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Thursday, July 29, 2021

The fallacy of the secular front

Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh, Sitaram Kesri, I.K. Gujral - everyone, we are told, is secular. And we are led to believe that it is good...

Written by Avijit Pathak |
January 6, 1998

Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh, Sitaram Kesri, I.K. Gujral – everyone, we are told, is secular. And we are led to believe that it is good to be secular. Because the consolidation of the secular front alone, as it is argued, can fight all that is negative about Indian politics: the politics of the sangh parivar and the resultant communalisation of civil society. In other words, we are often asked to believe in a set of binary oppositions: progressive secularism vs reactionary communalism, pro-people/anti-BJP vs violent/aggressive BJP.

The political construction of these binary opposites is rather deceptive. There are primarily two reasons. First, the secularity of the secular front is superficial and temporal. It is based on the fear of the BJP. It has got no enduring agenda. Its only preoccupation is power – power at any cost. And it is this power-drive (or self-indulgence) that explains the breakdown of the secular front. Why is it that a secular Kesri does not like a secular Gowda? Or why is it that a secular Mulayam is not always comfortable with a secular Indrajit Gupta?

Their secularism is rather an armour. It hides their true colour. Because to be anti-BJP does not necessarily mean that one is humane and progressive. For example, Laloo’s corruption and caste politics can by no means be regarded as better than the political Machiavellianism of Ashok Singhal. Or Kesri’s or Mulayam’s obsession with power is not fundamentally different from the restlessness of L.K. Advani or Kalyan Singh. One’s anti-BJP label is no proof of one’s progressive credentials.

That’s why there is really no wall that can separate the BJP from its enemies. Because the secular front is merely a name. It is an example of mere political expediency; it rests on falsehood. As a matter of fact, what unites the BJP and its enemies is their shared immorality, political opportunism, corruption and valueless politics. There is no lesser evil.

The alternative is the ideology of spiritualised humanism. It has got three distinctive components. First, it is different from westernised secularism. Because it does not see religiosity as an obstacle (obstacle to modernity) to be overcome. It sees enormous possibilities in religion. It believes that politics ought to be spiritualised and the lessons of religion (communion with the entire cosmos) can radicalise our socio-economic thinking. Second, it has got a holistic vision. It is different from the exclusivist approach to life. It thinks beyond caste, ethnicity and region. Third, its religious humanism is radically different from what we see in the politics of communalism: manipulation of religious symbols for secular pursuits. Instead of fragmenting and dividing us, its message is that of profound oneness.

What we, however, witness is the negation of this philosophy. The BJP does it through its politics of separation: the politics that alienates the minorities. The so-called secularists do it through their politics of fragmentation: the politics that can seldom go beyond the small confines of caste, ethnicity and region. It is this negation that explains the darkness at Ayodhya, the Fodder Scam in Bihar and the authoritarian style of Mayawati.

But then, the kind of humanism we are talking about is no empty dream. For example, we know how Gandhi, despite all shortcomings and limitations, was eager to practise this spiritual humanism. And in our own times the manifestations of this humanism can be seen in many local movements and struggles. Imagine the endeavour of some of our committed environmentalists (we are talking about ordinary grassroots activists, not international celebrities). With their simplicity, austerity, profound love for nature and awareness of the rights of women and tribals, they seek to concretise the philosophy of humanism in the sphere of socio-political action. These local struggles and alternative practises do arouse hope.

Given the paradigm of the prevalent politics (party-centric, money-oriented, macro electoral process), they can never join the mainstream. They are destined to be marginals and outsiders. That is the tragedy of contemporary politics. And, that signifies the meaninglessness of yet another round of general elections.

The writer is an assistant professor at JNU

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