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, June 09, 2008

Rajnath is right. Secularism has become communal

By Shyam Khosla
Two other concepts—Socialist and Secular—were added to the Preamble during the hated Emergency by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment that came into force on January 3, 1977.
How irrationally even knowledgeable persons react to innocuous suggestions because of political compulsions and ideological confusion is borne out by Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s and CPM leader Sitaram Yahcuri’s response to BJP President’s remark that the correct Hindi translation of secular was panthnirpeksh and not dharamnirpeksh that is often perceived to be the synonym of the concept. Yachuri’s comment that it was Sangh’s terminology to underline its belief that Hinduism is a religion and other religions like Christianity and Islam are sects, betrays the Communist leader’s gross ignorance of the RSS thinking and Hindu ethos. He will do well to come out of his Marxist shell and make some effort to at least understand rival viewpoints.

One, however, can’t ignore the galling observations made by Congress leader giving his knowledge of our cultural values and the Constitution. He is well aware that the authorised Hindi translation of the Constitution talks of panthnirpeksh and not dharamnirpeksh. It is outright absurd on his part to suggest Singh’s observations that words secular and socialist were unnecessarily inserted in the Preamble to the Constitution in 1976-77 amounted to the subversion of the basic tenets of the Constitution and negation of its soul. The fact remains that these terms were inserted to meet political exigencies at the fag end of the Emergency. Socialism is a political philosophy with which a vast majority of Indians are not comfortable and our Constitution was no less secular before the insertion of the term in the Preamble. BJP President committed no crime by asking his colleagues and the Government to stick to the correct terminology. Why is the aging party protesting too much? Isn’t it yet another gimmick to mislead minorities?

The founding fathers of our Constitution had wisely adopted the Preamble that solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Democratic Republic. Two other concepts—Socialist and Secular—were added to the Preamble during the hated Emergency by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment that came into force on January 3, 1977 . The Preamble is a vision statement through which the Constitution Assembly expressed its intent. Can this intent be amended subsequently? More importantly, is such an exercise morally and politically correct?

Interestingly the Supreme Court had in one of its landmark judgments laid down the concept of basic structure and while doing so underlined the importance of the Preamble to the Constitution. That judgment came long before the 42nd amendment which inserted two additional concepts. These were inserted into the all-important Preamble when democracy was under siege with a large number of parliamentarians were rotting in jails, press had lost its freedom and even the judiciary was under tremendous pressure. It is high time that there is an in-depth public debate on the political and moral desirability of retaining these two words in the Preamble. Nothing will be lost if these two concepts are removed from the Preamble of the Constitution.

Much of the confusion in public mind is caused by the flawed belief that religion and dharma are synonyms. As a result, characteristics of a narrow religion are automatically attributed to the concept of dharma. Religion means a creed or a sect. Longman English Dictionary defines religion as a system of beliefs and practices relating to the sacred and uniting its adherent in a community. Religion, thus, is a comparatively narrow concept that believes in one sacred book, a messenger and a God likes the ones in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These religions believe that there is only one path to the achievement of the highest spiritual goal—whatever it may be called. Hindu Dharma, on the other hand, is a vastly wider concept that is concerned with all aspects of human life. The fundamental principles of dharma are eternal and universal. It transcends religions and holds that all paths lead to the same goal. This concept is beautifully expressed in the Vedic maxim: Ekam Sadvipraha Bahudha Vadanti (Truth is one, savants tell them variously). Fundamental laws of human nature that decides the propriety of human behaviour is dharma. M.V. Nadkarni in his work, Hinduism—A Gandhian Perspective, points out that the traditional term for Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma. He argues that it doesn’t connote fixed, let alone stagnant. The dictionary meaning of Sanatana is eternal. The secret of Hinduism’s perpetuity is that it is not fixed for all times but refreshes itself every now and then, adjusting to new circumstances, incorporating new and noble values. Sanatana, he insists, also doesn’t mean orthodox or conservative. The secret of its endurance for millennia is its dynamism. Shri Basaveshwara says, “What is standing fixed perishes, but not one which is dynamic”. The quality of dynamism is very closely related to tolerance for pluralism, for diversity, for inclusiveness and, thus, to liberalism in its purest form. That is why Arnold Toynbee called Hinduism a “live and let-live religion”. Question may be asked if dharma is eternal and applicable to all times and all climes and races, why call it Hindu Dharma. The fact of the matter is that since times immemorial, it was called Sanatana Dharma—eternal law. However, in the course of history, it began to be called Hindu Dharma. Somehow, the word Hindu stuck and is now more popularly used than Sanatana Dharma.

“Secularists” refuse to see reason. They persist with their hidden agenda by projecting Hinduism in a narrow context that is rationally and historically flawed. In the political sense, secularism requires separation of the state from any particular religious order. Nobel Laureate Amritya Sen, who by no stretch of imagination is “communal”, in his Argumentative Indian says secularism can be interpreted in at least two different ways. The first view argues that secularism demands that the state be equidistant from all religions refusing to take sides and having a neutral attitude towards them. The second—more severe—view insists that the state must not have any relation at all with any religion. The equidistance must take the form, then, of being altogether removed from each other. In both interpretations, secularism goes against giving any religion a privileged position in the activities of the state. Calling himself an “unreformed secularist”, Sen, goes on to admit that the former—broader interpretation of secularism—is the dominant approach to secularism in India. He insists that the state must maintain a basic symmetry to all religious groups. Unfortunately, the concept has been taken to absurd lengths by certain elements by extending certain rights to a particular minority that are not available to majority community not necessarily out of commitment to secularism but for petty partisan gains. Since secularism demands basic symmetry to all religious groups, any attempt to favour a particular religious group amounts to distorting the concept inviting ridicule. This distorted version of secularism has been aptly dubbed as pseudo-secularism.

Theocracy has no place in our value system and secularism as a value—justice to all and discrimination against none—is an integral part of the Indian value system and national psyche. This land has been a great melting pot that has assimilated people of countless religious faiths and races that made this country their home. The shared cultural outlook and civilisation that evolved in this land for millennia have produced such a cohesion—a homogenous identity—that is one of the essential attributes of nationhood. Muslims and Christians rulers who held sway over large parts of the country for about 800 years were, of course, non-secular. They discriminated against religious groups and bestowed huge favours on persons belonging to their respective faiths. There were exceptions in the long and glorious history of this land that never discriminated against people on the basis of their religious faith or race.


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