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HVK Archives: The Dynasty - Book Extract - Part 1 of 3 - Nehru

The Dynasty - Book Extract - Part 1 of 3 - Nehru - The Asian Age

S S Gill ()
10 December 1996

Title : The Dynasty - Book Extract - Part 1 of 3 - Nehru
Author : S S Gill
Publication : The Asian Age
Date : December 10, 1996

Secularism as a credo was formulated and propagated by
leaders of the national movement. But for the lead given
by Gandhi and Nehru, India might have gone the Pakistan
way. Yet, within the Congress organisation, and even at
senior levels, there were persons with strong communal
bias. "Many a Congress man was a communalist under his
national cloak," said Nehru.

Nehru was firmly opposed to any official association with
the restoration of the Somnath temple. Yet, Dr Rajendra
Prasad, the then President of India, accepted the invita-
tion to inaugurate it against Nehru's advice.

In the selection of candidates for election and appoint-
ment of ministers, the Congress invariably took, the
religious factor into account. Even a leader of the
calibre of Maulana Azad was shifted from the Burdwan
Hindu-majority constituency in West Bengal to Rampur in
Uttar Pradesh where the Nawab's writ still ran. After
the dismissal of the communist ministry in Kerala in
1959, the Congress made an alliance.,with the Muslim
League to form the successor government. There could not
be a more demeaning trade-off between secularism and

Nehru was against any truck with communal organisations
on principle. He even opposed Gandhi's meeting with
Jinnah in 1937. Yet ".......too many times Nehru fell
prey to the strategy of dealing with the communal problem
through top-level negotiations with the Muslim communal
leaders. This he did in 1938-9, 1941-2 and 1946-7. And by
doing so, he... accorded Jinnah and other communal lead-
ers the much-needed respectability and the status they
desired of being the spokespersons of Muslims.

Secularisation is "the process in modern societies in
which religious ideas and organisations tend to lose
influence when faced with science and other modem forms
of knowledge." Except for the recent, half-baked moderni-
sation of Indian society, most of the factors which
contributed to the secular ideal in the West were missing
in India. There was no doubt a lot of talk about secu-
larism during the freedom movement. But its two greatest
proponents, Gandhi and Nehru used the term in different
contexts. For Nehru keeping religion out of politics
became an article of faith after the politicisation of
religion had led to India's partition. For Gandhi reli-
gion was integral to it.

Though the word secularism does not find a place in the
original Constitution adopted in 1950, its entire scheme
envisages a secular polity. Nowhere has the state any-
thing to do-with religious or educational institutions,
nor are religious qualifications prescribed for holding
public office or enjoyment of civil rights. Individual
freedoms and fundamental rights are not subjected to any
religious tests.

But can constitutional provisions or even Herculean
endeavours of a great national leader erase traditions
nurtured over thousands of years of social history? Once

it is conceded that India is a deeply religious country,
there are certain consequences that flow from it. In a
religious society, religion is riot "what an individual
does with his privacy." It gives identity to its follow-
ers. It perform vital social functions. It shapes one's
world view-both spiritual and temporal. In such a situa-
tion who can religion be kept out of politics? Both
occupy a lot of common space.

The Muslim stand on this issue is clear. Islam pervades
not only the spiritual realm of its followers, it is an
entire way of life, and permeates every facet of human
activity. It is also a fact that the Koran, along with
Hadith and Sunna, contain specific injunctions on con-
cerns of daily life and conduct of human affairs. Any
deviation from these injunctions is apostasy. The state,
thus, becomes only an agent for faithfully enforcing the
Koranic mandate. Here, since politics is subsumed by
religion, how do you keep them apart?

Sikhism was born in response to a grave political crisis.
Two of its Gurus, Arjun Das and Tegh Bahadur, sacrificed
their lives while defending the basic political rights of
the Hindus. Guru Gobind Singh waged a lifelong battle
against the religion-political tyranny,of the state. Even
subsequently, the Sikhs had to continuously fight the
Muslim rulers for their survival. No wonder, then, that
the historical experience of the Sikhs is suffused with
political turmoil. The politics of the Sikhs has been
dominated by the Akali Dal, which is the custodian of
both their religious affairs and political interests.

In contrast to Islam and Sikhism, Hinduism evolved over
thousands of years in an environment of relative peace,
tranquillity and contemplation. Lacking a central ortho-
doxy and a mandate to spread its message, it remained
free from bigotry and proselytising fervor. Its plurali-
ty and openness helped keep its secular concerns free
from religious bias.

But is that really so? The Hindu caste system is one of
the most enduring social institutions created by man. It
derives its sanction from the scriptures, but it serves
secular ends. In fact, the social universe of the Hindus
is deeply mediated by religion. But the secular and the
religious strands have been so finely interwoven that it
is impossible to tell them apart. Its most telling illus-
tration is the use that Tilak, Gandhi, and several other
Hindu Congress leaders made of the imagery and idiom of
Hinduism in their political strategies. This came to them
instinctively, and it helped in establishing an immediate
rapport with the bulk of the Indian masses for whom Hindu
symbols and metaphors were woven into the fabric of their
socio-religious consciousness. Gandhi's Ram Rajya,
though secular in content, was religious in inspiration.

In the Indian communal matrix, Hinduism, Islam and Sikh-
ism are the three significant religions, and in all of
them religion and politics are closely inter-meshed.
Nehru pointed out that "Minorities in India ... are not
racial or national minorities as in Europe; they are
religious minorities."18 In other words it is religion
which defines their identity and not ethnic, linguistic
or regional factors. In opposition to this phenomenon he
repeatedly pointed out: "In what way are the interests of
the Muslim peasant different from those of the Hindu

peasant? Or those of a Muslim labourer or artisan or
merchant or landlord or manufacturer different from those
of his Hindu prototype?"

Good logic, and very progressive indeed. But this is not
how the workers and landlords of the two communities
perceived their situation. Class identity in India has
proved a weak cementing force. It is true that mostly the
poor from both the communities get killed in communal
riots. But the Hindu poor burn the shops of Muslim mer-
chants only and the Muslim labourers kill only Hindu
mill-managers. Ascribe it to false consciousness or what
have you, but it is much stronger than the true class

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