Millennium Post

Religion and Religiosity

The heightening spectre of a Narendra Modi being fielded by the BJP as a prime ministerial candidate has the potential to confront the Indian voting class with a rather stark choice: it could be called upon to select between ‘secular,’ as enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution of the country; and ‘economic development and growth’ that could be considered a right under the same Constitution.

But there are problems with the definitions of these words and phrases. And Narendra Modi resides in the fault-lines of these definitions, much like the Congress Party, whose yesteryear leaders mostly wrote the statutes.

Let’s take a closer look at ‘secularism’ first, as a marker for contemporary Indian history. A dog-eared copy of the second volume of The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, the 1959 edition (bought in 1963), defines ‘secularism’ as ‘The doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well-being of mankind in the present life, to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from belief in God or in a future state.’ The ‘future state,’ arguably means a ‘future state of being.’  

In addition to that, the Preamble’s (the organising principle of the Indian state) ‘secular’ has been defined by Oxford dictionary as, ‘Belonging to the world and its affairs as distinct from the Church (and
or masjid, in India’s case) and religion; civil, lay and temporal.’ The dictionary further adds that the word denotes, ‘Chiefly as a negative term with the meaning non-ecclesiastical, non-religious or non-sacred.’

Clearly, this should have been the end of debate on whether the Indian state should indeed be ‘secular’ with the government/s of the day being blind to any religious denomination. But that is not case. For, the same Constitution-makers have put in the Article 25-28, which allows to the profession of a ‘Right of Religion.’

Effectively, this contradictory nature of the Indian state has by default become the underpinning of ‘soft Hindutva’ and ‘appeasement of Muslim religionists’ of the Congress Party. Unfortunately, thus Modi/BJP’s politics of hard Hindutva that considers only the ‘tolerance’ of Muslims as a part of the Indian civilisational society, also becomes a player in the political firmament because of this nomenclature.

In the same vein, the Congress Party’s transformation from the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution that added the word and concept of ‘Socialism’ to the Preamble; to a 1980s new Congress Party policies of import relaxations on consumer durables and non-durables and its eventual culmination to Manmohanomics was a discursive process. This is where ‘economic development and growth’ emerged as a fundamentalist principle.

In other words, the economic growth that was needed in this backward, pre-modern country was made a non-negotiable altar, where human liberties that were enshrined again in the same Constitution was to be sacrificed. This too, is Narendra Modi’s potential gift to the country, if he is to be elected as the prime minister of the country.

What does this entail? What has been the record of the Congress Party’s economic and social policies undertaken for the country since 1980 to 2011 – with the exception of about a decade of non-Congress governments that did not cause any ripples in the developmental pattern?

The UN’s Human Development Report (HDR) shows that India has risen from a rank of the 135th state before 1980 to 134. The Gini co-efficient of measuring inequality has stood at 36.8 points, moving one solitary position from the same 135, to 134.

Let’s take a look at Gujarat, as a kind of a pre-cursor of what could the country expect from the
Hriday Samrat
aka Narendra Modi.

The National Council of Applied Economic Research’s (NCAER) state-level HDR of 2010 shows that Gujarat was placed on the same median income from salaries that have stood at the lowest end of a rising graph, where giving it company was, interestingly, West Bengal.    

Though the poverty data of the country is highly contested with the Manmohan Singh government unable to decide how much of the population is actually poor despite ruling for almost a decade, the NCAER study shows that if the national level of poverty in per centage terms is about 26 per cent, Gujarat’s record is lesser than half or 13.9 per cent people below the poverty line. But let’s get back to Gini.

In terms of inequality, Gujarat is at the same level as that of Karnataka, another BJP ruled state with the index nudging the 0.55 or about half as unequal in rising indices. As already mentioned above, the national average shows more inequality. So when compared to Manmohan Singh and the Congress Party, BJP’s Narendra Modi is not exactly wildly successful as Ratan Tata or Mukesh Ambani would have us believe. Finally, what can we thus aver: Do we continue with a faulty secularism and faulty socialism as this Constitution has given rise to? Or do we shun both the political parties that have deepened these fallacies and thus seek a logical transition to a phase when we turn a new leaf by repealing the state’s guarantee of religion and religiosity?

The author is a senior journalist
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