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Debating Secularism in a Communalized Society
07/13/2014
By Ram Puniyani


In the aftermath of the recent elections Congress, Communist parties, Samajvadi and Lalu’s RJD, which can be called secular in some sense; bit the dust. In the review of defeat the major opposition party Congress, which has been in power for maximum number of years, one major opinion from its top leader A.K. Antony came forth to say that the secularism practiced by Congress was seen more as an appeasement of minorities (read Muslims) and so the large sections turned against it emasculating it to a mere 19% votes with 44 seats in Lok Sabha. In a free for all; different opinions on secularism, and failure of Congress are coming forth.

BJP with glee and confident assertion came to claim that it has the correct opinion of secularism, "We (BJP) have always said secularism should mean justice for all, appeasement of none, discrimination against none” Ironically this assertion, which negates the very concept of a democratic and secular society, has come to be perceived by many as ‘the secularism’. Many a commentators opined that Modi could demonstrate the hypocrisy of secularism and went on to take the cake of power. Sometimes victory can be taken as the proof of correctness!

In Indian scenario, secularism has been a much debated word, more so after Independence. At the time of Independence critics went on to say that state is not curbing religious practices in official places and called it an erosion of secularism. What we see today in most public places, the pantheon of Hindu deities adorning the Government offices and vehicles, and is passé’ was criticized by many earlier. Hindu practices like Bhumi Pujan (worshipping land) before construction of Government buildings became part of ‘normal practice’. Sarswati Puja, Surya Namaskar in some Government outfits by now is becoming a matter of routine. When Nehru was asked by Andre Malraux about such religious practices going around, Nehru did confess that we have a secular constitution but the society is in the grip of religiosity. Today a Prime Minister-elect performing a Ganga Aarti is part of the official menu and the tables are turned on those who question such practice of secularism by state and party.

As such the beginning of secular values and practices has been very different in India. While the Kingdoms and feudal lords were ruling in close alliance with religious clergy, the process of secularization in India began with the coming of industrialization and modern education during the British period. With the rise of newer classes, the industrialists, workers and modern educated classes, the concept of India, ‘India as a nation in the making’ started coming up. The kings and feudal lords, who were later joined in by a section of elite upper caste/educated section of society came up with communal outfits, Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS. While the rising classes were all inclusive, incorporating people of all religions, the latter declining sections-communal formations were restricted to Muslims or Hindu elite respectively. The triangle of British policy of divide and rule on one hand and Muslim and Hindu communalists on the other led to the formation of Pakistan in the name of Islam and ‘India that is Bharat’ on the basis of plural, secular values. While Pakistan went through a painfully long trajectory where after the demise of Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah, a leader with secular soul in the communal body of Muslim League, led to the blunt and assertive upsurge of communalism, Islamic Fundamentalism, dominated by Mullahs and Military in the driving seat. It went through different ups and downs; its situation worsened by the US intervention which went on strengthening the communal elements there. Lately the secular elements in Pakistan are trying to come up from the stranglehold of the domination of Islamic fundamentalism.

In India the trajectory had been very different. After Independence the communal outfit Hindu Mahasabha soon went into oblivion; while the progenitor of Hindu nationalism, RSS went on to float different organizations to achieve its goal of Hindu Rashtra. Initially it helped to form Bhartiya Jansangh with elements drawn from Hindu Mahasabha, later RSS was in total command and though it was not in the forefront in electoral arena, it kept spreading ‘adverse common sense’ against Muslims in the beginning and later against Christians. The communal version of history was made popular, ‘Muslims are more loyal to Pakistan’, and the atrocities of Muslim kings became the cannon fodder of painting the negative image of today’s Muslim minority.