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Team Secularism

In a head-on confrontation with Hindutva, secularism has some inherent limitations. Secularism is a concept born of civilised, rational discourse.

india Updated: Mar 03, 2003 13:51 IST
SS Gill
SS Gill

In a head-on confrontation with Hindutva, secularism has some inherent limitations. Secularism is a concept born of civilised, rational discourse. It is gentle, humane and accommodative in its approach. In this age of shrill and spicy fare, it is also somewhat bland. It lacks the emotional splendour and missionary zeal of a resurgent ideology. Thus, it lacks a springboard to whip up passions.

Hindutva, on the other hand, appeals directly to one’s emotions. Its ideology is full of fire and brimstone. Its slogans hit you in the solar plexus. It dredges tribal memories and clothes them in the garb of patriotism. While all the time railing against jehadis, it wages a ceaseless jehad of its own. It has created a heady cocktail of history, myth and religion, and flaunts it as ‘cultural nationalism’.

The post-Godhra developments highlight this contrast in a telling manner. Before the incident, the Sangh parivar was in retreat. The mood in the Congress camp was upbeat. Such little hope was placed in the BJP doing well in Gujarat that at one stage the party seriously thought of pulling Narendra Modi out of the fray.

Then Godhra happened and the situation changed overnight. The BJP romped home victorious and Modi emerged as its saviour and star ideologue. It was natural for the winners to gloat over their victory and for the losers to feel disheartened. In the normal course of things, its impact should have been confined to Gujarat. But with victory in Gujarat, the BJP rediscovered its talisman.

The Congress, on the other hand, has compounded its woes by over-reacting to its defeat. It is confused and demoralised. There is a view in Congress circles that as Indians are inherently religious people, the secular credo of separating religion from the State is not a very feasible proposition. While earlier the problem did not come to a boil, it can no longer be ignored.

This view is flawed on two counts. One: all traditional societies are religious and there is nothing exceptional about India in this regard. It is through the process of modernisation that they get secularised. Nehru was keen on modernisation and cultivation of the scientific temper because he clearly saw the danger of the country being hijacked by a communal outfit.

Two, it is counterproductive to become a ‘B-team’ of the Sangh parivar in an attempt to steal some of its thunder. This would only confirm the supremacy of the ‘A team’, and the Congress would end up losing its soul in the bargain. It is pathetic, for example, the way some Congress chief ministers are trying to upstage the BJP as champions of cow protection.

The Sangh parivar has also completely outsmarted the secular parties in manipulating national symbols and icons. It has successfully projected itself as the most ardent champion of nationalism. What are the credentials of the RSS in this field? It was the Congress which became India’s first national party, led the freedom movement and liberated the country from colonial rule. The Election Commission’s definition notwithstanding, it is the only party which has a truly national presence.

On the other hand, the RSS made not an iota of contribution to the national struggle. In fact, its founding fathers made compromises with the British and one of them vehemently denounced Gandhi and the Congress and held Hitler as his role model.

Now when the Sangh parivar is claiming to be the sole custodian of nationalism and belting out a highly strident communal rhetoric, the Congress is gaping in bewilderment, groping for an adequate response. It is some measure of the parivar’s audacity that it has gone ahead and even laid claim to secular terrain, describing genuine secular parties as ‘pseudo-secular’!

The BJP’s performance at the Centre, as well as in the states, has been quite poor. The country’s economy is plunging towards the ‘Hindu rate of growth’ and its fiscal deficit has become unmanageable. So how is it getting over this handicap in its campaigns? It has totally bypassed the issue of good governance. True to its highly emotive approach, it constantly harps upon the threat to national security, menace of cross-border terrorism, danger of Islamic fundamentalism, anti-national activities of missionaries and the like.

Even in the state-level Gujarat elections, more attention was paid to ‘Mian Musharraf’ and his evil designs than to the problems of the common man.

The BJP has proved itself the unrivalled master of the art of coalition politics. Of the 25 parties forming the NDA coalition, only one, the Shiv Sena, subscribes to its ideology. All the others profess to follow the secular credo. Yet, it has not only taken all of them along for four years, it has gradually emasculated them completely.

The BJP has merrily gone all out to implement the Sangh agenda without its partners placing any obstacle in its way. It started by controlling the sensitive ministries of human resource development and information and broadcasting. With this leverage in place, it is thoroughly saffronising school-level education, rewriting India’s history and planting its ideologues in the major centres of academic research.

The BJP has also put to sleep the Prasar Bharati and has a free run of the country’s premier broadcasting organisation. While its theme song remains the same, it plays it in four different tunes through its four wings — the RSS, the BJP, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. Depending upon the demands of the situation, one organ blares a highly strident note and the other mutes it to mollify the alliance partners. At least till recently, the BJP’s top brass professed allegiance to the NDA agenda. But at the election rally in Himachal Pradesh, the prime minister openly stated, “We want to build the Ram temple at Ayodhya.” And having pocketed their 30 pieces of silver, none of the alliance partners has objected to this violation of the compact.

Compare this to the attitude of the opposition parties. Despite having a substantial ideological affinity, they just cannot come together. They are actually playing the BJP’s game by confronting one another in electoral contests and dividing the secular votes.

It serves no purpose to accuse the Sangh parivar of playing politics of hate and revenge and encouraging divisive trends in the polity. It is pursuing a specific ideology and a definite agenda. The only way to counter it is to craft a coherent secular ideology, pursue it with vigour and conviction, and not succumb to the temptation of beating the adversary at his own game by aping his tactics.

First Published: Mar 03, 2003 00:00 IST