It is curious that when there was a consensus in the NDA on the need for a harmonious functioning of Parliament during the winter session and a fear that the Opposition might disrupt the proceedings, it is the government that resurrected a controversy on the word ‘secular’, the bedrock of our republic, right on the first day of the winter session. Union home minister Rajnath Singh said in Parliament on Thursday that “secular” had been the “most abused word”. Unfortunately the minister’s attempt to introduce clarity has added to the vagueness, if any, associated with the word.
First, to say some word has been ‘the most abused’ does not throw much light on the matter. Words such as liberty, liberal, democracy, nationalism or socialism have been ‘abused’ no less. Second, concepts such as secularism can be examined at two levels: at the level of comprehension and at the manner of execution. This is equally true in the case of the word ‘liberal’. In America the liberal advocates high state spending. Those who oppose this are called, somewhat derisively, ‘neo-conservatives’. But in India the word ‘liberalisation’ has ‘smaller government’ built into its meaning. If the Union home minister’s or, for that matter, the BJP’s contention is that it is in execution that secularism has been abused, Mr Singh or his party, the BJP, should spell out how it has been so. The way he has gone about the matter is a clear reminder of the days when the word ‘pseudo-secular’ used to be bandied about by the RSS and its affiliate organisations, at the height of the Ram janambhoomi movement. The BJP used to say then secularism meant ‘appeasement towards none and justice for all’. Taken at its surface value no one has any quarrel with this position. But then, the parties have not been able to meet halfway even on this.
Another point made is that the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ were not there in the original Constitution. This is no doubt true. But then our Constitution has gone through growth and evolution to meet the exigencies of the changing times. And also, has anyone said that the orientation of the State was not secular in Jawaharlal Nehru’s days (till 1964) just because the word was not there until it was introduced in 1976? Both the President and the PM have stressed India’s pluralism, which is by logical extension secularism itself, which we need. India is a land of many religions and communities, for whose ameliorative State action is needed. Given this delicate background, the minister should make a clarification, in the absence of which there is the danger of slanging match which can benefit no one, least of all our democracy.