Saffronisation and the law: India

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'Saffronisation and the law': India

From the archives of The Times of India 2007, 2009

Can colour of national flag be identified with terror?

Dhananjay Mahapatra The Times of India, 06/09/2010

The home minister recently used the term ‘‘saffron terror’’. He stood his ground against criticism and justified it by saying Hindu fundamentalists were involved in certain bomb blasts. Once the home minister legitimizes a term, it assumes certain significance among bureaucrats and police.

There have been numerous other bomb blasts and an attack on Parliament planned and executed by Muslim fundamentalists. Rightly, people abjured the idea of coining ‘‘green terror’’. White-collar crimes siphoning off the country’s wealth did not spur a formulation ‘while collar terror’. It should. It makes one sad when saffron, white and green — the three stripes of our national flag — are used to denote types of terror. The Flag Committee headed by Dr Rajendra Prasad and comprising Dr B R Ambedkar, Abdul Kalam Azad, K M Pannikar, Sarojini Naidu, C Rajagopalachari and K M Munshi created the design of the national flag by modifying Indian NationalCongress’s flag. After Jawaharlal Nehru moved a motion on July 22, 1947 in the Constituent Assembly for adoption of the national flag, Dr S Radhakrishnan, whose birthday we celebrate as Teacher’s Day, attempted to teach significance of the flag, its colours and the wheel to the politicians who in less than a month were to be saddled with the task of nation building.

‘‘Bhagwa or the saffron colour denotes renunciation or dis-interestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work. The white in the centre is light, the path to truth to guide our conduct. The green shows our relation to soil, our relation to the plant life here on which all other life depends. The Ashoka wheel in the centre of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principles of those who work under this flag,’’ he had said. How much the politicians learnt from his discourse is not the subject matter of this piece.

Bhagwakaran or saffronization has been used liberally to connote involvement of Hindu right-wing fundamentalists. In June 2001, then HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi made the UGC introduce Jyotir Vigyan or the method of astrology for course studies in undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Joining many others,Congress chief Sonia Gandhi declared war against such a move and said on the floor of Parliament on August 16, 2001 that ‘‘saffronization of education at all levels will be resisted by theCongress party. I say this with all the strength at my command’’.

The challenge to ‘‘saffronization of education’’ reached SC through noted scientist P M Bhargava. In its 2004 verdict, SC said, ‘‘We are unable to accept that prescription of Jyotir Vigyan as a course of study has the effect of saffronizing education or that it in any manner militates against the concept of secularism, which is part of the basic structure of the Constitution.’’

It added, ‘‘Teaching of Jyotir Vigyan can under no circumstances be equated with teaching of any particular religion. The challenge to the inclusion of Jyotir Vigyan as a course of study on the ground that the same will violate or impinge upon the concept of secularism enshrined in the Constitution has therefore no merit and must be rejected.’’ The intemperate coinages — saffron terror and saffronization of education — are, sadly, a reflection of ignorance of secular culture where saffron had been understood and respected for ages as the colour denoting a desire for renunciation. Why then this rough-and-tumble coinage with ‘‘saffron’’ prefix? In a coalition era, everyone knows importance of humouring fringe political parties, many of which have names reflecting their religious leaning. Such parties cannot be faulted if their leaders rush to a Shahi Imam or a Sankaracharya to get the support of their followers.

In its judgment in Kulter Singh vs Mukhtiar Singh [AIR 1965 141], SC had warned of such a scenario. It had said, ‘‘There are several parties whose membership is either confined to or predominantly held by members of some communities or religion and that an appeal made by candidates of such parties for votes may in an indirect way be influenced by considerations of religion, race, community or language. So long as law recognizes such parties for purpose of election and parliamentary life, the situation can’t be avoided.’’

Samata verdict

Samata verdict is weapon of the weak


When the Supreme Court of India delivered the Samata judgment in 1997 protecting the land of tribal people under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, it was met with dismay and anger from industrial interests. At the time, I did not realize how strong these interests would react to this decision. But in the 13 years since the Samata judgment, I have seen how the state and industry have conspired to see that it is not implemented. A careful look will show it is not an anti-mining judgment but talked of primary stakes for tribal people and responsibility of the state and industry.

Mining Industry Interests

First, opponents of this judgment have sought to portray it as a radical decision. This could not be farther from the truth. It strictly adheres to the Constitution of India and reaffirms the nature of relationships between the people and the state, particularly in Fifth Schedule areas. After India’s economic liberalization in 1991, it became in vogue for the government to sell off its public sector companies and assets. This judgment blocked those opportunities and made the task difficult for disinvestment and FDI in Fifth Schedule areas. To try and get around these Constitutional protections, mining industry interests tried a solution that is far more radical than anything in the Samata judgment: In 2000, they tried to change the Constitution by amending the Fifth Schedule! Fortunately, through the ministry of mines, national and popular opposition blocked any questionable revisions once these efforts were covered by the media.

The State As A Benami

Second, I have witnessed attempts at the creation of a nexus between industry and government to open mining projects in tribal areas. Since only the government, which is supposed to represent the interests of the people, could operate mining projects in tribal areas, state mining corporations like APMDC and OMC were given the mining leases. Then the government signed over the contracts to private companies, like Ras al Kaima (RAK) or JSWL in Andhra Pradesh or Vedanta in Orissa through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The state becomes a benami in this case.

Ministry Sidelined

Third, I have noted with dismay that in all this time, the ministry of tribal affairs, which is responsible for safeguarding tribal interests, has taken a passive approach to the need to protect tribal land rights instead of monitoring the implementation of Samata judgment or leveraging the same for securing a stake for the tribal people as the judgment prescribed.

Ray Of Hope

In fact, the only ray of hope in the struggle for tribal people to keep and control their land has come from an unexpected source — the ministry of mines. Strangely, it is the same ministry that circulated the secret note to amend the Fifth Schedule in the year 2000.

Ten years down the line, their support comes primarily from their interest in finding ways to legally access the minerals under tribal land, but the ministry of mines has shown its willingness to search for a responsible solution by drafting a new Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation (MMDR) Act. The new MMDR will provide land losers in tribal areas with a 26% stake in any mining activity that occurs there. I would urge more people, groups and concerned citizens to engage in the process.

Industrial mining interests will oppose the new prescriptions of the MMDR, but it is time they realize that if they wish to profit off our country, they must pay a fair price and observe responsible, constitutional safeguards that protect the people and the environment, like the Samata judgment. The times are changing.

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