Secularism under threat


India has been a fine example of secularism since Independence from the British in 1947. The country was a Hindu-majority nation in 1947 (and still remains so though with a diminished Hindu population), but chose to embrace secularism as one of its main pillars of governance, separating religion from the government irrespective of the religious affiliation of the governing party. Secularism became embedded in the conscience of the nation, and India remained an envy for many countries who could not achieve that balance. Indonesia was another successful example which adopted secularism in a Muslim-majority country.

The main benefit to the citizens was the equal treatment accorded not just in the eyes of the law but in every facet of life. Minorities got integrated into the society and though there were incidents of stray attacks on them over the years, the racial segregation of the blacks in the U.S. was not witnessed in India. Secularism was the pride of India for many decades.

However, the way Indian politics operates has long been detrimental to the future of minorities in the country. All parties appease the minorities to win elections, making promises that could not be kept without disturbing the delicate fabric of society. Eventually the majority Hindus got alienated but became helpless when the minorities started deciding the election winners in many constituencies. Unfortunately, this was the result of monumental mistakes committed by all political parties of India, especially the Congress Party which ruled India for many decades, but has been on serious decline after the ascendancy of Mr Modi’s BJP Party.

Now, secularism as a principle of stability of the country has come under serious threat. Prime Minister Modi has been ruling India with a better and stronger hand at the till than any of his predecessors for the past over two years. He moved away from his past when he was more known as the Chief Minister of Gujarat during the inter-religious communal violence when more than a thousand Muslims perished, to an economic development plank which has widely been admired, especially outside India. For him not to consolidate the development gains of the past two years and aggressively move towards a Hindutva platform as the main aftermath of the U.P. Elections could turn out to be counterproductive to his primary mission of uplifting India and creating jobs.

The Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) State of India is its largest state with a population of 220M, which would position it as one of the top 10 populous nations of the world if it were an independent country. It is also a diverse state, with Muslims constituting 20% of the population. It sends 80 Members to the national Parliament, and it is often stated that if a party wins U.P., it would win India. Given its importance, and its economic backwardness, it is only natural for Mr Modi to carefully select a Chief Minister who would unite the state’s populations under a strong economic focus, centred on creating millions of jobs and improve the infrastructure. Instead, Mr Modi and his BJP Party selected a firebrand politician who has long been known for his divisive and militant political approach, and who incites fear in the minorities.

What India needs is development, not divisiveness. What India needs is a million jobs a month for its aspiring young citizens who are coming into the workforce. What India needs is strong infrastructure. What India needs is equal treatment for all its citizens as enshrined in the Constitution. What India needs is secularism. By moving away from these core principles, India will create in-house militancy on both sides of the religious divide. If Muslims do not have jobs, if they are discriminated across the society and economy, if they are always under attack and live with a fear psychosis, then what is the difference between Mr Trump’s fear politics which incites racial hatred and that of Mr Modi? Society cannot be divided, it needs to be united. By following a very divisive and militant politics, India is sure to create more terrorists in-house, who are frustrated with the society, economy and lack of opportunities. And, then, Pakistan would make use of this frustration and attack the core of India. Anyway, what then would be the difference between a theology-driven Pakistan and a theology-driven India?

Should we allow this to happen? Can Mr Modi rethink his strategy? He needs all Indians to support him in his economic development agenda for India. That is possible only if he is seen as a uniting force all across the country. India is not just a “Hindu” nation, it is a secular country for all its citizens and it should set a glorious example for the rest of the world. India might even be able to convince Mr Trump as to the need for the U.S. to remain totally secular and non-racist!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th March 2017

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