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In search of the truly secular - The Telegraph

M. A. Hussain ()
June 30, 1998

Title: In search of the truly secular
Author: M. A. Hussain
Publication: The Telegraph
Date: June 30, 1998

The Bharatiya Janata Party's coming to power has spelt political
defeat for the ideology of pseudo-secularism. Though nothing
positive has emerged in its stead, it nevertheless has the
potential to usher in genuine secularism and give rise to new
political polarizations in the country.

Secularism as a concept implies a pluralistic and non-
hegemonistic society and the right of the individual to manage
his affairs without any "divine intervention". Religion is
neither used as an instrument of governance nor allowed to draw
nourishment from the state.

In India, secularism has never been pursued as state policy. If
Indians are still tolerant, it is not because the Constitution
has declared India a secular state. It is because of millions of
uneducated Indians (including those who vote for the BJP) who do
not know the lexical meaning of secularism. It is because the
tradition of tolerance is alive in them. This, in spite of
historical wrongs, cultural subjugation and aberrations like the
Partition or communal riots and terrorism. There may be
conservative Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, but they are secular
minded and humane, qualities virtually non-existent among
educated Indians.

Over the past 50 years, pampering the clergy, use of religion in
electoral politics and communal riots have strengthened the
communal and fundamentalist forces in the country. In Pakistan,
the intelligentsia is seeking to check the growth of madrasahs
and prevent them from turning into bastions of sectarian

Thought police

India cannot become truly secular until knowledge, art, culture,
society and politics are secularized, and there is unlimited
access to rational and scientific thought. Unless freedom of
expression is granted to anti-religious and aesthetic ideas and
the practice of banning books to appease this or that community
is stopped, a truly tolerant India is an impossibility If the so
called secularists of India were truly secular, religion would
not have played such a crucial role, and they would have paid
special attention to urbanization, dismantling of the feudal
power structures of rural India, land reforms and so on.

There is no political outfit in the country - left or right -
which is not either casteist or communal in some respect. In the
name of religious freedom, religious institutions have been given
full functions autonomy, plus tax benefits and other incentives.
As long as these are free to spread hatred against other
communities and indulge in conversion, India cannot be secular.

Pseudo-secularism - which is a nexus between liberal Hindus, the
madrasah elite, mullahs and Sikh communalists - has made the
distinction between rightwing and leftwing politics in India
completely irrelevant. Communalists forming a political coalition
under the banner of secularism has its historical origin from the
pre-Partition days.

Power failure

Within a community, political power trickles down in accordance
to class, sex, sect and caste. This is why a uniform civil code
needs to be adopted in India. Pseudo-secularists forget that
Muslims alone are not a minority in India, there are other
racial, linguistic, regional and caste based minorities too.
Pseudo-secularism is a poison for minorities and pseudo-
secularists, including the power elite among minorities, are
their real enemies.

A Hindu rashtra does not necessarily mean a theocratic or
fundamentalist state in the sense Nezam-e-Mustafa, the Islamic
state, is one. This is primarily because the Hindu social
formation is apolitical, whereas-the Muslim community is
essentially political. On the other hand, the urban and political
Hinduism of the sangh parivar seems to be influenced by a mindset
typical of Semitic traditions.

A group of intellectuals, media-persons and politicians are busy
creating fear of the BJP in the minds of minorities, scaring them
with the ghost of communalism which can be exorcized only by
"secular priests" like themselves. The only problem with the BJP
is that its philosophy of one nation, one language, one religion
and one leadership is controlled by a "cultural" outfit which is
neither responsible to the electorate nor answerable to
Parliament. Muslim Indians, however, have nothing to fear. India
is their homeland.

Finally, it is up to the Hindu majority to decide which version
of India they want to adopt in their nation building: M.K.
Gandhi's or that of the sangh parivar?

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