India: Secular Democracy or Hindu Rashtra
With freedom and
later the coming into being of the Constitution, India became a secular
democratic republic. At the same time the breakaway Pakistan's founder Muhammad
Ali Jinnah, in a speech in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, also declared
that Pakistan would be a secular state.
Soon enough after
Jinnah's death the logic of partition took over, and Pakistan in due course was
declared the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The same Pakistan which came to be
formed in the name of Islam, broke into Bangla Desh and Pakistan, on grounds of
language and geography among other reasons.
India progressed to
be a secular state; it has been trying to uphold the values of secularism.
Despite many hiccups, an attempt was there to keep alignment with secular
values until a couple of decades ago, when the issue of a Ram Temple was raked
up, along with the assertion that India is a Hindu Rashtra. Sectarian
nationalists have been asserting that secular values and the Indian
Constitution do not accord with the ethos of this country, and that the
Constitution must be changed to pave the path for a Hindu Rashtra (Nation).
partition of India, with the formation of Pakistan in Islam's name on one side,
and secular India on the other, was the accepted historical fact at the
time. But with the assertion of Hindu nationalism, many of those who
should know better are not able to fathom the historical events in the correct
light and in full complexity.
This came to the surface
yet again, when a judge of the Meghalaya High Court, Justice Sen, in a
judgement relating to a petition about domicile certificates made comments
that, as India was partitioned on the grounds of religion and Pakistan was
formed for Muslims, India should have been declared a Hindu Rashtra. When faced
with criticism he did say he believes in secularism and that India should not
be further divided based on religion or caste.
How do we see such
utterances from the likes of such learned judges? The history of India's
freedom movement and partition has been misrepresented over and over again,
which shows that popular perceptions of the causes of the partition tragedy do
not present the real dynamics of the phenomenon, and the massive tragedy of
mass migration which followed that partition process.
continues to suffer from the after effects of partition in various forms. While
in India it is presumed that it was Muslims' separatism which led to partition,
in Pakistan it is presumed that Muslims have been a nation since the time
Mohammad bin Kasim ruled in Sind in the eighth century, and that the formation
of Pakistan was needed to overcome the domination of Hindus.
These are mirror
image views. They are very superficial and present the viewpoints of communal
sections of society.
The majority of
Muslims and Hindus did stand for composite Indian nationalism, as represented
by the Indian National Congress led by Gandhi. These were the views of
those who led the anti-colonial movement, the movement for India's
independence. With the rise of the freedom movement which represented the
longings of the newly emerging social classes of industrialists,
businesspersons, workers, and educated classes aspiring for a democratic
society - they veered around to the INC, Gandhi.
The freedom movement
had two aspects. One was to oppose British rule, and the other was to build
modern India founded on the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
At the same time, the
feudal elements, declining classes, started
opposing the process
of making of modern India and opposing the anti-colonial movement. These
declining classes were steeped in the values of birth-based inequality, the
hierarchy of caste and gender. They in due course, separated in the name of
religion. The British policy of 'divide and rule' played a major role in the
separation of elements of feudal origin in the name of religion.
First, the Muslim
elite was encouraged and they formed the Muslim League, while the remaining
Hindu elite grouped themselves into the Punjab Hindu Sabha and later the Hindu
Mahasabha. Interestingly, only kings and landlords were part of these
organisations in the beginning. It is only later that some among the upper
caste, educated elite also joined these organisations. The Muslim League in due
course talked of Muslim Nation. The Hindu Mahasabha too asserted that we have
Hindu and Muslim nations in this country, and that the Hindu nation is primary.
Around this ideology the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh came up with the goal of a
resorted to identity politics and spread hatred against the 'other' religious
community. They laid the foundations of violence.
It was the British
who aimed at having a client state in South Asia, and hastened the formation of
Pakistan for Muslims and the remaining India for both religious communities. It
is ironic that despite the Muslim majority areas being demarcated as Pakistan,
a larger number of Muslims were part of India.
At one level the
confusion of the likes of Justice Sen, has its grounding in the very lopsided
policy which led to the creation of Pakistan, in the Muslim majority areas.
That India should be
a secular democracy was not just the fanciful dream of the leaders of the
freedom movement; it was the echo of the aspirations of vast sections of Indian
society. It was this vision of average Indians, which our leaders, our founding
fathers articulated, and this is what was enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
The last three
decades have seen the trampling of these values, which vast masses of Indian
society dreamt and dream. Just as the Muslim League in late pre-Independence
India could mobilise more Muslims due to its games of identity politics, in
India today, due to the rise of identity politics some sections of society have
been deluded into believing this is a Hindu nation.
These illusions built
around identity issues should be made to melt fast to remind us of our tasks of
building a nation of equals, irrespective of our religion, caste or gender.