by MG Vaidya, in Organiser
At present, a fierce debate is raging in the media, as to who is secular. The two extreme points are represented by two Chief Ministers of our country. One is the Chief Minister of Bihar Shri Nitish Kumar and the other is Shri Narendra Modi Chief Minister of Gujarat.
Charvaka and Marx
According to me, the whole debate is uncalled for, because no individual is secular, unless he is an atheist. Ancient Charvaka and modern Karl Marx, may be cited as two prominent examples of secular human beings. Secular means, “of or pertaining to this-worldly things; not related to the other-worldly things, or any religion or spirituality or any superhuman power like ‘parmatma’, or God or Allah. Charvaka is a typical example of a secular being. He said, “As long as you are alive enjoy your life. You can incur heavy debt, but lead a lavish life. Is your body, once burnt on the pyre, going to come back? His exact words are -
Yavat jeevam sukham jeevet.
Rinam kritva ghritam pibet.
Marx too called religion as opium. But a vast majority of people believes in the existense of God, spirituality and the other-worldy entities like heaven and hell.
Are these people secular?
Can Sonia Gandhi be called a secular person? She is a Roman Catholic. I don’t know whether she regularly attends Church service or not. But I remember that once at the time of a Kumbha-mela, she had taken a holy bath at the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga and Yamuna. Also, she had been to a temple in Gujarat when she was on an election tour in that state. Can the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra from high profile Sharad Pawar to the present lacklustre Prithviraj Chavan be called secular persons, when on every yearly Ashadh-ekadashi (the eleventh day of the bright fortnight of the fourth month of the Hindu calender) they religiously perform the “Pooja” of Lord Vitthal at Pandharpur. Or for that matter Lalu Prasad Yadav, the so called quintessence of secularism, be called secular, when he takes interest in the ‘Chchat Pooja.’ What I want to emphasise is that only a person like Charvaka or Marx can be secular. Most of us are non-secular.
The State has to be Secular
Then what is secular? A political system can be secular. A State can be secular. I even emphatically assert that the State has to be secular. A non-secular or a theocratic state is a perversity, a contradiction in terms. In India this has been the case from ancient times. We have not borrowed that concept from the British. Even Shivaji’s rule was secular. In the seventh century king Harshwardhan’s rule was secular. He himself being a Sanatani Vedic Hindu, honoured saints of the Jain and the Buddhist saints also. Just consider why India is a secular state and not Pakistan or Bangladesh, though, they, too, were parts of the united India under the British rule. The reason is, India could proclaim itself a secular state, because Hindus are in a majority here. We did not became a secular state after 1976 when Smt. Indira Gandhi unnecessarily pierced the word ‘secular’ in the Preamble of our Constitution. The state was secular from the very day, it formally came into existence. Look at the words of Art. 14 and 15 of our Constitution. Article 14 says “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the protection of laws within the territory of India.” The Art. 15 gives the specifies when it declares “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on the grounds of only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.” The 42nd amendment if it is not redundant, only reiterates what was obvious. A secular state to the Hindus is as natural as to a man to have two legs. There can be a human being with only one leg, but that is either the result of some accident or perversity of nature. In the Hindu political ideology the state has to be secular, because its functions are limited to this-worldly affairs.
Evolution of European Polity
The advent of the word secular in European polity is due to its special historical evolution. In Europe, till the 16th century, both the spiritual and the temporal power was concentrated in one person i. e. the Pope or the Church of which he was the supremo. Many rulers resented this system. King Henry VIII of England (1509-1547) was the first to rebel against papal power. He severed his State’s connection with that Church, established his own Church and became its ‘defender of the faith.’ The others followed and stated that their State is secular i. e. free from Church-domination. But even now, no Catholic can become a King or a Queen of England. One incumbant to the throne of England married a Catholic woman and he was debarred from assuming the titular headship of that country. USA asserts that it is a secular state and really it is so. But in its history of about two and a half centuries, only once did a Roman Catholic become its President. And even he could not run the full term of four years. He was assassinated within three years. Since then no Catholic dared to contest the Presidential election. And yet Catholics constitute 24 per cent of the USA’s total population. In Hindu majority India, in a span of about six decades, we had three Muslim Presidents.
Now about the Nitish episode. Why did Nitish raise the issue of the Prime Minister of India, just now? The LS elections are two years away. Next month we have an election for Presidentship. Then follows Gujarat state assembly election. Then in 2013, we have assembly elections in several states like Delhi, Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka etc. Then will follow the LS elections in 2014. Why is Nitish in such a haste? If he wants to severe his party’s ties with the NDA, he can do it, any time. Even now, his party has chalked out a different path for the Presidential poll. If he entertains an ambition to became the next PM, he is free to aspire for it. He is also free to amuse himself with his personal opinion about Narendra Modi. But what is the meaning of pressurising BJP to declare its PM candidate? And why should BJP oblige him? The relevent polls are two years ahead. If Nitish can proclaim and propagate for a secular PM, what harm is therefore the Sarsanghchalak of RSS to say that the next PM can be a devotee of Hindutva. He will surely guarantee that his state-craft will be genuinely secular and not like the one that is practised today—a practice that makes a distinction between one religion and the other.
Look at a few examples of the practice of pseudo-secularism that is rampant in our country. The Supreme Court, granted alimony to a Muslim divorcee woman. This was in accordance with the Art. 125 of Indian Penal Code. But the Congress government of Rajiv Gandhi, to appease the orthodox Muslim mind, amended the Constitution to nullify the verdict of the highest court of justice. Is this secularism? Though it is directed by our Constitution to enact a Common Civil Law for all citizens nothing is done in that direction. Can it be called practising secularism? And the recent shameless attempt to give 4.5 per cent reservation to the Muslims from the OBC quota. Should this be lauded as secular statecraft? To vaunt a polity that makes difference between religions as secular and to insult those that propound that no discrimination be made on the basis of religion, calling them communal, is nothing short of intellectual adultery.