In India the reality is that the discourse on secularism boils down to trivial politics. As per the 42nd amendment (in 1976) to the constitution the politically contentious term ‘secular’ was added to the preamble. So it seems that Secularism is a relatively recent addition to our dictionary of political discourse. A ton of writings has already been authored by intellectuals and scholars from the social sciences, so I would not mind adding my two cents to the burgeoning literature volumes with this post. This question about secularism is overbearing the entire national conversation in the run-up to the next national polls, hence it is vital that secularism as a notion is de-constructed to release its essence, to make meaning out of the term.
Secularism essentially calls for the separation of the Mandir and the Mantri-land, but India has been a state where religion has been a personal affair but at the level of the state, faith is not a guiding force as in the case of Islamic Theocracies in the Mashreq. Secularism as a term is mis-construed as minority appeasement as it is equated with reservations and soft approach towards terrorism (which is highly debatable as left wing extremism has been in India since the late 1960’s and Mahatma Gandhi was killed by a right wing hindu fanatic). It has been intensely politicized to the extent that ‘Sickularism’ is a term imposed by the Indian Right on their left wing ideological cousins. The Indian Right treats the Hindu community as a monolith, but as a 79% block it has many sub-divisions such as backward and schedule castes who do not align themselves very comfortably with the ideology of Upper Caste Dominated Right. There are also states in India where Christians (North East), Sikhs (Punjab) and Muslims (Hyderabad City, J&K) are in the majority along with major minority populations in large states. In short, the whole secularism debate is a complex one. Minorities too have to shed the victim mentality mindset to be a part of the national conversation on growth. It is a two way traffic always. Give and Take; business and trade-off are the most important tool in ensuring secularism.
Power Politics is played out in the name of secularism. We have the 2nd largest Muslim Population in the World and the right has no option but to accept it. The Left has to make peace with the fact that India has been culturally as a Civilization: ‘Hindu’. The Congress also has to offer India development along with minority protection which in 1984 it miserably failed in Delhi. The BJP has to make overtures to moderate Muslims to be the part of its growth story plan, which in Gujarat it has conveniently excluded. Every major political party is guilty of a political sin in a mission to garner votes. And I have not started to even comment on linguistic politics in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu where Hindu from Samastipur is politically pitted against Hindu from Konkan.
The conversation on secularism has to be elevated on a practical platform. How do we embed secular ethos in policy design and planning?
The questions should address broader notions of secularism such as ecological and social justice, equity and economic efficiency in access to welfare rendered by the state. Petty Power Politics in the name of Faith and Identity is easy but regressive; can win one election but there are larger, critical matters at stake in governance.We need to raise above trivial definition based contests on secularism to one, on inclusive growth coupled with equity.