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The Ayatollahs of secularism – Part 1 of 2

Author: Minhaz Merchant
Publication: The Times of India
Date: August 1, 2012
URL: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/headon/entry/the-ayatollahs-of-secularism-part-1

Indira Gandhi introduced the term secularism in the preamble to the Constitution with the 42nd Constitution Amendment Act, 1976, during the draconian Emergency.

Twenty-six years earlier, in 1950, the framers of our Constitution, led by Babasaheb Ambedkar, had not felt it necessary to include the word – despite the recent horrors of communal riots following Partition.

Ever since, the Congress has used secularism and socialism (a term also introduced into the Constitution by Mrs. Gandhi during the Emergency) to define itself as the party of the aam admi. 

So how has the aam admi fared in over 53 years of Congress governments, 36 of them under Indira and Rajiv Gandhi and their appointed CEO-Prime Ministers, P.V.Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh?

Badly. Poverty remains endemic. India is placed 134th on the Human Development Index (HDI). Over 14,000 farmers across India commited suicide in 2011. Malnutrition persists. The Naandi Foundation released a report in January this year – at the hands of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – on widespread child malnutrition (http://www.naandi.org/)

In an edit page piece in The Economic Times (Rich MPs, Poor Voters), I wrote how, even as children and farmers die, politicians have become ever-wealthier. 

Who is to blame? Obviously, the Congress. It has run India for roughly 81% of independent India’s history. The Opposition, especially in the states, must share some responsibility for the Congress’ failure. But make no mistake: the responsibility for the poverty and malnutrition India suffers from 65 years after independence lies squarely at the doorstep of the Congress.

It has misused the term socialism to enshrine poverty, not eradicate it. The poorer the voter, the easier it is to win his vote without bothering about real development issues.

The second Emergency-origin term the Congress has misused is secularism. The word for “secular” in Hindi is panthnirpeksha. In 1977, when Mrs. Gandhi’s government was voted out soon after the Emergency was revoked, the new Janata Party government introduced a Constitutional Amendment Bill. The word “secular” was sought to be defined in the Constitution as “equal respect for all religions”.

The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha where the Janata Party held a majority. But it was defeated in the Rajya Sabha where the Congress had a majority. Why did the Congress reject 35 years ago the 1977-79 Lok Sabha’s definition of secularism – “equal respect for all religions”?

Consider now what UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi said during a lecture at the Nexus Institute in the Hague on June 9, 2007: “India is a secular country. The term means equal respect for all religions.”

How does Sonia’s definition of secularism differ from Narendra Modi’s? Who is really more secular? Modi? Or Sonia? Or Nitish, Digvijay, Lalu, Paswan, Mulayam, Karunanidhi, Omar Abdullah and Owaisi?
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