-- By Asghar Ali Engineer
Secularism had evoked certain controversies in India from very beginning
but nevertheless it was accepted by all baring few exceptions. Since the
concept of secularism did not exist in India its equivalent was also not
found in Indian languages. It had to be translated. In Hindi it was translated
as dharmanirpekshtaa and in Urdu it was rendered as la diniyyati. Both
these translations were not correct as they implied neutrality towards
religion and being non-religious respectively.
Even in the west it did not mean being non-religious. It implied neutrality
of state towards religion. West had ushered in democracy much before India
did and secularism is quite important for democratic functioning and particularly
if society as in India happens to be multi-religious. A multi-religious
society cannot function democratically without secularism.
In democracy citizenship and citizens' rights are most central. While
in a non-secular state religion becomes central and citizenship becomes
secondary. India, from the very beginning of its known history, is a multi-religious
and multi-cultural society. Democracy in such a society cannot function
without secularism as in democracy citizenship has priority over religion.
In democracy all are equal citizens though they may not follow same religion
or may not follow any religion at all.
Thus when the British left and India chose to be a democracy it had no
recourse but to opt for secularism as well. Only a secular democracy can
ensure equal rights for all citizens. The argument that since Pakistan
chose to be Islamic nation India too has right to become a Hindu Rashtra
is not valid one. Pakistan was based on two-nation theory and was primarily
a Muslim nation it could choose to be Islamic nation (though a modern
nation-state and a religious state are anomalous) but this course was
certainly not available for India, it being a multi-religious, multi-cultural
and multi-lingual country.
Thus India rightly chose to be a secular country in the sense that Indian
state shall not privilege any religion and that followers of majority
religion shall not have more privileges than the followers of minority
religions in terms of citizenship. Also that state shall protect all religions
equally without any distinction.
This came to be known as Nehruvian model of secularism and a broad consensus
was evolved around it. Only the Jansangh, which had very narrow political
base until then, rejected any concept of secularism and stood for Hindu
Rashtra. However, even Jansangh while merging into the Janata Party in
post-emergency period in 1977 accepted secularism and Gandhian socialism
and took pledge to this effect on Gandhiji's Samadhi in Delhi. However,
for Jansangh it was more a tactical move than a principled stand.
Though in its new avatar as BJP it continued to swear by secularism but
began to promote most militant Hindu nationalism in mid-eighties. One
of the members of Sangh Parivar, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad adopted Hindu
militancy without any restraint. In the post-Minakshipuram conversion
period the Vishwa Hindu Parishad came to the forefront and got involved
in most militant propaganda of Hindutva. There were open assaults on Nehruvian
model of secularism and even secularism as such was dubbed as a western
concept quite alien to Indian culture.
But for the BJP there were certain restraints and it could not reject
secularism openly without drawing criticism. So it adopted a new tactics;
it began to talk of positive secularism and denounced Nehruvian secularism
as 'pseudo-secularism'. According to the BJP Nehruvian secularism was
based on what it called 'appeasement of minorities' and it defined appeasement
as allowing minorities to follow their personal law and allowing their
men to take four wives.
This assault on Nehruvian secularism, which ultimately meant assault on
constitutional secularism, became sharper and sharper with passage of
time. The BJP ultimately adopted what it called the 'Hindutva agenda'
and this agenda, as is well known, included abolition of personal laws
(enforcing common civil code), Article 370 (special status for Kashmir)
and building Ram Temple at Ayodhya.
Obviously a secular state cannot undertake construction of temples and
mosques and BJP's Hindutva agenda was a direct blow to the Constitutional
concept of secularism in India. The BJP government and its other Parivar
members are openly attacking a concept of secularism around, for which
there was a broad consensus, as pointed out above.
The BJP was somewhat restrained at the Centre as it is a coalition government
but it had no such restraint in Gujarat where it was in power of its own.
