It is indeed tragedy of immense magnitude that when one hundred fiftieth birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation, is being celebrated across the nation some people are hailing Nathuram Godse, assassin of Gandhiji, as a patriot and when faced with nation wide outrage they are offering shallow apology. It is indeed a double tragedy that such people lionizing Godse have been elected as MPs to the Lok Sabha by winning massive mandate of the people. Treating Godse as a patriot and celebrating his legacy means celebrating violence and counter culture of assassination politics. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi said that he would not forgive in his heart all those who praised Godse. Such utterances of Prime Minister proved to be of no meaning when those worshippers of Godse are in his distinguished company in the Lok Sabha enjoying the exalted status of MPs.
It is in such troubled times marked by encircling gloom that we gratefully recall Chief Minister of Odisha Shri Naveen Patnaik’s advocacy for inclusion of non-violence in the preamble of the Constitution to pay real tribute to Gandhiji on his one hundred and fiftieth birth anniversary and educate the present generation about the critical necessity of the ideal of non-violence so that forces of hatred and bigotry are vanquished and measures taken to lift people out of poverty and empower women comprehensively in all spheres of nation building. It means real, substantive and constructive progress of society. Naveen Patnaik was deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi during his youth
Mahatma Gandhi's worldview made a deep impact on Shri Naveen Patnaik when he was a young boy. Almost two years ago while answering a question of a student as to who inspired him the most when he was in his youth Shri Patnaik replied that it was Mahatma Gandhi who made deep impact on him. No wonder that such a man imbued with the ideals of Gandhiji has suggested that non-violence should be included in the Constitution. The portrait of Mahatma Gandhi along with the portrait of Shri Biju Patnaik adorning the wall of the office of Chief Minister in Bhubaneswar speaks volumes for his deep respect for the father of our nation in shaping his outlook for social justice. Therefore, his advocacy that non-violence should be there in the preamble of the Constitution sounds so convincing indeed. Shri Patnaik’s Idea for Inclusion of Non-violence in Preamble of the Constitution is historic
He suggested for inclusion of non-violence in the Constitution while speaking in New Delhi on 3rd May 2018 at the meeting of the national Committee set up to celebrate one hundred fiftieth birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation. His invaluable and impactful suggestion was historic and it caught the imagination of people. Media across the nation widely covered it. Several prominent national dailies put it on the front page and hailed it as timely and thoughtful idea which is in tune with the urge and aspirations of all Indians and indeed humanity.
While the United Nations has declared Mahatma Gandhi’s birth day, 2nd October, as the international day of non-violence, the idea of non-violence finding place of prominence in the Constitution of our country is indeed enlightening and empowering. Shri Patnaik said, “I believe the greatest tribute India could pay Gandhiji on his 150th birth anniversary is to include the uniquely Indian ideal of Ahimsa(non-violence) in the preamble of Indian Constitution” and added, “This will ensure that future generations, not just of Indians, but also people around the world, will be reminded of the profound truth of this principle.” Suggestion to include non-violence in the Constitution is in tune with Gandhi’s vision and legislative intent of the Constituent Assembly
What Shri Patnaik suggested on the occasion of the hundred fiftieth birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi was in fact in tune with vision of the father of our nation who had said a few days before his assassination that if he was true to non-violence he would continue to speak from his grave. In fact Gandhi is speaking eloquently from his grave and the world is increasingly getting inspired and invigorated by the idea of non-violence as the reservoir of soft power which is redefining the whole notion of power understood widely in terms of domination, compulsion, coercion and arm twisting. In enshrining non-violence in the Constitution the legislative intent of the Constituent Assembly that constitutional method should be adopted in pursuing the objectives of the Constitution would be further reaffirmed, reinforced and taken forward.
Nonviolence is intrinsic to constitutional method and by incorporating nonviolence in the Preamble to the Constitution a crucial step would be taken to educate the present generation about non-violence in constitutional terms. It would constitute a tribute to the vision of the framers of the Constitution and the inclusive values of freedom struggle which need to be invoked in the present times marked by alarming rise of forces celebrating coronation of majoritarianism at the cost of secularism and constitutional republican order. Planetary relevance of inclusion of non-violence in the Constitution
In the book “Surviving the Century: Facing Climate Chaos”, edited by Robert Girardet and published by World Future Council, it has been stated that the world can be saved from the apocalypse of global warming by following the four normative principles- non-violence, sustainability, justice and respect. It is quite instructive that in twenty first century world non-violence is cited and invoked to save the planet earth from the disasters such as global warming generated by too much of human intervention and consumption of excessive energy and resources. In fact nonviolence remain central to an ecologically oriented method of production which is in harmony with nature. Therefore, Shri Naveen Patnaik’s advocacy of non-violence for inclusion in the preamble to the Constitution of India is significant as much for India as for the planet. The planetary relevance of his idea needs to be underlined in the context of Harvard University professor Steven Pinker’s seminal book “Why Violence has Declined” in which he explained the post world war history of humanity as an unprecedented phase of peace because of absence of prolonged war activities often causing so much bloodshed and violence in the earlier phases of human evolution.
