This election, every political party, was prominently displaying their secular credentials over their chests - my shirt is whiter than theirs, to woo voters. Why towards the end of election phases, suddenly the issue of secularism received prominence as compared to corruption- the issue which initiated the tempo for 'change'?
Secularism-a word coined in 16th century, following European reform movement - state separate from the religion, lacks the spirit of sarve dharma sambhave - the essential innate ingredient of Indian cultural ethos; the coexistence of all religions as Amrytya Sen says. Perhaps because they had a state religion and did not have more than one religion like in India with no state religion. Gandhi believed religion - a righteous discipline is essential for social regulation. He saw Indian people not on communal lines but on political and economic lines.
Over the years, with vote bank politics taking over, the secularism has been overused as it is misunderstood, and misused (for appeasement) to the extent to making it divisive - a politically charged topic. As a result it has acquired different forms - secular, non-secular, pseudo-secular and convenient secular. Nehru was a committed secular and so were his contemporaries with an equal vision for Independent India. Non-secular are those who are perceived as anti-Muslim (like BJP, VHP, and RSS). Those who proclaim themselves as secular but are not in real practice are pseudo-secular (as Congress is perceived). Those who exploit short term emotions for the suffering minorities following riots (like in Muzaffarnagar) are convenient secular.
These different forms of secularism have emerged out of compulsions of minority (read Muslims) vote bank politics. There was no majority and minority until British came who made Hindus conscious of their majority status as were Muslims of their minority place in the society, and filled Hindu majority fears. Ashoka and Akbar - the best Indian rulers were not Hindus. The Hindu majority was ruled by Muslim Kings and Muslim majority by Hindu rulers. The first spark of Indian independence movement was under the leadership of a Muslim King. Hindu majority fear, therefore, is a myth. Those Muslims who decided to stay back at the time of partition are more secure, even the sectarian violence- endemic during British days is negligible.
The universal equal attitude of Indian culture imbibed every religion either born in India or came from outside; the later got modified with give and take. Indian Islam, therefore, is different to Islam practiced in Muslim countries; that makes 'Indian Muslims' different than those in Muslim countries. Once following a spurt of Shia-Sunni conflict one cried on TV asking, "Where has the insaniayat gone." Humanity and non-violence is inherent to Indian cultural ethos. The remarkable cultural sensitivity with mutual respect to each other's religion is what makes "every Indian" secular. Indian movies showing communal harmony and brotherhood like Amar Akbar and Anthony are applauded, and the unrewritten covenant of all faiths being equal is celebrated, and whenever it is broken they are rejected by the people.
Muslims form a large minority, therefore the competitive politics to get a vote share. At places they are in majority and in minority at another. Being in minority is neither bad nor of any concern to any other but problems arise when it is used by vested interests and they are kept alienated and under constant fear. Insecurity is the root cause for fear which may be, at times, presumptive than real. Those who fear ghettoize, and look upon to those who can promise security. They are exploited and fear let them get exploited by pseudo-secular and convenient secular to keep their vote share. This fear has led to experiments forming exclusive Muslim political parties - Muslim majlis, Insaaf party etc but without much results, because Muslims having common demands like any other want not necessarily Muslim leaders but leaders whom they can trust; Atal Bihari Vajpai enjoyed that trust.
Symbolism like wearing a skull cap at occasions, attending to Iftar parties, Haj subsidies, encouraging minority institutions without addressing community's socio-economic problems is demonstrative secularism. This realization-that it is more to please has come to them, though late. During this election, rejecting to be a vote bank, they are faced with a dilemma; they fear one and feel cheated by the one whom they trusted for long and now looking for an alternative.
The young have come out of constrains of any caste and religion or the fear complex and or the religious orthodoxy for an imagined paradise. They are no more stereotypes with skull caps and beards, and any talk on secularism vs communalism does not impress them. The increasing education has led to awareness - liberating human spirit - to compete equally to avail opportunities - India provides as never before for self prosperity and better quality of life or they will stagnate. They will assert and make decisions to bring in change.
Secularism is a sacred part of our constitution. Hopefully this election, which is fought on issues of corruption, development and jobs, education and healthcare -the issues common to all belonging to any caste or creed, changes the political narrative and regaining the true spirit of secularism- the neutrality to all religions and mutuality- inducing confidence among the minorities. And rajdharma drives equal (breaking away minority-majority divide)-merit oriented social regulation above corruption to ensure better quality of life and justice to one and all without discrimination or favours.
Post script: The election results are out and the astounding BJP victory cannot be without minority support. So clearly fear complex is broken with the expectation for the promised development, jobs and achche din.
Dr S K Srivastava
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S K Srivastava is a Delhi-based freelance writer.