WERE WE EVER SECULAR?

Anadi Naik

The Bharatiya Janata Party in the Parliament election, won hands down. Its new Prime Minister Narendra Modi with nearly 50 ministers is about to settle down to solve the country’s numerous problems. Many of the ministers are new to the governing and therefore untested. Collectively, how much they will help or hinder the Modi plan for the country is hard to tell. Those who helped Modi to occupy the Prime Minister ship are hugely elated. They are celebrating the occasion with gusto. The sense of jubilation among them is like coronation of Narendra Modi. With all due respect to their enthusiasm, such a large margin of victory for BJP is an achievement. But coronation it is not.

Given Modi’s track record and his Party’s tolerance for communal conflict many are genuinely concerned about the future status of secularism in India. In its Constitution the country declares itself as a Secular country. Successive Governments in New Delhi have followed this line. But the situation is different now. Like Indira Gandhi after the Bangladesh war Narendra Modi has a very strong majority in the Lok Sabha, the lower House of the Parliament. Should the regional Parties and others give him a helping hand in the Rajya Sabha, he could modify the Constitution. This is what scares a lot of secularists.

Let us face it. Have the people of India ever given up their religion to serve the greater interest of the country? Religion has been a part of their upbringing no matter where they are or where they go. Secularism was introduced to the country as an extension to its commitment for Socialism. Ordinary folks with mundane aspiration and apolitical attitude toward the county’s affairs did never give up religion. More than 85% Indians are Hindus. In some areas their number goes up to 97%. Until very recently, conversion to Hinduism was not possible because of the caste system. Unlike other religions, Hindus did not try to convert others into their fold because they just could not. There was no permission for it. On the other hand the others could convert from among the Hindus. Over the years, the issue of conversion became a contentious issue. Two years ago, the Christian Missionaries were attacked in Kandhamal and the Steins were murdered in Kendujhar. Both incidents happened in Odisha where religious tolerance used to be a tradition.

It is feared that incidents like those may become more common during the just established BJP rule. But this is not the first time BJP is coming to power. If the past is any guide, the new BJP will follow the pattern of the old BJP. A government in India cannot openly promote one community against the other. But that is how many Hindus feel inside India They see that other communities are getting away with many things that Hindus can only dream of and that the Government is taking a deliberate hostility toward them. Historically, The Bharatiya Janata Party gains its strength from this kind of feelings. When a person’s sense of rejection is mixed with anger and frustration he or she can hardly make a rational decision.

The fact that the population of India as a whole never embraced Secularism as its creed has been naively overlooked. It was imposed on the conscience of the masses by those who were trained in British schools. Rarely did they talk about communal aspiration. Now they are at a complete loss as the masses of India have made many of these educated elite “social outcastes.” The masses rejected their politics. In order to gain votes the Secularist Parties in the last election, like any other elections from the past, attempted to divide voters by caste and religion. While BJP kept hammering the message that it was poised to take India into a glorious future, its detractors fell short in countering the message. Now the result is for all to see. It would be hypocritical to say that the people of India do not care about religion because they are Secular and live in a democracy. Instead of denying the role of religion in public life, one could use it for common good. Used properly and without malice, Hinduism of the 85% of India’s population could emanate positive strength for the country and its people. Let us hope so.



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