The idea of non-violence triggering movements for liberation, equality, empowerment and justice has been assuming increasing relevance across the globe. It is particularly so in the context of the structured form of inequality which are deeply entrenched in hierarchical, patriarchal and inegalitarian societies. Therefore, the enshrinement of the idea of non-violence in the Constitution, the fundamental law of the land, is of paramount significance for social change and progress which is often and wrongly believed by some groups to be accompanied by violence. Empowerment of Women means reaffirmation of non-violence
Understanding the huge magnitude of suffering of women in society and their sheer capability to endure it Mahatma Gandhi felt that if women willingly embraced non-violence they would make his experiments on non-violence an instant success. In 1925 he very insightfully wrote that as long as women of India did not come forward to participate in public life there would be no salvation for India. He also said that as long as women did not come forward and participate in public life there would not be purification of public life.
In late 1930s he had explained wider meaning of non-violence and it included in its scope social enfranchisement of women. Such understanding of salvation of India by Mahatma Gandhi in terms of wider participation of women in public life and his interpretation of non-violence in terms of empowerment of women was best manifested in the decision of Shri Naveen Patnaik Government in creating seven lakh self help groups consisting of 7 million women who in terms of numbers constitute a huge reservoir representing arduous quest for their livelihood opportunities, empowerment and dignity. Historic Decision to allocate one third of 21 parliamentary seats in Odisha to women reinforced non-violence
Mobilization of such huge number of women over two decades was accompanied by historic decision of Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik, who became the first leader in the history of our Republic, to allocate one third of 21 parliamentary seats in Odisha to women of his party, Biju Janata Dal. Accordingly he fielded women candidates in seven parliamentary seats for the 2019 elections and it is heartening to note that five of them were elected to the Lok Sabha. It constituted 42 percent of the total elected Members of BJD to Lok Sabha from Odisha. This trend setting decision of Odisha Chief Minister was brilliantly depicted by thecitizen.in, a web portal, under the caption “Odisha CM endorses non-violence with 33 per cent reservation for women”.
After his massive victory in 2019 Assembly elections in which Shri Patnaik's BJD won 112 out of 146 seats and he assumed office of Chief Minister for a consecutively record fifth term he took measures for outsourcing many of the works done in the Government to the women running self help groups. In doing so he has expanded the role and functioning of the self help groups which have emerged as the nucleus of women's empowerment.
Women should be empowered at all levels across India
Besides, while addressing the first meeting of the NITI Ayog in Delhi on 15th June 2018 he made the valuable suggestion that India must move towards empowering women in all spheres. This itself underlines Shri Patnaik's passionate advocacy of empowerment of women at the national level and that to in all fields and such pan-indian approach affirms the articulation made in the UNDP Human Development Report of 1995 on "Women and Human Development" that "If development is not engendered it would be endangered". Naveen Patnaik linked Non-violence to Poverty Eradication
It is fascinating to note that Chief Minister Shri Patnaik understood nonviolence not only as an ideal but also as a method for addressing persistent problems such as poverty and social injustices in society. While speaking in Delhi on 3rd May 2018 at the National Committee set up to celebrate 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi he linked nonviolence to eradication of poverty and very poignantly said poverty and social injustice represented forms of violence. Quoting Gandhiji he said "as long as poverty exists, freedom is only a wooden loaf" and added "To remove poverty is the greatest task faced by any Government. This cannot be achieved without non-violence.” Profound words indeed.
In fact the above articulations of Shri Patnaik is in harmony with Mahatma Gandhi's writings which throw light on inseparable linkages between non-violence and the understanding causes behind poverty and its eradication. Writing in Harijan on 4th September 1937 Gandhiji had reflected on "...willing exercise of non-violence by the whole mass of people" and stated that it included, among others, "perfect communal cooperation and friendship, eradication of untouchability, social enfrachisement of women, progressive amelioration of the toiling millions in the villages, free and compulsory primary education not in name as it is today but in reality, a complete over hauling of higher education so as to answer the wants of the millions instead of the few middle class people, a radical change in the legal machinery, so as to make justice pure and inexpensive and conversion of jails into reformatories..." In fact many of the policies and schemes of Naveen Patnaik Government be it women's empowerment, famers' empowerment, empowerment of scheduled castes and tribes and minorities, food security, shelter security, health security, social security and access of students to education signify creation of conditions in society so that there would be "willing exercise of non-violence by the whole mass of people".
A devotee of non-violence should have knowledge about poverty and its removal
The enormous significance of Shri Patnaik’s vision in linking non-violence with eradication of poverty can be better appreciated if we learn that Gandhi made similar linkages between non-violence and attempts to eradicate poverty in 1938. On 21st July 1938 he issued a message under the caption “What is Sarvodaya” to the first issue of Sarvodaya published by D.B.Kalelkar and Dada Dharmadhikari. In that message he wrote,“Experience shows that although people talk of nonviolence, many are mentally so lazy that they do not even take the trouble of familiarizing themselves with the facts. Take an example. India is a poor country. We wish to do away with poverty. But how many people have made a study of how this poverty came about, what its implications are, how it can be removed, etc.? A devotee of nonviolence, should be full of such knowledge”.
