Millennium Post

Secularism that divides

India must not remain captive to political exploitation of the concept of secularism

The President of the United States, on a much-hyped state visit to India, was paying tributes to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat on February 25, 2020. Just a few kilometres away, rioters were playing havoc with what was the "India of my dreams" envisioned by the Mahatma. The mayhem continued for three days. The system of governance was found grossly inadequate to control it. Some media-savvy secular voices were concerned, not for values and principles being tarnished, not for uncivilised rampages, not for the pain, violence and death being inflicted on fellow human beings but only on one count, that it should not be seen as a Hindu–Muslim conflict. Every time such a ghastly conflict erupts, these civil-society-seculars rush to occupy media space and that is the end of their role! It is high time that this hypocrisy must end. Be realistic, accept that there is a Hindu-Muslim divide exists and it is a national challenge to bridge the gap. It has to be handled through short term initiatives and also by long term strategies.

Divide and distrust are nurtured and nourished by certain well-known political parties and vested elements. It is indeed amazing that most of them declare themselves as the only heirs and inheritors of the Gandhian legacy and flag bearers of secularism in India. They have long forgotten the Gandhian Jantar that whatever you do, think of the last man in the line. For them, democracy means votes, winning elections and then plundering not only the public funds but also unashamedly tarnishing the very basics of democratic governance.

How crooked and shameless is the shape of political manoeuvres even on such tragic occasions is evident to one and all. Shaheen Bagh has caused irreparable damage to the existing trust deficit between the two communities. It was — and is — a well- planned strategy of revival by certain elements. Millions have suffered because of it for over two months for no fault of theirs. No one would buy the idea that the protest was peaceful and unorganised. It would be a state of complete anarchy if any protesting group could occupy public space for months together. It certainly is not a 'Satyagraha'; it is an arrogant display of defiance of the very authority of the State, by anti-social elements who are supported by selfish political proponents. No one appears concerned about justice to the common man. Mahatma Gandhi was very clear about it; "By Ramarajya, I do not mean Hindu Raj. For me, Ram and Rahim are one and the same deity. The ancient ideal of Ramarajya is one of true democracy in which the meanest citizen could be sure of swift justice." The manner most of our politicians trample on these basics enunciated by Gandhi is well-known. The latest example is that the sanction issued by the Delhi State Government that prosecution may go ahead in the sedition case filed against certain members of the 'Tukde-Tukde' gang that soiled the reputation to JNU. It took only 445 days for the Government to take a decision.

Is this the swift justice of the Mahatma's vision? See the contrast, the Delhi Chief Minister visited Rajghat to seek the blessings of the Mahatma to restore peace in Delhi after the burning of schools, killings and lootings and loss of over 46 lives. You take over a year and a half to clear a file that could lead to the delivery of justice to both sides and yet, at the same time, you seek the blessings of Gandhi for whom "Ramarajya of my dream ensures equal rights alike of prince and pauper." How many of our politicians have such an appreciation of justice and its urgency?

It is indeed a sad state of affairs that the political hypocrisy is no longer confined to certain well-known regional, communal and caste-based political parties. It has overtaken even those who continuously claim from rooftops that they alone brought independence to India; that they alone are authorised to talk about Gandhi and his legacy. They proudly claim to have introduced the term 'secular' in the Preamble of the Constitution of India in 1976!

It is another matter that the freedom fighters of India who sat on the Constituent Assembly, did not find it conducive or necessary to put the term 'Secular' anywhere in the Constitution. For them, it was a given in Indian tradition. It was a great tradition of acceptance — and not of tolerance — that India could be proud of. The ancient Indian culture accepted the right of everyone to practice his own faith and it accepted that there could be various paths of reaching the 'Ultimate Truth'. It was only on this sound and broad-hearted tradition that Indic religions and Abrahamic faiths could live in cohesion and mutual trust in India. It was based on social, ethical and moral considerations; it was an outcome of dialogues and deliberations that acknowledged the existence of different paths to god.

Unscrupulous interests, however, had their own ideas about misusing the concept of secularism, they were keen to turn it into a political weapon. For them, secularism was the surest way to separate Hindus and Muslims! Because of such narrow political consideration, secularism became an instrument of offering false hopes to the Muslims of India. It simultaneously created apprehensions on minority appeasement and that increased the mutual trust deficit. It must be recalled that the insertion of this term 'Secular' in the Preamble of the Constitution was accepted by the then Parliament — often referred to as the only captive Parliament — that had approved the imposition of Emergency post-facto! India needs a revival of its secular tradition. It must not become captive to the political exploitation of secularism. India must return to the dialogical tradition with non-political scholars and knowledge-leaders stepping in and letting the people of India realise the urgency of restoring the spirit of social cohesion and religious amity. India cannot depend only on politicians for such a covetous goal.

The writer works in education and social cohesion. Views expressed are strictly personal

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