Any political formation attempting to incite and divide people along religious lines is betraying India's civilizational values and its Constitution, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said.
Refraining from naming a political party, Singh said on Saturday, "forces of bigotry and communalism are trying to tear apart the fabric of our composite culture for narrow political gain." Such activities deserve to be condemned with contempt, he said while inaugurating a two-day Inter-Faith Harmony Conclave.
Coming in the wake of the BJP-related CD-controversy, the Prime Minister's remarks are considered as being consequential.
Secularism, he said, meant separation of religion from politics and equal respect for all faiths. "When we say our Constitution is secular, we mean that it espouses the separation of religion from politics and governance. Equally, it means that the Constitution accords equal status to all religious faiths. The idea of equality is important," the Prime Minister elaborated.
Organised by the Inter-Faith Harmony Foundation and Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the conclave is being attended by leaders of nine world religions from eight SAARC countries. Pakistan Information Minister Syed Ali Durrani, former cricketer Imran Khan and former Bangladesh Foreign Minister Kamal Hossain are among the participants.
No modern and open society can be a monolith, the Prime Minister remarked during his 20 minute address - while referring to the contributions of Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in preserving and nurturing India's social diversity and principles of co-existence.
Promoting religious harmony rather than opposing religious intolerance should be the goal, the Prime Minister said. "India - a sanctuary for the great religions of the world - has not only tolerated all religions, but has also respected all faiths. Harmony is a larger concept that requires mutual trust," he elaborated. "When we view each other as equals, we try to live in harmony. When we view each other as unequal, we try to practice tolerance," he said.
Majority and minority community are terms that are "numerical notions" not based on a value judgment or a spiritual concept, Singh said.
He said that nations and societies, which sought to impose uniformity, would "give way to those who embrace diversity. Every nation will have to learn to deal with the political, cultural and social consequences and implications of such diversity."
ICCR President Karan Singh referred to the "mixed record" of religion and said that while great art, drama and architecture had been inspired by religion, millions of people had also been killed in the name of religion. Religion is being misused in many parts of the world, he said - referring to the menace of terrorism. He said inter-faith movement encompassing universal values should be focused upon to put an end to fundamentalism.
Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit said the capital city represented the cultural mosaic of India's tradition of unity in diversity.