Eight decades back Gandhiji wanted that all those wedded to non-violence should make a study of poverty, find reasons behind its prevalence and adopt methods to wipe it out. And on the occasion of his one hundred and fiftieth birth anniversary Shri Naveen Patnaik as the Chief Minister of Odisha forcefully pleaded that poverty cannot be eradicated without non-violence.
On 13th May 1947, two months before our independence, Mahatma Gandhi had said that “Unless poverty and unemployment are wiped out from India, I would not agree that we have attained freedom. Real wealth does not consist in jewellery and money, but in providing for proper food, clothes, education, and creating healthy conditions of living for every one of us.” The fight against poverty and its reduction and elimination and the fight for ensuring livelihood, food and health security constitutes a fight for attainment of Swaraj wholly and in substantive measure. Sharp Poverty Reduction in Odisha and Wider Meaning of Non-violence to Create a Poverty Free Society
Odisha under the leadership of Shri Naveen Patnaik has transited from 59 per cent poverty level to 32 percent by 2012 and it has been hailed as as the highest reduction of poverty among all Indian States. The poverty level has been declining very fast and it has been acknowledged by several studies including one done by the World Bank. The emergence of Odisha from a food deficit State to a State capable of feeding its own people and attaining the status of third largest contributor to public distribution system in our country affirms the vision for positive social transformation based on non-violence the wider meaning of which means creation of a society free from poverty and hunger. It encapsulates in its scope the ideal of Swaraj which Gandhiji articulated on 31st October 1936 by saying that “Swaraj will not come so long as our poverty is not wiped out.”
In fact the idea of Shri Patnaik that non-violence should be included in the Preamble to the Constitution is nothing but a powerful advocacy for the ideal of Swaraj which included in its scope removal of poverty and ensuring food, health and shelter security to people. In fact it was Mahatma Gandhi who in his article "Charkha" published in the Hindi Navajivan on 4th May 1924 insightfully wrote "True, it may be that all of us do not mean the same thing by swaraj. To me it has but one meaning : the eradication of the poverty of India and freedom for every man and woman. Ask the starving men and women of India. They say that their swaraj is their bread." Infant mortality improved in Odisha because of reduction in poverty
Numerous welfare policies adopted by Shri Naveen Patnaik Government in Odisha is a step for empowerment of people by ensuring their food security. All such policies have contributed to the drastic reduction of poverty which has improved many other human development indices. One of the sensitive indices of human development is infant mortality rate. It is quite heartening to note that infant mortality rate of Odisha which was 91 has been reduced to 40 which is better than the infant mortality rate at the national level. This is indeed a historic achievement for Odisha and such impressive improvement in infant mortality rate has been made possible because of reduction of poverty and amelioration of standard of living of ordinary people across the State. In fact it was Mahatma Gandhi who wrote in Young India on 27th February 1930 "Child mortality will not decrease except by banishing poverty and instructing the adult population in the art of rearing children". What Gandhi wrote in 1930 closely corresponds to what has been achieved in twenty first century Odisha. The multiplier effect of reduction of poverty in Odisha is manifested in many areas of human endeavour and the progress in the human development indices constitutes a crowning achievement of Shri Naveen Patnaik Inclusion of Non-violence in Constitution means progress and defeat of forces based representing hatred and bigotry
It is yet again fascinating to note that in his address to the meeting of the national committee set up to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi's 150th birth anniversary Shri Patnaik attacked those spreading hatred on the lines of caste and religion in the country, and added that inclusion of non-violence in the preamble of India's Constitution would be a step to defeat those forces thriving on bigotry and contemptuous attitude towards the others in the name of primordial identities . He thoughtfully said that progress cannot be achieved without peace and "progress requires the defeat of those who divide society on basis of class, caste and religion".
At a time when majoritarianism has become a dominant trend and it has been enthroned spelling danger to republican and constitutional values we require to defeat the forces which enrich and expand the culture of majoritarianism which privileges identity of majority people over the identities of other citizens who are not part of the majority. Such privileging of one identity over other identities has been explained by professor Amartya Sen in his book "Identity and Violence" as a source of violence, bigotry and fanaticism. Indeed the amendment of the Constitution to include non-violence in its preamble would be a step in the right direction to defend the Idea of India which celebrates multiculturalism, balances all identities rooted in pluralism and embraces the other. It is in harmony with Mahatma Gandhi's vision which he summed up by saying "I do not want India to be wholly Hindu, wholly Islamic and wholly Christian; I want India to be wholly tolereant with all its religions coexisting and flourishing side by side". It means triumph of non-violence.
- The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.