Thoughts & Ideas

Monday, November 18, 2013

Oye Maharajah! Oye Nawab! Oye, Oye!!

The subject matter of this blog has been on my mind since long and having an extended four day weekend enabled me to verbalise my thoughts. Even 65 years after Independence, we often come across in newspapers, magazines, and in general conversation, reference to certain Indians as Maharajah, Nawab, Rai Bahadur, or other such princely title with the underlying connotation that the person is in some way superior to or at least different from ordinary Indians on account of his genes or lineage.  I find such usage in bad taste and it has always irked me. 
After independence from imperialist rule the people of India felt that in the creation of a free society which seeks to establish political, social and economic equality and thereby aspires to become truly democratic, there is no room for some individuals to hold titles thus creating artificial distinctions among members of the same society. In fact recognition of titles and the consequent creation of a hierarchy of aristocracy had been denounced as an anti-democratic practice as early as the eighteenth century by both the American and the French revolutions. 

The battle against the titles conferred by the British monarch started with the passing of the United States Constitution in 1787 which prohibited all titles of nobility in the United States. Another British dependency, Ireland, on establishing its independence, followed suit and its Constitution too prohibits the conferring of titles by the State. India and Burma were the next to follow the example; the former despite the fact that it decided to continue to be a member of the Commonwealth of Nations whose head was the British monarch.

In India the practice of the British Government conferring a number of titles every year mostly on their political supporters and government officers, had already created a peculiar class of nobility among the people. It was difficult, on principle, for independent India to recognise and accept these titles apart from considerations of the merit of those who held them. Article 18 of the Indian Constitution, therefore, abolished all titles and the State was prohibited from conferring titles on any person since it was felt that a democracy should not create titles and titular glories. The only exception made to the strict rule of non-recognition of titles are those provided in favour of academic or military distinctions, 

Ambedkar explained in the Constituent Assembly that Article 18 did not create a justiciable right. In his opinion, the non-acceptance of titles was a condition of continued citizenship. It was not a right but a duty imposed upon the individual that if he continued to be the citizen of India, he would have to abide by certain conditions. One of the conditions was that he must not accept a title and if he did so it would be open for Parliament to decide by law what should be done to persons who violate the provisions of this article. One of the possible penalties could be that he might lose the right of citizenship!

Thus, under Article 18 not only is the State in India prevented from conferring titles on any person, but Indian citizens are forbidden to accept any title from a foreign State without the consent of the President of India. The prohibition applies not only to the acceptance of titles but also to that of any present, emolument or office of any kind from any foreign State by any person holding an office of profit or trust under the State.

Through a series of measures, which culminated with the 26th amendment to the Constitution of India, official symbols of princely India -  including titles, privileges, and remuneration (privy purses) - were abolished. As a result, even titular heads of the former princely states ceased to exist and all titles including hereditary titles like Maharaja, Nawab etc. have been done away with – completely and unequivocally. 

This tradition has been further reinforced by decision of the present President of India Pranab Mukherjee who has formally dropped honorific like 'His Excellency' as prefix to his name. Instead, he said, traditional Indian greeting of 'Shri' should precede his name. 

As such, acknowledging any person in India as the “Maharaja of XYZ” or as “member of Indian royalty” etc is not only an affront to more than one billion free democratic republican Indians, but also insults the sanctity of the blood of millions of martyrs who gave their life for the Independence of India. 

I have no objection (and there should be no objection) for anyone giving himself or herself any kind of titles, and others accepting the same as long as it is in their private domain. However, public display and acknowledgement of such outdated and feudal practices is avoidable apart from being factually incorrect and proscribed by Indian law.

I am acutely aware that the above argument does not address the inequalities in economic field and the resultant inequities in the social and political arena in present day India, the most notable example is a private home in Mumbai named Atlantis!  But the longest journey begins with the first step, and 63 years is a long enough a time frame to at least stop continuing recognizing the erstwhile rulers by such titles, many of whom were no better than blood sucking imperialist stooges.


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