Raina: India’s Failed Secularism

A recipe for disintegration

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page


As I suggested in my previous column (“Sweet Time for the Left in India”, ZNet, Sept. 2, 2008) events on Wall Street have shown what a fortuitous circumstance it was that the Indian Prime Minister, in his own words, remained a “bonded slave” to the supporting Left parties until the other day.

Had he had unfettered freedom in matters economic, India would be sinking today faster than a tanker.

Likewise, how fortuitous for India’s beleaguered Christians that the good Prime Minister had to suffer “embarrassment” while traveling Christian lands recently. Think that in France, the spunky Sarkozy called the Kandhamal mayhem a “massacre” to his face.

Thus, superseding the travails of the Christians in Orissa, it was the rebuke to India’s “image” that registered powerfully. A circumstance that makes you think how much “nationalism” is often a matter of image and how little of any actual concern for the people who inhabit the nation.

That “embarrassment” has at least yielded some concrete threats to the BJP/BJD government in Orissa after the many politic secular noises about the arson, rape, and murder there. Will it lead to a constitutional dismissal of the government, though? Think again; elections are round the corner in many states. And, as always, the Constitution must give way to canny political considerations. Remember that Modi was allowed to carry on despite the total and proven complicity of the state in the butcheries in Gujarat in 2002

Speaking of which, how unfortunate for India’s Muslims that no country in the world that the Indian Prime Minister has visited or is likely to visit should want to embarrass him about the excesses committed against Indian Muslims. Something that suggests the colossal helplessness that has become their lot.


I have suggested elsewhere that the secular protestations and pretensions of the Republic of India have remained a paper-provision through the years of India’s existence as a sovereign nation-state primarily owing to the failure of the Congress party to honestly and fearlessly embrace and enforce the Republican principle of citizenship.

All its rhetoric notwithstanding, the Congress remains reluctant to transcend the denominational identity of Indians in political and governmental practice.

From day one, its electoral traditions have tended to be guided by considerations of the social identity of candidates—as much as of any other party—with scant effort made to transform the given and inherited biases of the polity.

Just as the Congress incorporated rather than confronted feudal social practices and formations through the “freedom movement,” it has sought to cater to rather than educate out of existence those formations in the electoral career of independent India.

Not surprisingly, this social and intellectual failure has coloured the ways in which India’s law-enforcement and investigative agencies, indeed often its juridical institutions, at lower levels especially, have operated in approaching the culpabilities of the “majority” and “minority” communities variously.

Consider, for example, that the bail plea of under-trials in the matter of the Godhra train burning of 2002 locked away under the draconian POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) was heard by the highest court in the land in February-March of this year, but the judgement remains in abeyance. In the meanwhile, one more under-trial, Hussein Mohammed Dhobi, age 65, has died there in custody—the fourth fatality in the matter. Nothing has appeared in public as to how those detainees are treated.

Think also that only the other day a CNN-IBN/Hindustan Times countrywide Poll revealed that 87% of Indians think that the police force is communal (read sectarian on the side of the “majority”). As well as an Amnesty International finding that the most corrupt institutions in India are the Police, the Politicians, and the Lower Judiciary! Why Amnesty should either have not looked into the bureaucracy and the corporate sector, or found nothing there remains a surprise.

These facts taken together help explain why it is that the Congress party which never tires of tom-tomming its role in formulating a secular-democratic republic has never yet given a nation-wide call for mobilization on behalf of the secular principle. Something that contrasts rather tellingly with the preparedness of people in Turkey to congregate in the millions whenever that principle is there seen to be in jeopardy. One would have imagined that,learning from Gujarat, and witness to the “majoritarian” rage now in evidence state after state, now would be a good time.


Thus it is that when the local head of the Bajrang Dal in Uttar Pradesh makes the public pronouncement that the strategic objective of this terrorizing arm of the RSS is to transform the secular republic into a “Hindu Rashtra” (Hindu theocratic state; see The Hindu, Thursday, October 2nd,’08) no cognizable offence is seen to have been committed. Not to speak of treason against the state as by law established.

Imagine, on the other hand, a call coming from some Muslim organization that they mean to turn India into an Islamic state. Within seconds, the organization would be banned and its members locked up as jehadi “terrorists.”

The crude and abiding fact is that the Congress party never really internalized the fatal truth of the insight that Jawahar Lal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, had voiced as far back as 1937.

Writing on “Hindu and Muslim Communalism,” Nehru had warned that whereas the communalism of the “minority” is patently what it is—sectarian banding together of a defensive nature—that of the Hindu “majority” is always likely to masquerade as “nationalism.” (See Nehru On Communalism, ed. N.L. Gupta, published by Sampradayikta Virodhi Committee, 1965, p.9). And, needless to say, that is then but a short step to fascism.

It is ofcourse a well-recorded fact that within the Congress leadership of those times, more than a few were not only members of the communal Hindu Mahasabha, but believed at heart that Indian social pluralism of centuries notwithstanding, India was at bottom a Hindu nation.

The penetration of the communal virus of those times must suggest something of the quality of the intellectual, cultural, and political battle that Nehru and a few others that notably included Muslim leaders (Abul Kalam Azad, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Saifuddin Kitchlu, Asaf Ali, to name but a handful) and organisastions (Jamiat-e-ulema-e-Hind) put up against sectarian obscurantisms that disfigured both communities to ensure the founding of a secular republic.

It is to be noted that secularism was subsequently to be designated by a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court of India as one of the “basic” features of the Constitution not amenable to amendment by parliament.

Indeed, in an interesting book titled Nehru’s Hero, Lord Meghnad Desai records how during the Nehruvian phase of Independent India, the Nehruvian emphasis on progressive secularism and social pluralism was constantly reflected in the cinematic products of the Bombay Film Industry.

Continued . . .

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