Communal politics and personal liberty
The practice had more or less stopped with Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister. The practice of political leaders at the apex of the Indian State visiting places of worship to show their obeisance to religion. Dr Manmohan Singh did visit the Golden Temple once, but Sonia Gandhi was seldom seen at such places.
So, on the day after the Supreme Court strengthened Art 123 (3) of the Representation of People’s Act, to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi resplendent in religious attire paying respect at the Tirupati Tirumala temple was an eyesore, to say the least. After all, it is also a place of high commerce.
The problem lies in the foundational nature of the Constitution of India – created by the 42nd Amendment by adding to the Preamble ‘Socialist, Secular’ – as its ‘Basic Character’ and at the same time having in its entrails Art 25 that guarantees ‘Right to religion.’ Secular State and the government guaranteeing the ‘right’ is a huge contradiction conceptually, for if the latter has to be undertaken by a crucial part of the State, it is tantamount to indulging in religious practices.
That is the reason that original definition of secularism remains suspended in the case of India. The internet archive makes the difference rather stark. It says that in India, secularism stands for ‘equal treatment of all religions.’ Pious propounders of the Indian judiciary and the executive have repeatedly upheld this false consciousness.
The products of European Enlightenment John Locke, Voltaire, Spinoza – in defining the post-Westphalian thought – demanded complete insouciance of the State about religion. So the unique character of this fundamental nature of the Indian practical contradiction has not been ever challenged either in the legislature nor has the judiciary set its eagle eyes on it. Hence, the higher judiciary can actually indulge in the utter absurdity of granting land (terrestrial) to Ram Lalla.
On the contrary, since the terms of reference of this column is the Supreme Court judgment of two days ago, let us look at the argumentation of the judges i.e. while Hindutva has been upheld by it earlier, no religiosity can be exemplified in the biggest ritual of democracy – the elections.
So what is this concept of Hindutva? Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) the self-proclaimed repository ranging from patriotism to the Hindu way of life dictates what should be inherently private an affair. Though personally, I am an agnostic, I can be a Hindu and cannot claim that I love the beef steak at Olympia restaurant of Kolkata. That will raise the hackles of the RSS goons.
On the other hand, another representative of the state can be seen sitting in a masjid reading along with the assorted maulanas and maulvis posturing in the way the kalima is read. Is she following the Islamic way of life? Or is she a standard bearer of secularism, the Indian way.
There is a problem on another plane. Because the moment you claim that you have problems with flag waving and spraining your leg muscles each time the national anthem is sung at a multiplex – the symbol of modernity, the current ‘imagined community’ style – you could be equated with being a heretic Indian who can be dubbed a person from Pakistan. Now, the ‘P’ word is a strict ‘no, no’, and rightly so, because of the Pindi style of warfare – not quite like people who are real warriors.
Notwithstanding that, inadvertently possibly the RSS is bringing in the current Islamic practice tit-for-tat takfirism. And this is making Indians fear the concepts on which the founding fathers of this country sought to base its nationhood. Thus, when AG Noorani wrote and quoted extensively from Vinayak Damodar Savarkar – one of the few genuine thinkers that RSS can draw on - that, “A staunch atheist, he did not believe in the Hindu religion and its practices. Hence, his strident warning at the very beginning of ‘Hindutva.’ (an essay).”
Noorani quoted him writing in the essay “Here it is enough to point out that Hindutva is not identical with what is vaguely indicated by the term Hinduism. By an ‘ism’ it is generally meant a theory or a code more or less based on spiritual or religious dogma or system. But when we attempt to investigate into the essential significance of Hindutva we do not primarily—and certainly not mainly—concern ourselves with any particularly theocratic or religious dogma or creed.”
Noorani, one of the most eminent jurists on secularism (of Locke’s etc) and judicial issues had concluded in a Frontline article of January, 2014, “Towards the end, Savarkar wrote: ‘There would have been no serious objection raised against the cultural aspect of Hindutva too, but for the unfortunate misunderstanding that owes its origin to the confusing similarity between the two terms Hindutva and Hinduism.’”
The normally confounding judiciary of India, whose basic integrity especially intellectual continues only to deepen the confusion don’t find it in its ken the capability to bring in line the Indian Constitution with globally accepted precepts and norms and get rid of communal politics impinging on Art 21 – right to life and personal liberty.
(The author is an independent journalist. The views expressed are strictly personal.)