PUCL Bulletin, November 2002

Secular 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 worsened.

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 ideals.
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 enough.

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 increase.

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.

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