Saturday, 2 July, 2022
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How Indian secularism could still be saved

Those who want to save secularism from drowning will have to use the nation’s ultimate life-jacket: nationalism.

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But for the formal declaration, India may already be a Hindu Rashtra.

A government that so eagerly criminalised triple talaq but still can’t act on the Supreme Court’s advice to enact a law to curb mob lynching is a Hindutva government, making India a Hindutva state where minorities are second-class citizens with unequal rights.

A government that wants to bring in a law that grants citizenship to refugees on the basis of their religion is a Hindutva government. When Bengali Muslims in Assam have to prove that their grandfathers were Indian, and the government says it will extend this process to the whole of India, how are we still a secular state?

Making India a Hindu rashtra does not need replacing the tricolour with a saffron flag. As scholar Asim Ali recently wrote: “What most people don’t understand is that symbols need not be abolished, because they can always be appropriated and then subverted. The tiranga that represents liberty and equality for most Indians is proudly displayed on social media by people bent on destroying those very ideals. It was indeed the Indian flag, and not a saffron one, that was used to drape the body of a man accused of lynching a Muslim.”

What’s interesting here is that Hindutva needed to appropriate the Indian flag to gain legitimacy. Indeed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has fused Hindutva with Indian nationalism. Hindutva forces now decide who is a nationalist and who is anti-national.

At the headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Nagpur, the Indian flag was hoisted on 26 January 2002 after a gap of 52 years. They didn’t have to do this; they are not bound to hoist the Indian flag, not even on Republic Day. That they were able to drop their inhibitions about a flag that stood for secularism spoke a lot about what had changed in the meaning of the tricolour.

Also read: Blame Amit Shah for UAPA changes but Nehru, Indira ignored civil liberties too

Defining the nationalist

The beginning of the end of secularism is often linked to the mistakes committed by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and the campaign for Ram Mandir spearheaded by BJP veteran L.K. Advani. In doing so, we rarely look at how secularism worked in the period before the troubled 1980s.

Given the influx of Hindu refugees from what was now Pakistan, Jawaharlal Nehru was on the back foot before Hindutva forces. Muslims now had their own nation, Hindus were arriving as dead bodies in trains, and M.K. Gandhi and Nehru were championing secularism? So intense was the Hindu hurt that Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu.

Nehru and his daughter Indira sold secularism through a campaign called “national integration”. You might think the operative word in that phrase is ‘integration’, but it is actually ‘national’. The plank of “unity in diversity” was sold as an essential pre-condition of India’s success. In other words, if you didn’t back secularism, you were not a good Indian nationalist.

Nehru defined nationalism thus: “nationalism does not mean Hindu nationalism, Muslim nationalism or Sikh nationalism. As soon as you speak of Hindu, Sikh or Muslim, you do not speak for India. Each person has to ask himself the question: what do I want to make of India — one country, one nation or 10, 20 or 25 nations, a fragmented and divided nation without any strength or endurance, ready to break to pieces at the slightest shock? Each person has to answer this question. Separateness has always been the weakness of India. Fissiparous tendencies, whether they belong to Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians or others, are very dangerous and wrong. They belong to petty and backward minds. No one who understands the spirit of the times can think in terms of communalism.”

He fused the idea of secularism with nationalist pride: “the main thing we have to keep in mind is the emotional integration of India… We have to build up this great country into a mighty nation, mighty not in the ordinary sense of the word, that is, having great armies and all that, but mighty in thought, mighty in action, mighty in culture and mighty in its peaceful service of humanity.”

Just as Hindutva has risen by selling a version of history, Nehru used his version of history to sell secularism. He said in an address to the nation in 1964: “ever since the distant past it has been the proud privilege of the people of India to live in harmony with one another. That has been the basis of India’s culture. Long ago the Buddha taught us this lesson. From the days of Asoka, 2300 years ago, this aspect of our thought has been repeatedly declared and practised. In our own day Mahatma Gandhi laid great stress on it and indeed lost his life because he put emphasis on communal goodwill and harmony. We have, therefore, a precious heritage to keep up and we cannot allow ourselves to act contrary to it.”

Also read: Aparna Sen & Ramachandra Guha should know sending letters to Modi only makes him look good

Nationalism for good

Secularism is dying – or is already dead – because the secularists gave up on nationalism. They did this partly because of growing discomfort with nationalism. Yet, as Nehru showed us, nationalism doesn’t always have to be a force of oppression. Most recently, Kanhaiya Kumar showed us how nationalism could be reclaimed from Hindutva. Nationalism is the masala that can make any food tasty. Both secularism and Hindutva have used nationalism to succeed.

