a uniform civil code (same laws for all regardless of religious affiliation and based mostly on Judaeo-Christian principles) and 2) that he himself resides in a country with a uniform civil code (Australia)
Now neither of these countries could be called a mobocrasy. So are we to understand that democracy, which itself is defined as rule by majority, will only become mobocracy if it follows Hindu principles?
In principle, all religions in India have their personal laws codified through an act of parliament, except the Muslims, whose personal laws are based on the Shari at. Now in a secular country, where there is a separation of government and religious institutions, is it not wrong to privilege the religious beliefs of one group alone. The Hindu law is not based on Hindu religious principles. It is based on commonly agreed concepts of fairness and justice. So why are the Muslims exempt from that? This contradiction in Sabhlok’s argument is especially glaring since he argues for the primacy of fairness and justice for all as the foundation for civil society.
The second, more disturbing conclusion of Mr. Sabhlok, in his blue print for a new constitution was the following recommendation.
“People in any geographical part of India can ask to form a new country if they are not happy with being part of India, through a 95% referendum in that part of India, with at least 90% of the people voting. Violence from the proponents of the new state will nullify the referendum”
This is an extremely dangerous proposal for two reasons. Firstly, every single group in India will want a state of their own and we could find ourselves splintered into a hundred pieces.
Secondly, either we believe in pluralism whereby individual and group differences do not constitute a reasonable reason to break away from the nation, or we don’t believe it.
He talks about India becoming more prosperous and thereby attracting more immigrants, the same way Australia does. However, he fails to take into account that both Australia and the United States have an underlying culture that forces and encourages certain conformity. Thus, most Indians who migrate there do change their behaviors to fit in with the society. For example, most immigrants to the USA celebrate Thanksgiving in their own way (often involving a turkey) and many non Christians have a Christmas tree during Christmas and don’t mind singing Christmas carols etc. So outwardly, the US, even though it is a plural society, is in fact Christian. Thus, the state can insist that people recite the Pledge of Allegiance in schools etc. If Indians in India were to insist on using the US as an example, then everyone would have to sing Vande Mataram. (This would probably be opposed by Sabhlok as infringing on personal freedom).
Lastly, we need to recognize that we do have a great many freedoms in India. Before tinkering with the Indian Constitution, let us seriously examine it and figure out whether it can be rescued merely by reinterpreting its words rather than changing them.