Opinion: Sita became the constitution, Ravana became the head of the parties! The story of the electoral Ramayana is amazing

Ananya Shroff
8 Min Read

Authors: Anastasia Piliaski and Vikramaditya Thakur
This year, for the first time, the Constitution became an important topic of discussion in electoral politics in India, just like in the US. A week before the elections began this year, a video went viral on social media, which said that there was a secret plan to replace the Constitution with another Constitution based on Manusmriti, 'which even Baba Saheb Ambedkar could not abolish.' The next day, on Ambedkar's 133rd birth anniversary, the online media was filled with 'Save the Constitution' appeals from all opposition parties, from the Congress to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The video turned out to be fake, but the suspicion created by it is not going away. If we look at the tussle between the ruling party and the opposition, the Constitution seems to be the 'Sita' of this electoral battle of India, whom everyone seems to be swearing to save from each other. Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi, while waving a copy of the Constitution in Bilaspur last month, had emphasized that it is the sacred duty of the Congress towards Dalits, tribals, minorities and the poor to save the Constitution from the BJP. In return, PM Narendra Modi accused the Congress of 'hating' the Constitution of India (and its identity and family values). He said that the Congress left no stone unturned in giving SC, ST and OBC reservation to religious minorities against the spirit of the Constitution and is still preparing to do the same. The PM said that this move of the Congress is such that even Baba Saheb Ambedkar would have been shocked.

Kanhaiya Kumar is projecting the opposition as 'we are the real protectors of the Constitution'. Meanwhile, BJP president JP Nadda is busy convincing voters that the Modi government is better placed to protect constitutional rights and values ​​than the resolute and issueless opposition. After all, it was the Modi government that announced in 2015 that November 26 will be celebrated as India's Constitution Day. Perhaps the government played this trump card to divert attention from the uproar over RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's suggestion to amend the reservation system enshrined in the Constitution.

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Neo-constitutionalism: By the way, the Constitution has now become an electoral weapon for party leaders. In the last decade, it has been waving as a flag in various political movements across the country. In 2017-18, the Pathalgadi movement was carried out in Jharkhand to save the land of the tribals. Then 15 feet high stone slabs were installed at the entrance of many villages of the Munda community. The words of the Constitution were written on them. In 2019, JMM formed the government in Jharkhand citing the Constitution and demanded recognition of Sarna religion for the tribals.

Those protesting against the CAA in 2019-20, especially at Shaheen Bagh, also cited constitutional values. Farmer youth from the Jat, Maratha, Gurjar and more recently Rajput communities have also brought the Constitution into the spotlight by demanding reservation. Over the past decade, movements for reservation by various communities have rocked North India.

Everyone's activity: A sect of Ambedkarite Mahar neo-Buddhists in Maharashtra may celebrate November 26 as Constitution Preamble Day in their Buddhist Viharas as they chant the slogan in their leader's name, 'One person, one vote, one value.' But the Constitution is not on the lips of most Indian citizens. From illiterate villagers to educated urban dwellers, they have a lot to say about their state or central government or administration, but know little about the world's longest Constitution. It is an arcane subject best left to lawyers and judges.

A new generation of rural activists has taken up the task of changing this. Santosh is a Bhil activist who is the first in his family to go to school. He has a master’s degree in social work and now runs Constitution awareness workshops in the tribal areas of northern Maharashtra. After finishing his work, he explains to crowds of less-educated villagers through stories and songs in local languages, “The road to your village, the government’s welfare schemes, forest rights, courts, all come from this Desh ki Pustak (the country’s book, the Constitution).”

Dhanji, a lower caste activist from Kolhapur in Maharashtra, says, “The dams and electricity that have brought prosperity to villages are the result of state government planning, to which it is bound by the Constitution. Primary health centres in villages and reservations for women are also the result of this.” Dadabhai, a Dalit school teacher in Nandurbar, Maharashtra, says, “Many historically subjugated groups, especially women, Dalits and Adivasis, are now thinking, what is my problem and how can it be solved using the Constitution?”

Everyday ignorance: But do they really think so? In the tribal-dominated Nandurbar district, social activists are running a movement for constitutional awareness. Very few people there mention Article 15, which guarantees equality, or Article 342, which guarantees tribal reservation. Words like welfare and development are often used in everyday political conversations, but in contrast, the word constitution rarely comes out of anyone's mouth.

Unemployment has taken the form of an epidemic in rural areas. Farming is becoming increasingly loss-making and uncertain. In such a situation, the attention of the youth has increased towards government jobs. Due to this, the demand for reservation has started to deepen. The caste census conducted in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar and the demands being made in other states are part of this nationwide concern. On the one hand, social workers are inciting the villagers and getting their demands accepted from the government, while on the other hand the Constitution is helping them to connect the familiar welfarism with the modern politics of reservation.

However, despite the efforts of rural activists, it is the Constitution's 'defenders' in Parliament who are most effective in adding this law to the lexicon of people's claims. In just six weeks, the word Constitution has transformed from an obscure technical term to a common word in India's political common sense.

Pilinski is a social anthropologist at King's College London, while Thakur teaches anthropology at the University of Delaware.

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