Even the Lokpal movement in 2011 used the tricolour and other nationalist symbols in a big way. They needed to appropriate nationalism to show they were speaking on behalf of the nation; indeed, they were the nation, not the government of the day.

The only way to reclaim secularism is to first reclaim nationalism. If secularists are uncomfortable with nationalism, they should be ready for the declaration of India as a de facto Hindu nation-state very soon.

Those born after the cable TV revolution may not have any nostalgic memories of the ‘national integration’ campaign. This patriotic song, for instance, speaks subtly of “desh dharam”, the religion called the nation.

With the hindsight of history, an examination of the national integration propaganda reminds us how national integration was a fusion of nationalism and secularism. In 10 years of the Congress-led UPA rule, we saw no such effort. Who is going to do it today?

Views are personal.

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  1. Are you living in India or in outer space? How dare you call India secular?? There are HUGE differences between how the state treats Hindu families, Hindu temples, Hindu schools (etc.) and how it treats Muslim equivalents. ARE YOU AWARE OF THIS OR NOT ??? Tell me how India can claim to be secular!! Shut your mouth until you have made India secular.

    The reason for the astounding rise of BJP under Modi is that Hindus figured out that Nehru and his progeny were selling them short down the drain.. in order to appease Muslims and claim Muslim votes. Naturally it made tham angry.

  2. The irony is that the quotes that Vij cites actually counter his views. He quotes Nehru speaking against separate nations within a country, but that’s exactly what we have been doing with separate religious laws and 370 – creating many nations. Next, it is a blatant lie that India is a secular country. A country with different religious laws can, by definition, NOT be a secular country. Lastly, in the name of fraudulent secularism, what Congress actually did was to empower all minorities to propagate their religions, but severely handicap Hindus from doing the same, which could rightly be termed as cultural genocide against Hindus. Hindus are finally waking up to this monumental fraud against them. Congress and communist parties, which perpetrated this crime, will be decimated, along with hacks like Vij.

  3. ”When Bengali Muslims in Assam” These Bengali Muslims in Assam, West Bengal and elsewhere in India are Bangladeshi Muslims and illegal. Today Kashmiri Muslims are worried about demographic changes but the same is happening elsewhere in India by Bangladeshi Muslims. If the author wishes India s to be quiet in the name of secularism, we do not want secularism. After all, India was divided on religion.

  4. India is a secular country because Indian Hindus, who constitute the majority, and therefore have a proportional impact upon the political ethos, have created and defended a Constitution that is a remarkable triumph of reason over the temptations of sectarian passion. India is secular not because Muslims need it, but because Hindus want it. MJAKBAR

  5. United India was partitioned on the Hindu Muslim basis.
    Finally BJP is taking it to its logical conclusion.

  6. Muslim = Secular
    Hindu = Communal

    Ramzan = Secular
    Diwali = Communal

    Eid = Sacrifice
    Holi = Pollution

    370 = Secular
    Pandit = Communal

    Halal = Secular
    Ghakta = Communal

    As long as this continues, Hindus will continue to move to right-wing.

  7. Unfortunately enough,in India secularism means anti-Hindu/Hinduism.The more the Hindu hatred,the more the secularism. The writer also trying to glorify Congress leaders,their regime as if they were golden ages of post-independence India.But it is clear to all like broad daylight that who had been the root causes of the division of India,death of numerous innocent people,communal riots,upsurgence of terrorism,backwardness of India and many other problems.Though I am neither a member nor a blind supporter of any political party,yet as an ordinary Indian at least can realise that which govt. works better for the country.Some so -called liberals,intellectuals,journalists,writers,media etc are desparately trying to mislead people.But the Indian electors are not fool. They will thwart all sorts of misdeeds to destabilise the country.

      • No, you are a typical, timid Hindu.
        Compare that to the Muslims. They inflict all type of violence and discrimination on non-Muslims, and without blinking their eyes say Islam is religion of peace.
        Muslims live for Islam.
        Other people not so.

  8. Absolute rubbish. What legitimate right do muslims have to secularism in India after they demanded division of India on a communal religious basis and got two islamic states created out out of India ? Yes secularism for all others in India but certainly not for muslims.

