Pseudo-Secularism

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.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Pseudo-secular leaders in secular India

Dr. Sibranjan Chatterjee

The present situation in Kashmir evinces beyond doubt the statesman-like quality of Syama Prasad Mookerjee who could envisage the situation in the early fifties. It is unfortunate that the vision of most of the so-called national leaders of India is confined to just “today” not to speak of “tomorrow”.

The concept of secularism is the product of European political history. It developed out of conflict between royal authority and ecclesiastical authority for centuries in Europe during the medieval period.

We may begin our discourse by referring in brief to the concept of leadership. Who can be a leader? What is the test of leadership? In the words of Swami Vivekananda, the leader of leaders, “The real test of a leader lies in holding widely different people together along the line of their common sympathies.” Another test of leadership, to Vivekananda, is that a leader “must be a servant of servants, and must accommodate a thousand minds.” From this perspective, Gandhiji, Netaji and Syama Prasad Mookerjee were leaders. A politician need not necessarily be a leader.

In this connection, a distinction may be made between a statesman and a politician. A statesman, according to Oxford Dictionary, is a “wise, experienced and respected political leader.” Thus, wisdom is the essential attribute of statesmanship. A statesman, not simply a politician, can see beyond tomorrow. He can rise above party, regional and sectional interests in the greater interest of the nation and the people. The present situation in Kashmir evinces beyond doubt the statesman-like quality of Syama Prasad Mookerjee who could envisage the situation in the early fifties. It is unfortunate that the vision of most of the so-called national leaders of India is confined to just “today” not to speak of “tomorrow”, or “beyond tomorrow”. As an academician the author has been in close contact with the students, both male and female, in the age group of 18-30. Most of them are extremely callous about politics and have rather a feeling of hatred towards politicians of the day in general. This is a danger signal for any polity, particularly democratic polity. For this disappointing scenario, some people blame politics.

But politics, like religion, culture etc, is a natural part of human life. It cannot and should not be avoided. Particularly, in a liberal political system, the free interplay of political parties is a normal phenomenon. There is nothing unusual in craving and competition for political power on the part of political parties as well as political ambition on the part of political leaders. What is objectionable is falling prey to parochial and sectional considerations at the altar of national consideration just for immediate political gain. There is a great gulf of difference between what the average politicians publicly preach and actually practise. This difference is so glaring and open that their credibility and legitimacy in the public eye is probably minus zero point. The author has the direct experience that in personal and informal conversations, many eminent politicians open their mind, frankly admit some of their own follies. But publicly they speak in a different fashion. Their public announcement, on many occasions, is not in tune with their personal feelings and views. This lack of conviction and hypocrisy appears to be a chronic malady of Indian politics today.

Approach to secularism
This hypocrisy is reflected, among others, in the attitude of many of our politicians to so-called secularism which has little relevance to our history and culture. The concept of secularism is the product of European political history. It developed out of conflict between royal authority and ecclesiastical authority for centuries in Europe during the medieval period. This term was coined to emphasise that the church should confine itself to ecclesiastical or religious matters only and should refrain from interfering in secular or non-religious matters which are the exclusive domain of the monarch. Machiavelli and subsequently other political thinkers of Europe put emphasis upon the separation of religion from politics in the affairs of the state. But such a situation never cropped up in Hindusthan.

Hence, the connotation of secularism as separation of politics or state affairs from religion is irrelevant so far as our national history is concerned. The pseudo-secularists are mainly concerned with this negative connotation of secularism. But secularism has a positive connotation too—right of every religion to grow in its own way and spirit of toleration of as well as respect for other religious views. From this viewpoint the Hindu culture, as pointed out by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, is essentially secular in character, whether we use the term or not. In this country, ‘the state’ was never tagged on to any particular faith. All persons were absolutely equal in the eye of law. The concept of Rule of Law as including equality before the law is comparatively new in Europe—a little more than 200 years. But in our country, even before the birth of Christ, the kingdoms were based on this principle. Never did the kings utilize the state machinery to impose their personal religious belief on the subject population. To the contrary, the rulers encouraged every religious thought, however few its adherents, to grow according to its own genius.

Several areas of the hypocritic role of the pseudo-secularists may be identified:

(1) Exploiting the religious sentiments of the people: As a part of the power-politics, the pseudo-secularists exploit the religious sentiments of the people, particularly during election period. On the one hand, they stand for separation of politics from religion, on the other hand, on the eve of elections, they publicly go to the temple/mosque/church to have emotional identification with a particular religious community just for the purpose of vote. Is it not a glaring instance of blatant hypocrisy?

(2) Approach to minority: Another instance of the hypocrisy of pseudo-secularists lies in their approach to minority. In a democracy, there is no question of the existence of a separate class as minority one. All persons, irrespective of religion, caste or creed, are equal in the eye of law and entitled to equality of treatment. Still, the so-called secular leaders clamour for ‘minority rights’, ‘minority status’ etc. What is the consequence? The people labelled as ‘minority’ are unconsciously estranging themselves from the mainstream of national life. Further, the gulf between the ‘majority’ and the ‘minority’ is increasing, posing a tangible threat to the national integration. It is doubtful whether these leaders have any genuine concern for the educational, social and economic development of the so-called minority population. This section of population is being utilized merely as vote-banks.

(3) Approach to uniform civil code: One of the Directive Principles of State Policy, as laid down in Article 44 of the Constitution of India, is that the state shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India. Supreme Court of India, in an observation (not judgment), urged upon the Government of India to take suitable measures to introduce uniform civil code for the whole country. But till now no initiative has been taken by the government in this direction. The apprehension is probably that the Muslims may be antagonised and this antagonism or anger may have adverse impact upon the electoral prospect of the politicians. Appeasement has no limit and this malady may ultimately lead to national disaster. In almost all countries of the world including the Muslim countries uniform civil code has been introduced. Why shall India be an exception? Whose interest is being served? Not that our political leaders are not aware of this problem. But immediate political gain, rather than ultimate and long-standing interest of nation, is of vital importance to them.

(4) Approach to moral education: Taking advantage of Article 28 of the Constitution of India, religious education, and even moral education, has been prohibited in state-run educational institutions, knowing fully well that without moral education, particularly at the school level, there cannot be development and cultivation of human values which constitute the bed-rock of well-balanced individual and collective life. This is another achievement of the so-called secular leaders who miss the point, maybe consciously, that in Article 28 what has been prohibited is ‘religious instruction’, not religious education. These two are not the same. The former means instruction or training in any particular form of religious faith. But the purpose of religious education is to put emphasis on the principles of religion rather than on its practices or its external forms. Religious education, in Vivekananda’s view, aims at fostering such noble qualities as fearlessness, self-reliance, self-confidence, fellow-feeling, etc. It may be noted that in reply to a question raised by Pandit L. K. Maitra in the Constituent Assembly of India pertaining to the meaning of the word ‘religious instruction’, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee, categorically stated that religious instruction should not be confused with moral education. Religious instruction, in Dr. Ambedkar’s view, implied instruction in any particular form of religion with a view to establishing its superiority to other forms of religion. The University Education Commission, 1948-49 (Radha-krishnan Commission) expressed the same view. Still, not a single class on moral education or values is permissible in state-run institutions, whereas religious instruction is allowed in minority institutions. Such a paradoxical position has no precedence in any other country, thanks to our secular leaders.

[The writer is Senior Reader in Political Science, Maulana Azad College, University of Kolkata.]

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