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Modi redefines secularism

Secularism has been defined in Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a doctrine which means that morality or education should not be based on religion’. The Chambers 20th Century Dictionary says, ‘the belief that the state, morals, education, etc, should be independent of religion’ is the meaning of secularism. The Constitution of India stands for a secular state, which means ‘the state has no official religion. Secularity pervades its provisions which give full opportunity to all persons to profess, practice and propagate any religion of their choice’.

Narendra Modi sought to redefine secularism, saying for him the term means ‘India First’. ‘Whatever we do, it must be for India. We must never let India, her honour, the dreams of the people down. India first it must be’. Having been snubbed by the Wharton School, which first invited him to give a talk and then after protests by some academics, ‘disinvested’ him, generating a heated debate over the issue, the Gujarat Chief Minister redefined secularism.

In his address to the Indian diaspora in America through video conferencing in a community outreach programme organized by Overseas Friends of BJP in New Jersey and Chicago he said ‘country is above all religion and ideologies. I agree that as an Indian, as a citizen who loves India, you will also agree with my definition. We might do any work or take any decision, India should be supreme.’

One does not know from where Modi got the idea of ‘India first’. But he was not the only one to use the term for the first time; neither it was a novel idea. A similar phrase was used by Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, when he was thrown out of office in 2008. He had reportedly said “Pakistan first”. It seems Modi, who has the penchant for verbally abusing Mian Musharraf, had not been briefed about this coincidence.

In redefining secularism, Modi is, apparently, redrawing the political agenda for himself and his party— set as he inevitably is for a larger national role. His definition of secularism if far from the dictionary meaning of the term. The Constitution’s definition of secularism too is at variance with what Modi thinks is the meaning of the term. As a matter of fact, his new definition of secularism is absurd and nothing do with the concept and real meaning of the term. His redefinition of secularism is aimed at appealing to a pan Indian audience and nothing else.

Modi’s articulation of his neo-secular agenda, which helps focus on his style of governance and what has come to be known as Gujarat model of development is not, for the first time, that the Gujarat leader has redefined a term. ‘Neo-middle class’ was coined by him and found its way into the party’s manifesto ahead of the Gujarat Assembly election last year.

Modi’s much praised Gujarat model of development has many flaws—including a growing disparity between the rich and the poor, and one of the lowest nutritional indices in the country.

‘Neo Middle Class will be identified and welfare schemes be worked out for them’, the BJP’s commitment charter has said. Later, in his victory speech, Modi referred to this upwardly mobile section of the society and their growing aspirations among whom he is hugely popular. ‘Over the last decade, Gujarat has witnessed the rise of middle class. The improvement in their lives is result of their hard work’, Modi said, adding ‘this is the real Gujarat spirit, one which has stood the test of time. The government’s economic policies have enabled them to taste the fruits of development and scale new heights of prosperity. It becomes our duty to continue to take care for the well being of this new segment in Gujarat’s society.’

In address to overseas friends of the BJP, Modi spoke of Bharat Prem and Bharat Bhakti and how this must remain and increase over the years. During his hour-long address, he spoke of faith Gujarat’s development, Vivekananda, greeted people on Mahashivratri but did not forget to have swipe at the Manmohan government. Heaping praise on Atal Behari Vajpayee, he said after nuclear tests in 1998 when Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, the faith of Indians both in India and across the world was further renewed. But, he added, that while it was, as if, India was set to arrive at a leading position at the global stage, nothing of the sort happened in last six-seven years.

For the record Modi conceded that there have been many lapses in his governance, but he touted development as the panacea for all ailments. According to him, there may be delays and problems on the way but that does not take away the fact that development is solution to all problems. (IPA)
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