CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

“Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex” - Karl Marx

ARTICLE


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).

The lopsided 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.  

The subcontinent 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 Hindu Nation.  

These organisations 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.  

 

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