The Narendra Modi government holds office under oath of this very Constitution that includes the word ‘secularism’
In a few hours, we will know the complete Delhi verdict. The RSS/BJP staked their prestige on these elections. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah worked overtime. The induction of Kiran Bedi as their chief ministerial candidate appeared at first as a fine-tuned strategy to cut losses — victory being attributed to Modi and defeat to her. However, during the last phase of campaign, the BJP commissioned over 120 MPs, 20-plus Cabinet ministers with the PM himself addressing three rallies in four days.
The BJP is yet to learn from its post parliamentary election experiences at the hustings. In by-elections held in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan for 50 assembly seats, the BJP-led NDA won a mere 18 compared to the 35 where it had big leads in Parliament elections. Likewise in UP, it lost in seven where it recorded big victories. The BJP secured a Lok Sabha majority with only 31% of votes cast.
It wrested the state governments in Maharashtra and Haryana by winning 123 seats, polling only 29% in the former and a majority polling a mere 33% in the latter. In Jharkhand, the BJP lost 10% of its parliamentary vote. Under conditions of strong anti-incumbency and multi-polar contests, the BJP has been securing a majority with a minority vote share. Both these factors, however, were absent in Delhi. Instead, there was a visibly strong Modi anti-incumbency sentiment.
The ‘Modi magic’ seems to be waning a little too fast. Slogans like achhe din aanewale hain creating illusions of prosperity and the pursuit of hardcore communal polarisation at the ground level, welded together to give them electoral victories. Post parliamentary elections, the development illusions are fast vanishing and the campaigns for ghar wapsi; love jihad; rewriting Indian history, parading mythology as history, etc have exposed their real agenda. The latest is the controversy regarding the publication of the original preamble to the Constitution in an official government advertisement. Sections of people, battered by this communal offensive, are naturally, seeing a design in the omitting of the word ‘secularism’ from the preamble.
The BJP has cemented this suspicion by calling for a debate on ‘secularism’, saying that this word was added by an amendment by Indira Gandhi during the Emergency (1975-77). The call for such a debate, despite recent sanitised comments by the BJP president withdrawing the initial aggressiveness, is widely seen as ominous. It is reminiscent of the call for a ‘debate’ on secularism during the infamous BJP rath yatra that left a carnage of communal bloodshed in its trail culminating in the demolition of the Babri masjid in December 1992.
The Modi government holds office under oath of this very Constitution that includes the word ‘secularism’. Seeking its removal now is tantamount to the negation of this oath. Further, both AB Vajpayee and LK Advani were members of the then Union Cabinet which dismantled the Emergency’s authoritarian structure through the 44th constitutional amendment. The sole exception was this amendment to the preamble, which the then Janata Party government correctly saw as a mere reiteration of the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Our ‘Fundamental Rights’ (Articles 25 to 28) grant ‘Freedom of Religion’ to all citizens. Article 25 encapsulates the secular essence of the Indian Republic by granting “Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion”. The word ‘secularism’ in the amended preamble only reconfirms this. However, now the BJP is using this as yet another opportunity to rouse communal passions.
During the Constituent Assembly discussions, one of those rare occasions when the Assembly actually divided by show of hands, was on an amendment prefixing the words “in the name of God” in the preamble proposed by HV Kamath. This was defeated by 68-41 on a forceful plea that the invocation in the name of God was inconsistent with the freedom of faith, which was not only promised in the preamble but was explicitly guaranteed as a fundamental right. (The framing of India’s Constitution by B Shiv Rao and others). BR Ambedkar, replying to the criticism of the draft Constitution on the safeguards it provides for religious minorities, said that the Assembly “has done wisely in providing such safeguards”.
In independent India, after the Babri masjid demolition, the then BJP state governments of Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan failed to implement the Supreme Court-upheld ban on the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal in the country. This led to a breakdown of law and order in these states, leading to the imposition of president’s rule by dismissing the governments. This was judicially challenged.
The Supreme Court clubbed all such cases questioning the law and heard them conjointly including the landmark SR Bommai case regarding the misuse of Article 356, by a nine-member Constitutional Bench. While adjudicating that a state government cannot follow any particular religion, it elaborated on the concept of secularism. It reiterated that secularism is one of the basic features of the Constitution — in matters of State, religion had no place; the Constitution neither recognises, nor permits, mixing religion with State power; both must be kept apart and politics and religion cannot be mixed. Any state government pursuing non-secular policies or a non-secular course of action acts contrary to the constitutional mandate and renders itself amenable to attract Article 356. The Supreme Court, therefore, upheld the dismissal of those BJP state governments including UP then.
Thus, this issue of secularism has been unambiguously settled. The RSS/BJP’s call for a debate on secularism, therefore, is part of its design to metamorphose the secular democratic Indian Republic into a rabidly intolerant fascistic ‘Hindu Rashtra’. For the sake of ‘India, that is Bharat’ this cannot be allowed.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal