What Yogi Adityanath Has All Wrong About Secularism In India

Published: November 16, 2017 11:03 IST
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath has declared that "secularism is the biggest lie...that has been told since Independence and has damaged the country...those who first used this word should ask forgiveness from the people." It is not a question of semantics. 70 years after independence, there are those holding important elected offices who cannot stomach the reality that India has rejected their sectarian idea of a theocratic country, a version of a "Hindu Pakistan". These leaders misuse their office to challenge the fundamental secular principles of the freedom struggle reflected in the constitution of India.

The Supreme Court on more than one occasion has ruled that the "secular character" is part of the basic structure of the constitution and that no part of the basic structure of the constitution can be abrogated, even by a constitutional amendment. This was first stated in the Kesavananda Bharati case in 1973 and reiterated in the Bommai judgement in 1994. In the latter case, the Supreme Court went into some detail as to what the concept of secularism means and reiterated "The Constitution does not recognize, it does not permit, mixing religion and State power. Both must be kept apart. That is the constitutional injunction. None can say otherwise so long as this Constitution governs this country. Politics and religion cannot be mixed."

Can anything be more clear than this? But leaders like Adityanath do not accept either the constitution or the courts. The fight for secularism is a fight not about the use or misuse of a word, but a fight to defend the basic structure of the constitution of India.

Adityanath wants those who first used the "S word" to apologise to the people of this country. It is only those who are so distant from the freedom movement and its history who can even raise the question of who first used the word "secularism." India would not be free without the fundamental belief in secular principles that inspired generations of freedom fighters, whether or not they used the word "secularism".

The dominant secular trend in the freedom movement rejected the ideological basis of the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha who both believed that religion formed the basis of nationhood. It was the founder of the theory of Hindutva, VD Savarkar who in his book, Essentials of Hindutva (1921-22) developed the theory of Hindus as a nation: "We Hindus are all one and a nation." In 1937, in his address to the Ahmedabad session of the Mahasabha, Savarkar took this sectarian understanding forward and said "There are two nations, Hindus and Muslims in India." First proposed by Savarkar, this religion-based two-nation theory was adopted by Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, several years later in the Lahore session of the All India Muslim League in 1943.

On August 14, 1947, on the very eve of independence, the RSS, which had by then developed into the nodal agency for the propagation of this ideology, published an editorial in its official weekly Organiser which stated "Let us no longer allow ourselves to be influenced by false notions of nationhood...future trouble can be removed by the ready recognition that in Hindustan only the Hindus form the nation...the nation itself must be built up of Hindus, on Hindu traditions, cultures, ideas aspirations.."

India won its independence while mourning the hundreds and thousands who had been killed; had their homes burnt and looted; the women who had been raped; the children orphaned; the displaced; the homeless all by communal frenzy fanned by hatred in the name of religion. The RSS and its supporters were calling for the institutionalization of such religious based sectarian divisions. This was their truth. This is the truth Adityanath believes in.

So who should apologize? If, for example, Bhagat Singh were alive would Adityanath dare to ask him for an apology?

This is what the legendary hero had written: "The martyrs of 1914-15 (referring to the Gadar martyrs) had separated religion from politics. They understood that religion is the personal matter of an individual which needed no interference from other. But they all agreed that religion should not enter politics because it does not allow people to work together for a common cause. This was the reason why during the revolution called by 'Gadar Party', people remained united. Here Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims were put on gallows for the cause of revolution." In the constitution of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha drafted by Bhagat Singh were these important clauses - "to have nothing to do with communal bodies or other parties which disseminate communal ideas" and "to create the spirit of general toleration among the public considering religion as a matter of personal belief of man and to act upon the same fully."

This reflects the deep commitment to secularism and secular principles that were embodied in Bhagat Singh's beliefs, his work, his life.

Adityanath, who reportedly still belongs to the Hindu Mahasabha, has set up a youth organization called the Hindu Yuva Vahini. Adityanath, as the supreme leader, has if not drafted, certainly mandated the clauses in the constitution. Its declared aim is to promote "Hindu nationalism" and "work to bring all Vaidik, Budh, Jain, Sikh into the larger Hindu family"..." to organize Hindus to reestablish, reorganise, defend Hindu religion, society and their cultural legacy"..."Only those are to be considered Hindus who are against slaughter of the cow and all progeny; those who believe in rebirth; those who consider India their motherland and their holy land; those who believe in Hindu religious texts" and so on.

This is a good example of the bulldozing processes of homogenization that votaries of Hindutva attempt. The wealth of pluralistic expressions of Bhakti by Hindu believers are sought to be straitjacketed by the likes of Adityanath. It reflects not just a contempt and rejection of other religions and their followers, but equally a sectarian interpretation of who is to be considered a Hindu.

There is a world of difference between Hindutva and Hindu religious belief. One is the path to power, the other is the path, according to believers, to salvation. Secularism does not mean the abandonment of religion. Secularism does not mean that everyone has to be a non-believer, though it guarantees the rights of atheists as equal citizens. On the contrary, because secularism holds religious belief to be a personal choice, it accords the greatest respect to the believer by non-interference in the pursuit of that belief. It is only those who do not respect religious belief and who want to utilize religion as a political instrument to gain control over the levers of State power who challenge secularism and seek to eliminate it. It is votaries of Hindutva who have most insulted Hindu believers and tried to manipulate their dharm bhakti for highly sectarian agendas.

Secularism is linked to democracy. It is not religious authority or religious texts which determine the economic and social life of India. It is the principles of equal citizenship based on fundamental rights. It is precisely because India is secular and not governed by the Manu Smriti that we have laws to prohibit and punish cast- based discrimination and violence. It is because India is secular that women have equal rights. If secularism is a lie, then so is democracy.

If anyone should apologise it should be Shri Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, who has damaged India.

(Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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