As India celebrates the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, the dark shadow of the rising specter of communalism looms. This is a matter of concern as it poses an imminent threat to Indian nationality.
In fact, the secular ideal is not alien, but an integral part of the national heritage, dating from the times of Ashoka and Akbar and in our time of Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
Secularism is not the rejection of religion, but the separation of religion from politics.
Ever since the days of independence, the far-right have been ringing their ears with their anti-minority agenda. Article 370 Repeal, Unified Civil Code, Cow Protection, Minority Commission versus Human Rights Commission. This list is exemplary and not complete.
Style attacks after Goebbels
In the 1990s, BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee, in his typical Goebble style, attacked the secular ideal and called for a debate on secularism. His whole effort was to reject secularism.
Referring to the founding fathers of the Indian constitution, Vajpayee stated that they would keep the term secularism out of the constitution. He then accused Indira Gandhi of secretly sneaking the term secular into the preamble of the constitution, which he claimed was beyond the amend’s reach. And she did that, too, during the state of emergency, when people didn’t have the right to express their personal opinions, he suspected.
First, although secularism was not originally mentioned, it did not alter the character of the constitution. It did not make India a theocratic state.
In fact, secularism permeates the constitution with Article 15 and Articles 25 through 30, all of which deal with minority rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
In the light of the constitutional rule, any appeasement talk by right-wing extremists is a duck they deliberately disseminate, designed to undermine the constitutionally guaranteed rights of minorities.
Secularism was introduced into the preamble of the Constitution in 1976 by the 42nd Amendment. It was not inserted “surreptitiously” as Vajpayee and his ilk believe. A lot of thought and practice went into the move.
Although the term was not mentioned, it was implicit in the various provisions. The 42nd Amendment to the Constitution only crystallized what was implied and implicit in the Constitution.
The AICC set up the Sardar Swaran Singh Committee, which presented a detailed report. While fundamental rights are enforceable, fundamental duties have been incorporated into the guiding principles of state policy, which are not enforceable in court.
Based on the report of the Committee of Sardar Swaran Singh, the Constitution Amendment Act 42 was introduced in Parliament. It was a constitutional amendment law, debated in Parliament and passed by a two-thirds majority and ratified by a majority of state assemblies, as procedure dictates.
The preamble is an integral part of the constitution and is not outside of the constitution as Vajpayee claims that the preamble of the constitution cannot be changed.
In a parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster model, there is the so-called Supremacy of Parliament, whose rights to amend are unrestricted. Several jurists rejected the fallacious theory of the constitution’s basic structure. Because the right to change fundamental rights in the case of bank nationalization in 1969 was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Parliament’s right to amend the Constitution is unlimited and cannot be restricted, which is within the constitutional scope of Article 368. For example, the 25th Amendment to the Constitution permitted the government of India to acquire private property for public use in return for payment of the indemnity that would be determined by Parliament. By the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, Article 31(C) replaced compensation with the term amount.
In addition, the Constitution embraced democracy, which can only exist and flourish where equality prevails. When sections of the population are treated unequally, democracy weakens. The true test of democracy is not so much how governments are formed as how minorities are treated, which is the barometer of equality in society.
Vajpayee’s theories fall far short of being reasonable or logical.
More than 50 years ago, Indira Gandhi warned the nation about the violent potential of right-wing forces. She was prophetic when she declared that as communalism grows there will be a corresponding increase in violence. Vigilante justice, morality police, hate speech and mob lynching are a case in point.
On May 14, 1970, Indira Gandhi intervened in a discussion in the Lok Sabha on the communal situation, saying: “As communalism grows, there will be more violence. There is a general belief that only Naxaltes and other extremists believe in the path of violence. But there are also other parties that are considered right-wing parties that also believe in violence and make no secret of it. We need to fight that violence too, whether it’s violence in thought or violence in action.”
Mahatma Gandhi’s horrific assassination on January 30, 1948, the destruction of the Rath Yatra and Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, and the ongoing mob lynchings after 2014 are grim reminders of right-wing violence.