And it was in Gujarat that one could understand to what extent it would
go if it ever came to power at the Centre. Gujarat was often described
as a 'laboratory of Hindutva' and it became a mini-Hindu Rashtra. And
after the horrible Gujarat riots, which shamed the country and winning
the elections with two-third majority the BJP leaders began to say that
they would repeat the Gujarat model in other states of India.
Thus it has become more than obvious that the BJP in principle rejects
secularism and only adopts it tactically while in power as part of NDA
alliance. Not only this, it has been systematically carrying out campaign
for Hindutva politics. Even the Prime Minister Shri Vajpayee is on record
to have said in USA that RSS is 'my soul' and RSS, as everyone knows stands
for Hindu Rashtra.
It is unfortunate that this aggressive propaganda has affected even the
principal opposition party, the Congress. It has also wilted under pressure
and has adopted what is being described as softer variety of Hindutva.
Even in late eighties and early nineties some of the Congress members
had begun to talk of secularism being unsuitable for India and under pressure
from aggressive BJP propaganda sought to redefine secularism. Mr. Narsimha
Rao, the then Prime Minister also adopted policy of soft Hindutva and
even refused to take any action while the Babri Masjid was being demolished.
He was almost under awe of the BJP propaganda.
In fact the Congress' commitment to secularism began to weaken in the
last phase of Mrs. Indira Gandhi when she tried to utilise VHP for her
survival and to compensate for loss of Muslim votes.
Mr. Rajiv Gandhi too did not show any strong commitment to secularism
and his notorious reversal of the Shah Bano judgement and laying the foundation
of Ramajanmabhumi and call for Ramarajya on the eve of 1989 parliamentary
elections also delivered a great blow to Nehruvian concept of secularism.
The Gujarat carnage in February-March last year further struck fear in
the minds of Congress politicians and except for few exceptions the Congress
leaders are adopting soft variety of Hindutva. Though the 'Gujarat model'
did not work in Himachal Pradesh and the BJP lost elections there the
fear of alienation from Hindu voters is very much there in the minds of
the Congress leaders.
Even during the Gujarat election campaign in post-Gujarat carnage the
congress leaders, particularly Mr. Kamalnath who was in charge of elections
in Gujarat, did not allow any Muslim congress leaders like Mohsina Kidwai
or Ahmed Patel to campaign for the Congress. Not only this he did not
allow even leaders like Arjun Singh to campaign for election as Arjun
Singh has pro-Muslim image.
The Congress openly played pro-soft Hindutva card by making Waghela as
the Congress chief of Gujarat as he was an ex-RSS man and it was thought
that he will be better able to attract the Hindu votes in Gujarat. However,
the soft Hindutva did not work in favour of the Congress and BJP won with
two-third majority in Gujarat elections.
But instead of learning any lesson from the Gujarat defeat the Congress
leaders want to play the soft Hindutva card in other states like the Madhya
Pradesh. Even a person like Digvijay Singh who has been known for his
commitment to secularism is now playing this card and is demanding ban
on cow slaughter throughout India. He did this to embarrass the BJP and
to woo the upper caste Hindu voters.
The ban on cow slaughter should be discussed on its own merit as Gandhiji
also maintained. Gandhiji even refused to take up cow slaughter issue
to win over the Hindu support for Khilafat movement. He maintained that
both Khilafat movement and ban on cow slaughter should be taken up on
their own merits and not to trade one with the other. Even our Constitution
in Article 48 says that "State shall endeavour to organise agriculture
and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular,
take steps for preserving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of
cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle."
Thus it will be seen that the Constitution also does not talk of banning
cow slaughter on religious grounds but on modern scientific lines. It
is regrettable that leaders of Nehru's Congress are indulging in such
sensitive issues just to win elections. It is certainly weakening commitment
to secularism. It can be said without fear of contradiction that Nehruvian
concept of secularism is as good as dead and we are left with cheap tactics
to win elections. It has serious implications for future of our democracy
in a pluralist society like India. There is great need to revive Nehruvian
concept of secularism, which is based on cultural and political wisdom.
It can, perhaps be done only by a leader of Nehru's stature as it requires
courage of conviction and not simply lust for power