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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Reviving secularism

In case you are politically naïve and do not fully understand what that word means today let me make clear that it means Narendra Modi.

Written by Tavleen Singh |
April 14, 2013 2:31:09 am

In this week when the ghosts of 1984 have come back to haunt the ‘secular’ Congress party,it gives us a chance to talk about what secularism has come to mean in an Indian political context. I thought the subject had become irrelevant after the ‘communal’ Chief Minister of Gujarat changed the conversation to governance. But I was wrong. Even as I write these words there are meetings being held in Delhi by ‘secular,progressive people’ who suddenly feel the need to band together to fight ‘fascism’. In case you are politically naïve and do not fully understand what that word means today let me make clear that it means Narendra Modi.

His recent speeches and the assiduousness with which they have been reported live by nearly every news channel have caused alarm bells to start ringing in ‘secular’ circles. So,although last week’s reopening by a court in Delhi of cases from 1984 involving Jagdish Tytler have come as a blow,it has not weakened the resolve of secularists to stop Modi in his tracks. This is being done in different ways. In political circles there is a whisper campaign whose objective is to frighten the BJP into not naming Modi as their prime ministerial candidate. From Bihar already come loud noises about ‘consequences’ if this happens. In activist circles,Marxists,liberals and crypto-Islamists have united to paint doomsday scenarios for Muslims. And,in Congress headquarters the alarm bells ring loudest because of the fear that if the next general election takes on a presidential hue,their prince may not be able to take on the challenger from Gujarat.

Secularism is no longer a word in the Indian political context,it is a weapon. A weapon that has been used very successfully against ‘communal forces’ many,many times. And,who are these communal forces? Anyone who allies with the Bharatiya Janata Party or dares to question the secular credentials of the Congress party is a communalist. Having said this,I need to add that if you change your political allegiances and even if you once belonged to a communal party like the Shiv Sena,you become secular as soon as you join Congress.

It is an absurd debate and fortunately many,many Indians have seen through it long ago. But,the reason why I felt the need to raise it this week is because I believe it could once more distract us from India’s real problems. The most important of these problems is bad governance that is why when communal Mr. Modi talks about ‘su-shasan’ he draws an increasingly large audience.

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Examine the smallest of India’s failings to the biggest of them and you will find outdated ideas of governance. It is because of this that vast amounts of taxpayers’ money spent by the Sonia-Manmohan government on poverty alleviation has gone waste. The officials needed to administer a scheme like MNREGA are so many that there is almost as much money spent on administration as there is on giving the poor 100 days of annual employment.

It is because of bad governance that government schools do not teach and government hospitals do not heal. And,it is because of bad governance that 65 years after Independence,the Indian state is still unable to provide clean water,electricity,affordable housing and basic sanitation to its citizens. It is because of bad governance that our cities look so bad and it is because of bad governance that it takes us decades to build a highway or an airport that in better-governed countries could be built in less than half that time.

So,in my ever humble opinion,when ‘communal’ Mr Modi changed the subject to governance he did a national service. It forced even Rahul Gandhi to acknowledge in his first address to the nation that there were serious unsolved problems related to governance. If now we return to that ancient debate about secularism and communalism we will be regressing to a time when temples and mosques were more important than the need to win the war against poverty,illiteracy and disease.

So,to those ‘secularists’ readying themselves for a new battle against ‘fascism’ I have only one thing to say: India has moved on and it is time that you did too unless you want to find yourselves in the dustbin of dead ideas. On my travels in our vast and wondrous land,I meet many,many young people and talk to them about their dreams and their idea of the kind of country they would like India to be. And,trust me when I tell you that I cannot remember the last time I met someone under the age of 25 who said to me that he was seriously concerned about secularism. They are not worried about it because they take it for granted.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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