The discussion in Parliament to commemorate the Constitution and its framer, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, took place on Thursday under the long shadow of the debate on intolerance raging outside of it, with the government and the Opposition not conceding even an inch on their entrenched positions on the term ‘secularism’ and its meaning.
The importance of the discussion could be gauged from the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi sat through the proceedings from the beginning till the day’s end at 7 p.m.
The discussion, officially termed “Commitment to India’s Constitution as part of the 125th birth anniversary of B.R. Ambedkar”, was initiated by Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
Right off the bat, it was clear that it would be a day of contested assertions on secularism and tolerance. “The words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ were incorporated in the Preamble through the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution. We have no objection. Let bygones be bygones. B.R. Ambedkar had never thought of the necessity to incorporate it in the Preamble as these two words were part of the Constitution. It is inbuilt in the Indian system,” Mr. Singh said, amid protests from the Congress.
“Secularism is the most misused word in the country. Instead of dharm nirpesksh [religion neutral], we should use a better Hindi translation of the word panth nirpesksh [sect neutral]. The misuse of the word should come to an end, as it has been the source of much tension and misinterpretation,” he said.
In a reference to film actor Aamir Khan’s statement that his wife had once considered leaving the country owing to the rising intolerance, Mr. Singh said: “Dr. Ambedkar faced much discrimination and humiliation in India, but never did he once say he would leave the country and go elsewhere.” This again brought the Opposition to its feet in protest.
'BJP supports job reservation'
Mr. Singh said the BJP was a supporter of reservation for backward classes in government jobs, “although some parties, during elections, like to spread the impression that there are different views on it. That is not so. It is an instrument to create a just society and is part of the Constitution. It cannot and will not be diluted.”
Mr. Singh’s rather provocative speech was followed by an equally combative one by Congress president Sonia Gandhi who took on the government on what she called the “rising cases of intolerance” in the country. “People who never had faith in the Constitution, nor had participated in its drafting, are now swearing by it and are laying claim to it. They are now having a discussion on the commitment to it. There cannot be a bigger joke than this.”
She said whatever was being witnessed over the past few months was “totally against the principles” of the Constitution.
She quoted Dr. Ambedkar’s warning to hit out at the ruling dispensation: “Howsoever good a Constitution may be, if those implementing it were bad people, then the ultimate effect would only be bad.”
Congress Parliamentary Party leader Mallikarjun Kharge demanded the sacking of Minister of State for External Affairs General V.K. Singh for his controversial remark on the death of two Dalit children in Haryana, likening the incident to stoning of dogs.