  9. The talk about secularism and showing the photos of only muslims. Which means only muslims are followers of secularism and as they are peaceful and tolerant toward all other religions. They have lived peacefully for the past 500 years in India and no violence against any other communities. They are so affectionate to others that everybody loved muslims and no one hated each other. Vij, we need you. This will ensure that BJP will win elections hands down. Your contribution to Hindu society is highly appreciated like Mani Shankar Iyer, Arundati Roy, Shabana Azmi and a bunch of congress and commies. So long they are there, we are in safe hands of Modi.

    • After you have read half a dozen articles of his, Mr. SunderV you will expect nothing different from Monsieur Vij. His obstinacy doesn’t let him be objective. NDA Govt. can’t be always right but this esteemed writer can only sing one tune – inventing faults. We need constructive critics not obsessed advisors like him. Anyway, best wishes to him.

  10. Secularism has already been saved by people voting for Modi. The self labelled securists promoting ant-Hindu narratives like this author are slowly dying in the trap they have laid down for themselves. After next few generations I am expecting total clean up of labelled secularists from India.

    • Hi
      I am rooting for independence,
      I have given up, appeasement of the Bhakt Hindu and calling for a united secular nation, it’s just not working.
      We Muslims some of us have a better idea.
      A strong independent Muslim country for the second largest Muslim population in the world, India’s 175 million Muslims.
      They the RSS do not wish to live with us, the Hindus overwhelming voted for the RSS Pracharak.
      That’s perfectly fine INDIA is supposed to be a democracy you are entitled to who you elect and your views, the counter movement amongst 175 million Muslims is growing, separation, we must part, this must be the slogan.
      Stopping such a huge Muslim population is not going to be a cakewalk, after all we are not Kashmir.
      We are not organised but we get stronger and more united, by your attitude.
      We will call it over movement Jihad for independence
      Our land will be New India, it will consist of the fertile parts of the Indo gangetic plain, himachal, uttarkhand,, the northern part of uttar pardesh, the north part of Bihar. It will stretch from Jummu to Bengal. With Pakistan on one side and Bangladesh on the other.
      You Hindus can have everything south of the Ganga River. You can take your cows with you, as compensation.
      So you communal guys, it’s slowly beginning to dawn that if you really don’t want Muslims, we must part company.
      Remember we are not a timid people, with our Jihad , you may wish secularism was back.

  11. “Secularism” as it is known is not practiced anywhere else in the world. Secularism means separation of state and religion. That’s it. In the US, they take oath on the Bible. And say USA is a Christian country. Even though they invaded the land just 500 years ago and ethnic cleansed native Americans.

    Whereas we have lived in this country for 1000s of years, but if any one points out this is after all Hindu country that has been invaded and ravaged and pillaged into something else we are accused of not being tolerant.

    • Oxford dictionary definition of secularism is, “an opposition to, or rejection of religion” which would also mean separation of state and religion. The president of America could be very religious as an individual, but when he is acting as the president, he should act in a secular manner. The president-elect takes oath on bible as an individual. He doesn’t have to take oath on a bible, if he is an atheist.. It is the state that has to be secular, and not an individual. In Britain, the queen is head of the Anglican church, but for all practical purposes they observe secularism.

      Yes, Americans like to say they are a Christian nation, and they also cleansed native Americans. And there was slavery also. But then they have admitted all their crimes! They not only fought a bloody civil war to get rid of the slavery., but eventually also elected a black American as their president! They regenerate themselves!

      • What is your point.
        You side stepped the issues. You sound like some one with severe anti Hindu prejudice, JNU type😂.
        If you are trying to say Hindus are intolerant, yaaaaaawn. Muslims violently demanded and got 2 Islamic Republics and decimated Hindu population in the 2 Islamic Republics while in India, Muslim % is growing and constant appeasement politics. Not to mention tax payer funded Haj.
        Hypocrisy of people like you is the reason Hindus in massive numbers moved from Congress to BJP. Keep doing it.

