Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Monday, March 07, 2005


Don’t let secularism become a doctrine of hate

Posted online: Monday, March 07

Let's glance at the recent ‘‘secular’’ events in the life of the Indian republic. Congress General Secretary Margaret Alva in Panaji, blithely ignoring the controversial sacking of the BJP government, declaring instead that it was about time Goa got a ‘‘secular’’ administration. Laloo Prasad Yadav, boiling out of his residence, defeated yet strangely excited, still thundering that it was time for all ‘‘secular’’ forces to form the government. Minister for Water Resources, Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi in Ranchi, smiling into the TV cameras, convinced that subverting the will of the Jharkhand voters was an act of supreme ‘‘secularism’’. Ram Vilas Paswan, leader of the triumphant Lojappa (LJP), only the other day a minister in the NDA government, but now also determined to protect ‘‘secularism’’ by issuing warnings that he can only talk to the JD(U) if it severed all links with the BJP. And Shibu Soren, until recently a fugitive from the law, charged with murder and defeated in the polls, but now newly appointed chief minister of Jharkhand. He once flirted with the BJP but now even Shibu is a towering pillar of ‘‘secularism’’.

In the centre of this weird even violent ‘‘secularism’’ sits Big Mama of 10 Janpath. Cocooned by court poets still dreamily eulogising her supreme ‘‘secular’’ sacrifice. Advised by ageing ‘‘secularists’’ like Arjun Singh who can no longer win elections, who is isolated within his own party and who wears his defamation case against the RSS like a badge of honour. A whisper goes around the inner circles of the Congress Worshipping Committee: Madam really hates the BJP. And since Madam really hates the BJP, what better way to gain ascendancy in the royal household than by emerging as a warrior of ‘‘secularism’’?

Never mind if this ‘‘secularism’’ is simply a synonym for bending the Constitution, indeed all norms of government-formation, to keeping the BJP out of government. Never mind if this secularism ends up by anointing Shahabuddin, the ‘‘don’’ of Siwan as an exemplar of Bharat Nirman. Never mind if this secularism is simply another word for hatred. Sonia Gandhi’s visceral hatred of the BJP has communicated itself down the line to every garden governor and party worker and they are now using the word ‘‘secularism’’ to brazenly block the will of the voters. Jharkhand is the most perverse example of this hatred-filled ‘‘secularism’’. Even if it is accepted that some MLAs were intimidated, 9 MLAs in an 81-member assembly do not give the Congress any mandate to stake any claim.

Hatred is not the stuff of democracy. A democrat disagrees. A democrat argues. A democrat does not hate. Above all, a democrat respects the Opposition. However wicked some of the sangh parivar’s constituents may be, however backward-looking and socially conservative some of its ideologues certainly are, however uncivilised the parivar’s language may be when it calls governors ‘‘supari killers’’ and prime ministers ‘‘shikhandis’’, yet the BJP/ NDA is an equal partner in Indian democracy, it has as much right to exist as the Congress and as much right to the allegiance of the people.

A democrat cannot fail to realise that the ’87 riots in Meerut, ’89 in Bhagalpur or Mumbai riots in 1992-93 all took place under ‘‘secular’’ governments. A democrat will also realise that the 1984 Sikh riots were as heinous, as ghastly as the Gujarat riots of 2002, that many more were killed, many more children were orphaned and that a crucial difference between Gujarat and Delhi was that the former took place under the glare of 24-hour news television and TV images have (rightly) burned the very name ‘‘Gujarat’’ into a perennially monstrous memory. But having realised all this, a mature democrat would find it difficult to pass irrevocable judgement on who has a ‘‘divine right’’ to rule and who does not. All a democrat can do is respect the legacy of the idealists of the 1940s who placed, in the hands of every Indian, the power of democratic choice. If the majority of Biharis choose to throw Laloo out, in the name of the people of India, the leaders must bow. If the majority of Jharkhandis choose the NDA, then again, in the name of the people of India, the leaders must bow. If they don’t, the short-term battle may be won, but the war for democracy will be lost.

What are the roots of the Congress’s hatred of the BJP? Ever since the pre-Independence period, the Congress has believed that the RSS as ‘‘killers of the Mahatma’’ represented the polar opposite of Nehruvian secular socialist nationalism. The ‘‘secular’’ versus ‘‘communal’’ divide has been a primary faultline since Independence and until 1975, anyone remotely connected with the sangh parivar was systematically (and snobbishly) kept out of the national mainstream, whether in politics, culture, academics, or the arts. 1975 and the imposition of Emergency first gave the Jana Sangh the opportunity to occupy a place within the larger Janata movement but the dual membership controversy put an end to the Jana Sangh’s ambitions. But over the last fifteen years, the lines between ‘‘secular’’ and ‘‘communal’’ have blurred. In 1989 both the Left and the BJP supported the V.P. Singh government.

And today, who is ‘‘secular’’? Is Laloo ‘‘secular’’? He waves the U.C. Banerjee Godhra interim report around and detained Pravin Togadia last year. Yet he has buried a report showing how shockingly the condition of the minorities has declined in his rule. Ram Vilas Paswan campaigns with an Osama look-alike and declares that he left the NDA because of Gujarat, but it was so pathetically clear at that time that he only left because he didn’t get the telecom ministry. Is the DMK ‘‘secular’’? It has the unique distinction of sharing power with all the last three governments at the Centre, and Karunanidhi praises Vajpayee and Sonia by turn. Is Mamata Banerjee ‘‘secular’’? She fights with the Congress in state elections but with the NDA in national elections.

The truth is that secularism as a liberal democratic ideal no longer automatically attaches to the Congress or to the anti-BJP forces. Instead of using ‘‘secularism’’ simply as a barrier to exclude the NDA at all costs, why does the Congress not give more substance to its secular aspirations by focussing on rule of law, building enduring social cohesion and democratising its functioning instead of clinging to its ridiculous antediluvian High Command culture. Hating the NDA as stupidly as Pravin Togadia hates Muslims is an injustice to the Indian voters’ freedom of choice.

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