parties should strive to halt the growing communalism
-- By Asghar Ali Engineer
Our politics today is purely power-oriented and values are thrown aside
as if values are shell and power the core. Politics without values become
monstrosity as Gujarat has proved. Gandhiji, in early twenties, had felt
this danger and had then written that politics without religion (read
values) is like breathing without nose. Gandhiji later modified the word
religion as he realised its use could be misunderstood. He was quite clear
that state should remain secular.
Thus in 1942 he clarified when he said "Religion is a personal matter
which should have no place in politics." He even went further and
told a missionary: "If I were a dictator, religion and State would
be separate. I swear by my religion. I will die for it. But it is my personal
affair. The State has nothing do with it."
However, our politicians have completely reversed this approach. They
mix religion with politics with vengeance and throw away values in the
air. Religion without values like justice, equality, compassion, love,
non-violence, truth and sensitivity to others suffering is mere dead ritual
and if such empty rituals, and not values, are associated with religion,
which our politicians do, it can be very deadly. This is what we have
been witnessing since independence.
Not that power is not important in politics; it is. But the question is
power is a means to achieve certain goal. Power should to be a goal but
a means to an end. But for our present day politician's power has become
the goal and outright foul or unethical means are employed to achieve
this goal. And all this is done quite unabashedly. Also, the struggle
for power has become quite ruthless.
Such struggle existed in medieval ages too as power has terrible attraction
for some people. It often leads to patricide or fratricide too. But then
we do not approve of medieval methods of seizing power. Democracy is important
both for means employed and goals to be achieved. But it appears our medieval
mindset has hardly changed and our methods of achieving power have even
I do not want to idealise the freedom fighters. They were also human beings
and had their own weaknesses and had also faltered at times but at least
those who were at the helm of affairs and were leading the fight for freedom
made great sacrifices and avoided wrong means and did care for values.
They made mistakes but did not play foul. They kept certain ideals before
them and secular democracy was one among them. Also, Gandhiji felt strongly
and practised non-violence so much so that when in 1922 some policemen
were burnt in Chauri Chora he withdrew the movement. Although the movement
was at its height he did not compromise on the doctrine of non-violence.
For Gandhiji even movement was not an end, only means to achieve certain
Gandhiji knew if violence is not controlled at this stage whole freedom
movement will become violent and the ideal of non-violence will be seriously
injured. Thus Gandhiji sacrificed the momentum of the movement for the
sake of values he stood for.
Today the politicians do not mind inciting communal violence if it helps
them in achieving power. Our freedom leaders had even believed that there
will be no communal violence in post-independence India and when the Jabalpur
riot took place in 1962 it shook Jawaharlal Nehru. The Congress swore
by secularism and never compromised with it theoretically but never practiced
it satisfactorily. Most of the Congressmen have had communal attitude.
When Jawaharlal Nehru sent Subhadra Joshi to Jabalpur in 1962 as his own
emissary to M.P. Congressmen did not co-operate with her. The then Congress
Government did hardly anything to stop the riots.
Apart from the fact that many Congressmen have communal attitude they
do not act for fear of antagonising the 'majority community'. And this
for fear of loosing power. Secular values are not important, power is.
When the BJP began questioning the Nehruvian secularism as 'pseudo-secularism'
and 'appeasement of minorities', there was hardly any hard-hitting reply
from the Congressmen. They took totally defensive posture. Mr. Gadgil,
a Congress leader from Maharashtra, even said that there is some thing
wrong with the Congress secularism as it is alienating the majority from
us. Though Shri. Gadgil's view did not prevail in the Congress Working
Committee but the very fact that this question was raised was disturbing
This attitude of the Congress is being reflected in Gujarat again. The
Congress leaders, for fear of antagonising the majority community failed
to take strong stand against communal violence in Gujarat. They were even
afraid of speaking out. When the Dargah (mausoleum) of Vali Gujarati was
bull-dosed and levelled and replaced with road the Congress Mayor of Ahmedabad
refused to intervene.
And when Mrs. Sonia Gandhi wanted to visit the widow of Ahsan Jafri, the
former Congress member of Parliament from Ahmedabad, who was brutally
killed and burnt in the communal carnage, she was advised by the Gujarat
Congressmen not to do so as it would alienate the majority community and
the Congress would loose in the forthcoming election. The Congress in
Gujarat is very much shy of fighting the BJP for fear of loosing the elections.
Thus ultimately power is more important than ideology.
The Gujarat Congress is planning not to campaign in the forthcoming election
on the issue of communal carnage for fear of alienating the majority community.
It plans to focus only on developmental issues and failure of the BJP
to govern. It is shocking to say the least. Such carnage has shamed India
in the comity of nations and the congress strategists do not want to take
it up even as an election issue.
Thus it will be seen that democracy is being used not for transparent
governance but as a means for coming to power by using religious sentiments.
The Sangh Parivar is doing it most unabashedly. It is quite ironical that
on one hand it talks of moral conduct and lays emphasis on Hindu religion
for character building, particularly the RSS, but it kills thousands of
persons belonging to minority, on the other hand, without batting an eyelid.
The Sangh Parivar has been guilty of inciting raw passions of Hindus throughout
the period of independence but it crossed all limits in butchering them
in Gujarat in most cruel ways. It incited most brutal violence in the
name of Hindu nationalism. But all available evidence shows that it did
so only to grab power by monopolising the Hindu votes.
The communalists, it must be remembered, use religion and culture most
cynically and ruthlessly for seizing power in democracy. If we go by religious
values, not rhetoric, they are most anti-religious people. Only a communalist
will use religion for inciting violence. The communalists trample upon
all religious and human values and instrumentalise it for power politics.
A democracy can work successfully only if it remains secular and keeps
off all religious controversies. We declared India to be a secular democracy
immediately after we became free from the British rule but even today
are unable to practice modicum of secularism. In more than fifty years
we should have consolidated secularism and should have freed our politics
of all traces of religious controversies and communal trappings. But fact
is that our secularism today after fifty-three years of our independence
is much weaker than it was in early fifties. In fact it was never so weak
as it is today.
Our leaders never tried to disseminate secular values, much less practice
secular politics. Power, at an cost, was the obsession of these leaders.
They had no spirit of true nationalism, not to talk of humanism. Our whole
political discourse is unsecular and we, as a people of India, have not
risen above sectarian controversies. While describing ourselves as a modern
secular nation, we unhesitatingly employ communal discourse in our politics.
The extent and intensity of communal discourse has been continuously on
The gap between secular democracy and communal politics is ever widening
and we are heading for great disaster, if we continue to regress into
past with such consistency. Modern secular politics should have made us
look to the future and our political discourse ought to have been future-oriented
it has become, particularly since mid-eighties, consistently past-oriented.
If our secular democracy has to survive, all efforts should be made to
eradicate communalism from political arena. To ensure minority rights,
is not appeasement of minorities, it is test of real democracy. Minority
rights are part of human rights and no democracy is worth its worth without
ensuring minority rights and human rights. Unfortunately the Sangh Parivar
dubbed minority rights as 'appeasement of minorities' and communalised
the whole political discourse since mid eighties to exploit sentiments
of majority community.
All secular parties, particularly the Congress, should do every thing
possible to cleanse our political system of communalism and communal discourse
and prepare the Indian masses for value-oriented secular democratic politics.
Political opportunism of some 'secular parties' has already considerably
weakened our democratic fabric. Let us not tear it apart any further.