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Secular is as secular does

Secular is as secular does

Author: Sumer Kaul
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 16, 2002

Much has been written and spoken about the Godhra- Gujarat massacres. But words can never fully convey the anguish that every Indian must feel at the sight of man killing man, mobs killing fellow humans and fellow-citizens.

When I say every Indian, I mean everyone with a heart unsullied by religious zealotry or politically motivated collateral calculations. And in this mass of men and women of conscience, I do not include the fashionable bleeding hearts in the media, and their soulmates in the metro seminar-and-cocktail circuit who have, as always, bled the heaviest in their brand- blinkered views of what happened and why, and what ought to be done-the last so superficially encapsulated in the cry "Sack Narendra Modi".
It is immaterial whether these sections inspired or simply reflected the demand for Modi's head by a whole range of political parties, including some NDA cohabitationists of the BJP, who have in the process disrupted Parliament for days together and thus let huge sums of public money go down the drain. But the view underlying the demand that sacking the Chief Minister will instantly bring peace and harmony in Gujarat is arrant nonsense.

I don't care for Mr Modi's fate or, for that matter, the fate of any politician. They are all twigs of the same rotting political oak. Unfortunately, one can't wish it away or ignore it, for it is the politicians who preside over, shape, spoil or simply toy with the destiny of Indians and India-as much in terms of the people's economic welfare as in terms of their socio-religious harmony.

If Mr Modi is a villain, well, he is not the only one; there are any number of them of different hues in Indian politics. This is the bad news. The good news is that India and the people of India will survive them, as they have all the fanatical mischief-makers who tried to destroy the Indian ethos over the centuries. We have overcome in the past and we shall overcome now, and always. This is the inherent beauty of the Indian psyche.

The point I wish to make and the fact our non-political self-flagellists must realise is that a civilisation that has over the millennia absorbed and often welcomed alien faiths and cultures (despite the marauding ways and vile deeds of the bearers of some of these faiths) cannot be seriously communal-minded or culturally exclusivist. What greater evidence of this than the fact that, with a history of more than 35,000 years characterised for most of that period by just one religion, India today is home to all religions of man. Which other country can parallel such history, or this wonderful fact?

And let us not forget, as we increasingly tend to do now, that after the exit of the divide-and-rule British imperialists, India adopted a basic law which guarantees all its people full and unfettered freedom of faith. And this we gave unto ourselves after this ancient land was vivisected and millions were killed in the name of religion, when in the light of the communal schism and hatred at the time it would not have been surprising if we too had adopted a theocratic dispensation in favour of the majority religion.

Instead, the same majority opted for a secular polity, and is today co-citizens with others of all faiths and principally of a faith that has more adherents in India than in almost any other Muslim country. This basic catholicity is as true of an overwhelming majority of Hindus today as it was then, and I have no doubt it is equally true of a majority of Indians of other faiths. If things have occasionally gone wrong, as indeed they have, the cause lies elsewhere. It lies first of all in officially and, in some important aspects, constitutionally recognising religious tags in terms of the majority and the minorities, in refraining from enacting a common civil code, in ordaining special concessions (and reservations), in allowing freedom to religionise education, and such like-in short, in distorting, indeed perverting, the very concept of secularism.

Instead of a firm detachment of the state from all religions, secularism has come to mean multi- communalism (and casteism), thanks entirely to governments and politicians driven as they are by the sole aim of acquiring or retaining political power and patronage. With that end in view and only with that end in view, witness how they seek compartmentalised support and popularity. Witness the utterly inane but mandatory greetings from the highest political leading personages 'publicly' visiting temples or places of pilgrimage or placing cheddars at dargahs; witness the rat race of hosting iftar parties and, worst of all, witness the unabashed wooing and courting of religious 'leaders' (and caste chieftains) to seek the votes of their community.

The post-Gujarat attempt to paint this party or that one individual or another, or entire communities, with the communal tar is partisan opportunism of the first order. It is entirely possible that the Modi administration is guilty of serious acts of omission and commission and, sure, there are communalists in the BJP and particularly among its supporters in some avowedly assertive Hindu organisations. But is there any party of any consequence which does not exploit religious sentiments and indeed have in its ranks communal-minded elements and rabble- rousers? Even our communists, whose ideology tells them to hold religion in contempt-the opium of the masses-align with communal parties (and rabid casteists).

It is politicians who hold the communal matchbox and the self-styled quami, the kedars and their professional goons, who light the haystack. As for the common people of India, show me more than one per cent who are religious fanatics or who view all things only through communal blinkers, to whom it matters at all that a Sikh or a Christian or a Muslim or a Hindu is the President of India or the Chief Justice or the Army Chief or the hockey captain. Left to themselves, the people of India are happy to be Indians. When they cheer Indian troops or Indian cricketers or Indian scientists, they cheer for India. Our soldiers and sportspersons and scientists, our workers and peasants are Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs and Christians and whoever. They fight as Indians, play as Indians, work as Indians and we cheer them as Indians.

The only real schism in India is between the poor and the rich-the majority have nots and the minority haves. There are Hindus and Muslims and others on both sides of this gorge. This is the only divide that should agitate all Indians, as Indians. Everyone guilty in Godhra and Gujarat must be punished. At the same time, the communally charged sections of Hindus and Muslims of this great country must introspect, honestly and seriously. They must see through the sordid games politicians play and, rising above communal identities, assert themselves as Indian citizens, nothing more, nothing less.

Finally, two quotes, "If you seek to give special safeguards to a minority, you isolate it. Maybe you protect it, but at what cost? At the cost of isolating it and keeping it away from the main current in which the majority is going, at the cost of forfeiting that inner sympathy and fellow feeling with the majority." Whose views are these? It may surprise many but this was said by Jawaharlal Nehru, the chief advocate of secularism in post- Independence India.

Then, again: "I have often strongly disagreed with the government policy of constantly harping upon minorities, minority status and minority rights. It comes in the way of national unity, and emphasises the differences between the majority community and the minority. Of course, it may serve well as a vote-catching device to win Muslim votes, but I do not believe in sacrificing national interests in order to get temporary party benefits." These are the words of the late Mohammad Ali Currim Chagla, an eminent Jurist and central minister in his day and a Gujarati Muslim.

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