“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms,” Friedrich Nietzsche once said. India is a secular country where religion still occupies centre-stage. It is often said that the political structure of secularism is irrelevant and out of place in societies like India where religions are “totalising” in nature. So, Yogi Adityanath is probably right in saying that the “word secular is the biggest lie told since Independence”. He has every right to say so because in his first speech as CM, he announced a Rs 1 lakh subsidy for the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, though his party, the BJP, has been opposing the Haj subsidy.
India’s failure in erecting a wall of separation between religion and state — like in the US — was the first blunder of our republic. Secularism is understood to be at the core of modernity. A mahant becoming a chief minister proves its failure in India. The narrative of secularisation is typically recounted as a story of progress and the gradual emancipation from religion through the exercise of reason. In Europe, it came about after the destructive sectarian wars in the 16th and 17th century.
In contrast, religion still dominates our politics. Rajiv Gandhi started his 1989 election campaign from Ayodhya. Now, Rahul Gandhi is visiting temples during his election tours in Gujarat. Adityanath has compared the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat to Ram Rajya.
Some members in the Constituent Assembly did, indeed, want the Constitution’s Preamble to begin with the phrase “in the name of God”.The Uttar Pradesh chief minister should read the Constituent Assembly debates. He would be shocked to know, that when the matter was put to a vote, God lost.
It is disturbing to see that the modern, democratic and secular Indian state and its leaders have been trying their best to revive the state-temple/mosque relationship. As a result, the Indian state is fast becoming a defender of faith.
No one can deny that in the wake of a Partition in the name of religion, and the subsequent unfortunate conversion of Pakistan into an Islamic state, India’s decision to opt for secularism was indeed historic. Jawaharlal Nehru led from the front in India’s adoption of secularism. He said in his autobiography that “organised religion” filled him “with horror… almost always it seemed to stand for a blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition and exploitation.”
Nehru’s strong views on religion did play a significant role in our choice of a secular polity, though the term secular was not used in the Preamble. Unlike today’s politicians, Nehru did not need religion to succeed in politics.
The Supreme Court has also negated secularism when it did not consider the Shiv Sena’s promise of “establishing the first Hindu state in Maharashtra”. It did not see an appeal in the name of religion as a corrupt electoral practice.
If we continue to have leaders like Adityanath, we will be soon asked to apologise for India’s modern and progressive constitution as well. There is an urgent need to revive secularism and free the Indian state from the influence of religion. The failure of secularism will be the greatest tragedy of modern India.