Sunday 13 April 2014

India’s Nehruvian secularism is a one-way street (Sunday Guardian)



Mukhtar Ansari
t would appear to be obvious that secularism denotes the neutrality of the state as between the practitioners of different faiths. A secular country is where people belonging to different faiths get treated the same, as do their institutions of worship and other aspects of their existence. Contrast this with the form of "secularism" introduced into India by Jawaharlal Nehru after the demise of both Mahatma Gandhi as well as Vallabhbhai Patel. According to this definition, one which will not be found in any dictionary, "secularism" has been defined as a one-way street, where vastly different standards get adopted while dealing with different communities. This has come into relief once again, after Mukhtar Ansari announced his retirement from the electoral fray in Varanasi, in order ( so his admirers claim), "to strengthen secular forces", a claim that has been uncritically accepted and recycled by the media. Now, Ansari has never been bashful of the fact that he confines his appeal and his exhortations to a single community, his own. Nowhere is there even the hint of the multi-religious mosaic that is the mark of genuine secularism. However, because Ansari is not from the "majority community", his narrow appeal is greeted with acceptance and even acclaim by those dedicated to upholding what may be termed Nehruvian secularism.
If Jawaharlal Nehru followed a religion in practice, he kept that a secret not communicated to the general public. Such an individual ought to have ensured that the state whose government he headed for 17 years adopted a genuine policy of secularism, by acting in a neutral manner between people of different faiths and ensuring that the institutions of each were given the same treatment meted out to any of the others. However, this was not the case. So spooked does Nehru appear to have been about the catastrophe of Partition that he apparently decided that the way to prevent a second 1947-style vivisection of India, on the basis of religion, was to separate what got termed the "minorities" (or, in other words, non-Hindus) from the "majority" i.e. Hindus. Nehru further saw to it that the "minority" were given rights denied to the "majority", in the form of exceptions to issues such as "personal law".
Very recently, the Right to Education (RTE) bill passed by Parliament with the support of the BJP exempted those schools run by the "minority community" from its social inclusion provisions. Assuming that the legislation would help in the process of giving the socially and economically disadvantaged greater opportunity for pursuing a first-class education, why make it impossible for members of the "minority communities" to contribute towards this noble objective? Is it the assumption of the Congress Party, the BJP and the many other parties that voted in favour of the RTE that educators from the minority communities would be unwilling to shoulder their share of the burdens involved in giving a fairer chance to the poor in the field of school education? Why cast doubt on the desire of the minorities for the promotion of socially desirable causes, by refusing to allow them to participate in RTE?
Or take the example of places of worship. Atal Behari Vajpayee's adherence to Nehruvian ideology has been recognised by the Congress Party in its recent praise of his record as PM, encomiums that were somehow neglected to be paid during the six years that he was in that office. Perhaps because his ally, the TDP's Chandrababu Naidu, was unwilling to surrender control of Tirupati and other devasthanams, Vajpayee refused to free Hindu temples from state control, so as to give them equality of status with churches, gurudwaras and masjids. However, such discrimination is in perfect accordance with Nehruvian secularism, which has made India the only democracy where the majority community is subject to restrictions and to edicts in the manner that the minority communities suffer from in some other nations, such as Pakistan. If Mukhtar Ansari can be — and is by the media and his political allies — termed as a "secular" person, it needs to be reiterated that such a usage of the term results in its getting drained of all logic and meaning.
In Kerala, the Congress Party is in alliance with two parties that have, with refreshing candour, made no secret of the fact that their interest encompasses only a single community, Christians in the case of the Kerala Congress and Muslims in the case of the Muslim League, which is an offshoot of the same party once headed by M.A. Jinnah. It is because the people of India are getting a wee bit more sceptical of their politicians, and a bit more respectful towards dictionaries, that a reaction is setting in to the anti-secular logic of Nehruvian secularism. Nehru was, and not for the first time in his long career in public life, wrong. It is his policy of creating an artificial wall between the "majority" and the "minority", and the introduction of differential rights and duties for the two that creates the impetus for a second partition. What is needed in India is secularism where each faith is subject to the same rules as the rest. To claim otherwise is to be untrue to the idea of India as a united country.

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