  12. Living here, Indian Muslims die of a thousand cuts and humiliations, it is all around you, it upsets you, raises your blood pressure, it’s an unhappy situation. Sometimes it’s imaginary, maybe it’s just neurotic, but things you see, hear and read, hurt and wound.
    I found those staged bizarre pictures of Doval, distributed to the compliant Indian media, where this man is laughing and eating lunch with Kashmiris, against a background of deserted under curfew streets, with shut doors of homes in the background, surreal and disturbing.
    Here is the man who ordered the locking up of millions of men, women and children, who planned the cutting of all communication with them, he now has the gumption of releasing staged pictures of himself,
    laughing and eating biryani with Kashmiris.
    As a Muslim I found Doval’s pictures grotesque an abomination, to do this while millions of elderly and children are locked inside, people unable to go out to get medicines, to go to school, to contact worried loved ones.
    Karl Otto Koch commandant of Sachsenhausen, used to pose exactly like Ajit Doval in front of happy laughing prisoners, he used to pull the cheeks of the children at the death camp and give them sweets too.
    This man Doval planned all this suffering, he meticulously hears reports on detentions and oppression. He is responsible for checkpoints ever few hundred yards, where a Kashmiri are at the mercy or whim of a policeman. He oversees the torture centres mentioned in the UN report.
    With the honourable exception of Journalists like Shivram _ the rest of the Indian media supports what is clearly fascism, I find it so upsetting –
    it is horrible being a patriotic Muslim in India. I suppose it’s horrible to be a anti fascist patriotic Hindu too.

    • The people of Kashmir are greatful if Doval could bring an end to large scale violence orchestrated, logistical support, financial support from Pakistan to do military grade RDX bombs, machine guns, Islamic state recruitment, spreading hate and misery to people. This is not Kashmir.

    • The wide spread demonstrations after the death of Burhan Wani were a defining moment for all of India. Here was a man whose appeal was explicitly communal, who killed on the basis of religion, and he received accolades. The long road to what is happening today runs through the killings of Hindus and Sikhs and the forced cleansing of Pandits in the Valley.

    • Those Muslims who have your type of mind set are indeed unhappy. 1947 partition was for Muslims like you. You can still correct the mistake of your parents not crossing over to Pakistan. More you’ll remain in India, more you’ll be unhappy because in Indian Hindus and Muslims would continue to have the same rights, follow same laws and Muslims domination is a thing of past and is not going to repeat the history. So, take a decision today according to Quran and leave India.

      • I am a Muslim too, my ancestors have lived here for thousands of years, I have my own religion and culture.
        I am Indian and I am starting to feel not wanted.
        But forget about me going to Pakistan Mr, this is my land. So let’s separate then, we are 165 million. I think we Muslims should take Kashmir, Himachal Pardesh, the northern half of Uttar Pardesh, the norther half of Bihar right upto Bengal. We will call the new Muslim land New India.
        Off course you will disagree, but because you are so selfish, we will have to fight for it, so let’s start the Jihad.

        • Finally you want to take some land and convert into your islamic land. That is the mindset, compared to Hindus, even being majority never interfered in your religion. There was a saying, when muslim in absolute minatory, they are obedient. When in minority they want some protection. Little above minority, they want privileges. When they are equal, they want their rights. When simple majority, they want to curtail rights of others. In absolute majority, others don’t exist, either convert or die. Any muslim majority country, this rule applies. Possible one country that is exception is Indonesia. Possibly they are more liberal than anyone else. Don’t get offended when someone put some facts.

  13. First and foremost you also needs to reclaim secularism. Today, many people believe that secularism was hollowed out by falsification of history, backtracking on the commitment to uniform civil code, and outright mollycoddling of extremism in West Bengal, Kerala and intellectual centers of JNU and a variety of think tanks. The opposition to the abrogation of Article 370 also comes from the same group of people who have no record of opposing the openly communal nature of separatists and their ethnic cleansing of the Kashmir valley.

  14. “Most recently, Kanhaiya Kumar showed us how nationalism could be reclaimed from Hindutva. ” – I would really love to have the stuff Vij is smoking! 🙂

    Kanhaiyas of the world are the biggest vote gathers for Hindutva.

  15. who are the contributors to the growth of RSS BJP In India ? Harish Khare , Mani shankar aiyer , Shivam Vij, prem shankar Jha , Sidharth Varadarajan , N Ram and the naxal gangs like them . They give credit to the ordinary indians for their own achievements

  16. The more one reads about Nehruji, respect and admiration increase. Last night I read a column by K Natwar Singh in which he reproduced an angry exchange of letters between him and his deputy. Put him absolutely in his place. No possible parity between the two great men. Nehruji se bada nationalist kaun ho sakta hai …

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