The Klu Klux Klan is a lasting example of right-wing violence. Right-wing extremism gives rise to a vigilantism that thrives on violence. Targeted killings and mob lynching are cruel and grotesque forms of extremism. It poses a direct challenge to the electoral processes and the majesty of the rule of law.
Two Nations Theory
Indira Gandhi is the only person responsible for the liberation of Bangladesh. Soon after, Indira Gandhi declared: “The emergence of sovereign secular Bangladesh has proved conclusively the falsity of the theory that religion can be a reason for a separate nation. This theory has done great damage to our subcontinent and prevented the rational solution of the social and economic problems of people in other regions.
The two-nation theory has been discredited but not eradicated. There are still parties and individuals who mix religion with politics, exploiting Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and other narrow loyalties for partisan and personal ends. The security of our nation requires that we fight these forces with all our might.”
The founding of Bangladesh is a shining example of the inherent falsity of the two-nation theory; although there are still parties that subscribe to it.
Secularism Native Concept
The problem with communal forces is that they see secularism as a concept borrowed from the West. This is because they are unfamiliar with their own national history and tradition.
Ashoka was a Buddhist but he never imposed his religion on the people, the majority of whom were Hindus. Akbar was a devout Muslim, but he never imposed his religion on the people, the majority of whom were Hindus.
Muslim rule in India lasted nearly 1,000 years, but the Muslim population does not exceed 12 percent.
The British were Christians and ruled India for 200 years, but they never imposed their religion on the people, the majority of whom were Hindus.
But creating minority fears in the majority community is the right-wing forces’ tool to achieve their petty party goals.
home of all religions
India is home to all of the world’s major religions: Hindu, Islam, Christian, Judaism, Parsi, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh. All religions took root in India centuries ago. Perhaps this is the Indian nation’s most unique and unrivaled trait.
Now the Indian tradition is one of assimilation and acceptance and not one of exclusiveness and rejection. The Indian approach to the secular ideal is one of sarva dharma sama-bhaav or equal respect for all religions and not the supremacy of one religion over other religions.
There is a rising tide of intolerance sweeping across the country. In fact, secularism is under attack like never before.
Not that this is an overnight development. The advantage used to be the presence of larger than life leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi who repelled the challenge of the communal forces. The middle class formed the bulwark in the struggle against communalism.
During the freedom struggle, the middle class espoused the cause of secularism, rejecting the communalism advocated by the RSS on the one hand and the Muslim League on the other.
Today, people, especially the middle class, are losing enthusiasm for the liberal democratic values that underpin the secular ideal. Bigotry has overwhelmed the middle class, who see no particular virtue in secularism, which is more of a way of life.
How have communal forces gained strength? When such common ideas were expressed by individuals, groups and parties, the tendency was to consider it unimportant to dispute or oppose such ideas, thinking that it did not really matter, and to compromise for the time being. And now it’s out of control.
Little lonely sin
In her inaugural speech at the Institute for Democracy and Socialism in New Delhi on May 21, 1970, Indira Gandhi quoted a verse she said she had read in school.
“Who is knocking? A little lonely sin.
Come in, I said, and all hell broke loose!”
Indira Gandhi said: “This is how things begin. They start off small and you’re like, ‘Well, we can tolerate that.’ This fight isn’t big enough and before you know what it is, it’s so big it’s almost impossible to fight. Thus some of the communal forces in India have gained strength. And let’s not make a mistake. They are not only communal in the sense of belonging to one religion and being anti-religious or anti-group. They are backward in every possible way – social, economic, political and every other way. That is a great danger.”
Indira Gandhi added: “They represent everything backwards in the country. And why is it so dangerous? Because that is an aspect that the country finds difficult to accept. We are a country rich in tradition. Can we really be forward-looking if we don’t sweep away some of the tradition that isn’t relevant to life today?”
tolerance not enough
In a democracy it is not enough to have tolerance. Tolerance has a negative connotation of tolerating something uncomfortable. What is required is compassion and understanding.
The right’s rejection of the secular ideal is a complete antithesis not only to the constitution and established law, but also to the core cultural and civilizing values of India.
(The views expressed by the author are personal and do not reflect the views of the organization.)