Once again, a BJP President has called for a national debate on secularism. This is an ominous sign. On an earlier occasion, when the then BJP President, L.K. Advani, called for a similar debate, what followed was the ‘rath yatra’ that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
At the recent national executive meet of the BJP that was held in the afterglow of its electoral victory in Karnataka, Rajnath Singh asked for the replacement of dharmanirpekshata (the Hindi translation in the Constitution’s preamble for ‘secularism’, which means equality of all religions) with panthnirpekshata (equality of all sects). This is nothing else but the old RSS view that only Hinduism qualifies as a religion, while all other religions merit recognition as sects.
It is, therefore, only natural that the RSS has endorsed this view. The presidential address continued in the similar vein to restate that the RSS demands for the abrogation of Article 370 and the imposition of an Uniform Civil Code. It is, therefore, clear that in the run-up to the 2009 general elections, the BJP is gearing up to further sharpen communal polarisation by bringing the hardcore ‘Hindutva’ agenda to centrestage.
On the last occasion, when Advani gave the call for a debate on secularism, he outlined the BJP’s conception in a set of two articles (The Indian Express, December 27 and 28, 1992). Though these were painfully laboured attempts to whitewash the party’s brazen violation of law, the capitulation of the assurances given by it to the Supreme Court and the National Integration Council, and to disguise the pre-planned and rehearsed destruction of the Babri Masjid on the previous day, three ‘covenants’ of BJP’s definition of secularism were advanced:
n Rejection of theocracy: This means the automatic upholding of not only democracy but also of secularism. However, does the BJP today repudiate what M.S. Golwalkar had said: “In Hindustan exists, and must exist, the ancient Hindu nation, and nought else but the Hindu nation. All those not belonging to the national, i.e. Hindu race, religion, culture and language, naturally fall out of the pale of real national life.”
The BJP has not disowned this till date. This only means that they are, once again, misleading the people and attempting to camouflage the real RSS intention of transforming the modern secular democratic Indian Republic into a rabidly intolerant ‘fascistic’ ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
n Equality of all citizens irrespective of faith: The BJP’s commitment to this concept can be understood only if they, once again, repudiate what Golwalkar said: non-Hindus “have no place in national life, unless they abandon their differences, adopt the religion, culture and language of the nation, and completely merge themselves in the national race. So long, however, as they maintain their racial religious and cultural differences, they cannot but be only foreigners.” Does the BJP repudiate this today?
n Full freedom of faith and worship: It is ironic that the BJP’s ‘PM-in-waiting’ had advanced this precept of the BJP’s concept of secularism the morning after the destruction of the Babri Masjid. After the Gujarat carnage of 2002 and its current return to ‘RSS basics’, it is unlikely that Rajnath Singh will repeat this. However, if he does, the BJP’s sincerity can be understood, once again, if only they are willing to repudiate what Golwalkar said:
“The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea except the glorification of the Hindu religion and culture, i.e. of the Hindu nation, and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or they may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment — not even citizen’s rights. There is — or, at least, should be — no other courses for them to adopt. We are an old nation, let us deal as old nations ought to and do deal with the foreign races who have chosen to live in our country.”
The BJP’s call for a national debate on secularism has no meaning unless it clarifies unequivocally its position on these issues that Advani had advanced as the BJP’s concept of secularism 16 years ago.
Not too ingeniously, Advani had then deliberately left out of his definition of secularism, its scientific foundation, the separation of religion from politics and the State. As long as this is not adhered to, secularism, in the sense of equal rights to all belonging to different faiths, cannot be ensured. In evading this, Advani is only echoing Golwalkar: “With us, every action in life, individual, social or political is a command of religion... Indeed politics itself becomes... a small factor to be considered and followed solely as one of the commands of religion and in accord with such commands. We in Hindustan have been living such a religion (Hinduism).”
Religion is the sacred private relationship of every individual with his God. Unless equal rights exist for those believing in different religions or atheists, secularism cannot be secured. Remember, Charvaka, the atheist, is as integral to the Indian tradition as is the Saraswati Vandana. Thus, the BJP’s latest call for a debate on secularism appears as a ruse to advance its core communal agenda. The BJP is, once again, confirming that it is the political arm of the RSS, a pseudo-Hindu party that misuses religion for its electoral gains.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and MP.