The political fraternity in our country, which is otherwise as splintered as a million broken shards of a mirror, is, however, unanimously in agreement on one thing: that every party can lay claim to its being one hundred per cent secular. The latest thinly veiled admonition that the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has fired against Bharatiya Janata Party in general, and Narendra Modi in particular (without of course taking the Gujarat chief minister’s name) once again brings the contentious issue of secularism, and its myriad interpretations, to the forefront. Nitish has clearly mentioned that his party, the Janata Dal (United), will only side with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the general election of 2014, if the entente decides on a consensus candidate with a suitably secular credential. Clearly, this rules out the inclusion of Narendra Modi, whose biggest and only drawback happens to be his alleged complicity in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom in which over 2,000 Muslims were killed, and his recalcitrant refusal till date to apologise for the same. Nitish Kumar’s plea for a secular prime ministerial candidate, despite its politically correct overtones, is nevertheless, a big act, because no candidate from any political party can actually live up to the standards of a truly secular leader, be it from the Congress, the BJP or any of the smaller or regional parties.
Rajdharma or not, secularism in India has been relegated to pre-election rhetoric, without an iota of real world practice. Party leaders make it a point to harp on this philosophy, and their tug of war makes for great telegenic show of self-proclaimed self-righteousness. With the ghosts of 1984 returning to haunt the Congress, and the shadow of Babri Masjid demolition and the Gujarat riots never leaving BJP and Narendra Modi, India is at crossroads when it comes to applying the principles of secularism within realpolitik. In this sense, Nitish Kumar will be left without an ally, who hasn’t played to the gallery when it comes to pandering to fundamentalists within any religion, or crying foul on secularism when reaching out to the urban voters. Secularism has been distorted to suit the petty politicking of our leaders, and is, unfortunately, bereft of actual ideological significance beyond the high-decibel soundbytes. Hence, despite Nitish Kumar’s plea, JD(U) is unlikely to break its alliance with BJP, as its president, Sharad Yadav, has already indicated. Moreover, Nitish Kumar’s party Janata Dal (United) has gained immensely from allying his socialist loyalists with advocates of soft-Hindutva within BJP, which has resulted in one of the best caste-coalitions in recent times. The JD(U)-BJP combine commands over 40 per cent of vote-share in Bihar, and that is a figure Nitish Kumar is very unlikely to tamper with, even though he’s making it seem an open-ended game as of now. And, although Nitish seems to be courting the apparently ‘secular’ Congress by asking for Bihar to be stamped a ‘backward state’, secularism in itself is clearly the last thing on his mind.