Wednesday, June 9, 2010

India's secularism- part 1

Indian 'Secularism' as I came to know it

Indians are generally ignorant about their Constitution because the government has no initiative to educate them about it. I never have seen a copy of it, only an e-version after the advent of inter-net. But I do have a free copy of the constitution of my domicile country- South Africa . The majority of Indians who do not have access to the inter-net have no chance to see even the e-version of it.

However, referring to constitutional clauses without knowing what they really entail has become second nature to us. For example a discussion about religion and related matters does not end without defining secularism and often these definitions are misleading and confusing.

It is in this context that I wanted to study secularism in the context of Indian constitution as well as how it was practiced in traditional India?

Secularism since independence

Indian Constitution "did not contain the word 'secular' except incidentally in Article 25 (2)(b)". It was in 1976, twenty six years after India became a constitutional democracy in 1950 that secularism was added to it
by the 42nd amendment, that too by the autocrat of the Nehru dynasty Mrs I. Gandhi.
The amendment clause is as follows:

"Proposed to amend the Constitution to spell out expressly the high ideals of socialism, secularism and the integrity of the directive principles more comprehensive and give them precedence over those fundamental rights, which have been allowed to be relied upon to frustrate socioeconomic reforms for implementing the directive principles. It is also proposed to specify the fundamental duties of the citizens and make special provisions for dealing with anti-national activities,whether by individuals or associations."

The amendment does not define what secularism is. Given the parliamentary terrorism introduced by Mrs. Gandhi into Indian democracy under National Emergency she declared the year before and the suppression of civil liberty and press freedom followed thereafter, I really wonder what was her intension behind the amendment.

Secularism means separation between State and religion, that is total non-interference of one from the other.

From the wording, it appears the Amendment did not mean to spell out anything new about secularism but only to 'spell out expressly its high ideals' already contained in our Constitution.

What were the high ideals contained in our Constitution?

In 1947, when India became independent, Sardar Patel the Deputy Prime Minister of India ' pledged that the Government of India would reconstruct the Somanath temple destroyed in 1025 AD by the Muslim invader Mohammad Gazri and the Cabinet presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru agreed that the government would bear the full cost of it. Gandhiji opposed the plan suggesting the money for Somanath reconstruction be collected from the people for it was a Hindu religious issue and his wish was respected.

K.M.Munshi was the chairman of the committee for reconstructing the temple. After the installation of the temple on May 11, 1951, according to Munshi J. Nehru chided him for his involvement in the temple construction, 'I don't like you(r) trying to restore Somanath. It is Hindu revivalism'.

The change in Nehru could be attributed to the 'secular' ideals included in the Indian Constitution passed in 1950. Means Indian secularism stood for the separation of State from the religions. But it was not expressed openly. And WHY?

Has India got a secular legacy?

There is an argument going that secularism is a western idea and that it has no relevance to India. So it entails to look at whether secularism has any relevance to India.
Secularism means separation of State from religion. Religion here means institutionalized religion not personal religion.
In traditional India, as far as I know, there was no trace of institutionalized religions.  Remnants of Indus valley civilization show no trace of religion as a social institution. The moral life of the period was based on a cause and effect spirituality or a search into one's own existence or to the Self. Whether god (no deities) was central to it or not the search was intuitive and rational. Individuals enjoyed their freedom to pursue any philosophy in search of his or spirituality which had nothing to do with the State and its governing. So in traditional India, spirituality was an individual experience and hence State was separated from religion.

So my point is that secularism is not a foreign or a western idea to  India.
Contrary to the past, when we come to the contemporary religions like Hinduism, Christianity and Islam they are institutionalized religions; their canons and practices are centrally controlled by gods or similar powers in the heavens in whose desire are sent down messiahs or prophets who designed the dogmas and traditions the believers are supposed to follow. Ultimate purpose of those religions is to attain salvation -heaven- through conformity with the dogmas and the fear of hell, in the after life and not through a cause and effect spirituality, intuition or rationality which enables individuals  to take control of his or her own life choosing proven values.

Such religion institutions while posing to be seats of god and spirituality ironically enjoy power and prowess through numbers-followers. Politics is another institution that enjoys power through numbers. So the making and the function of these two institutions itself warrant an unholy affiliation between the two. Religion being a crowd puller on its potential to create a sense of collective identity or consciousness among individuals and politics an institution preying on collective identity makes this unholy affiliation a lethal threat to nation building.

Hence for India to sustain nation-building democracy it has to be secular. Religion institutions have to be steered clear of politics and vice versa.

Now coming to the post 42nd amendment era.

I had already mentioned how Mrs. Gandhi had unleashed her political terrorism under the cover of National Emergency. Given the way she and her party conducted the business of Indian democracy there after, one can say, nothing had seemingly forthcome out of her 42nd amendment tantamount to spell out secularism 'expressly'.

To the erstwhile dynastic and colonial elements that waited on the wings to piece India into minority and savarna cantonments, Mrs. Gandhi's autocracy, disregard to law and order, mastery in rigging parliamentary elections etc gave the best chance. To the majority who still kept the flame of old secular and humanistic ways of life at heart and passionately and passively followed the rulers, Mrs. Gandhi was a bad example. Her scant regard to modesty, morality and humanity diminished their hopes and trust in a national leader. Her selective promotion of varna Hindus and the minorities to key civilian and parliamentary positions over the majority and the intellectuals were open calls to comunalism which went against India's secular traditions. In short, instead of spelling out 'expressly' the secular ideals, Mrs. Gandhi's post 42nd amendment promoted nonsecular elements in Indian politics which would cast a permanent shadow on the sky of Indian secularism.

After Mrs. Gandhi, came other leaders from Congress and other parties. Their decision not to tamper with the nonsecular constructs of Mrs. Gandhi was unanimous because they benefited out of them. The term 'vote bank' was coined in the Indian context to mean Indian constituencies chose leaders not following their statesmanship or leadership qualities but caste, religion or varna/racial affiliation.

The post-Mrs. Gandhi chapter of India saw the worst form of vote-bank politics. The two non-congress political parties, the BJP and the Janatha Dal, entered the fray through wooing the OBCS- the indigenous people of India battered and discriminated for generations by the so called savarnas- and the premature implementation of Mandal Commission Report, Ram janmabhumi sensational drive all pieced India into further communal cantonments and finally destroyed all chance of India to be a Nation.

In conclusion

Secularism as separation between politics and institutionalized religion was enshrined in the Indian constitution. And there were Indian leaders who maintained that provision. But those ideals were not spelled out expressly in the Indian Constitution. Secularism is an Indian legacy. Modern religions are non-secular. Their communal interests are in conflict with the parliamentary democracy off the State. Indira Gandhi's 42nd amendment of the Constitution was intended to spell 'them out expressly', but her political action only plunged India into communalism and fundamentalism.