Secularism has weak rootshttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/secularism-has-weak-roots/

Secularism has weak roots

The nation is looking increasingly parochial. Was pluralism only a Nehruvian concept?

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It has to be admitted that the Congress, which ruled the country for six decades, never deviated from the policy of secularism.

It is surprising that the Supreme Court’s February 9 remark that “we don’t know for how long it [India] will remain a secular country” has gone unnoticed. Not long ago, such an observation would have been derided and met with angry protests. Many would have assailed the apex court for doubting the secular credentials of the people, who have, by and large, resisted parochialism since India became independent.

But perhaps there is some truth to the court’s warning. The “ghar wapsi” campaign is a testimony to the winds of parochialism blowing through the country. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had even doubted the credentials of Mother Teresa, who served the destitute and disabled of all communities and encouraged them to pray according to the dictates of their own religion. But since the BJP came to power at the Centre, India’s ethos of secularism is being systematically attacked. On the ground, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s slogan “sabka saath, sabka vikas” rings hollow. It does not excite people any longer.

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Development has been lopsided — corporations are being given free run and the bottom half, which mostly comprises of Muslims and Dalits, is stuck in the same vicious cycle of not having access to capital and, as a result, not being able to start new ventures. This segment of the population knows no progress and continues to wallow in poverty and helplessness. They find the Modi government no different from the UPA. It is the same old story and practically nothing has trickled down to the bottom of the heap. At times, it feels as if policies are formulated to help only the upper strata.

The policies of the Modi government certainly offer little for the uplift of the lower half of society — Muslims and Dalits are worst-hit as upper castes and the rich lawfully appropriate economic gains. Statistics confirm that the haves garner most of the wealth that is created. The only refuge for the poor is religion — they are increasingly frequenting temples and mosques.

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Educational institutions reflect this disparity in society. Worse, they are being saffronised. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen had to withdraw his name from consideration for a second term as chancellor of Nalanda University. In a letter to the academic board written with a “heavy heart”, Sen said that it was hard for him not to conclude that the government wanted him to “cease” being chancellor. Further, he warned that academics in the country remain “deeply vulnerable to the opinions of the ruling government”. I wish Sen had not withdrawn his candidature. His hunch that the ruling BJP government did not want him to continue was probably true. But that is precisely why he should not have quit. He should have let the BJP expose itself for interfering in academic affairs.

Also, once again, the distortion of the past

has begun. The BJP government is bent on rewriting history so that it can justify the alleged pre-eminence of Hindus. Modi’s claim that there were udaan khatolas (flying machines) in ancient India is laughable. Yet, many in the Hindu community believe that the parallels of most modern inventions existed in ancient times.

The most disconcerting thing is the quiet acceptance of the parochial policies of the BJP government. There is little spirited opposition. Gandhian Anna Hazare has realised this and once again raised the banner of dissent. His protest against the land acquisition bill is, in fact, a fight against corruption and for the appointment of a Lokpal. More political parties should support his struggle. Hazare has shown the way forward to cleanse society. We have to be careful that the gains are distributed evenly and reach the poor.

But why is the nation, which doggedly pursued pluralism for nearly seven decades, looking increasingly parochial? Why has secularism not taken root after all these decades? Was pluralism only a Nehruvian concept that did not suit the people? Can this be the reason that Modi or, for that matter, the Sangh Parivar have been able to exploit the situation?

For the BJP, it is merely a question of tactics. There is an assurance, on the one hand, of the equality of all religions. On the other, it fuels the campaign of ghar wapsi. How does the Modi government reconcile itself with the two opposites? It has to be admitted that the Congress, which ruled the country for six decades, never deviated from the policy of secularism. But its government’s functioning made room for the divide between Hindus and Muslims. And we are suffering the consequences. How long will it take us to once again traverse the path of pluralism? The situation is dismal. The Supreme Court has underlined this.

The writer is a veteran journalist.