Man has known religion more than he has known himself. When Adam ate an apple which was forbidden for him to eat, it was the verses in religious books that told mankind that he wronged himself; but when an apple supposedly fell on Newton’s head, the world cheered for his triumph. As time progressed, religion slowly began to recede in its control and its influence. The Church lost its political power, and politics pushed religion out of its domain, slowly yet meticulously. The West gifted the world the idea of ‘secularism’ and envisioned a world where men would keep the cross and prayer mat at home; not to imply that secularism would be misjudged as apathy towards religion or would imply the absence of spirituality, but because politics and religion, if brewed together, would be a stain to the national fabric irrespective of place, time and ideology.
Robert G Ingersoll, an American writer contemplated upon the reasons for this and stated, “They knew that to put God in the constitution was to put man out. They knew that the recognition of a Deity would be seized upon by fanatics and zealots as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought. They knew the terrible history of the church too well to place in her keeping or in the keeping of her God the sacred rights of man. They intended that all should have the right to worship or not to worship that our laws should make no distinction on account of creed.”
Irrespective of what exists in principles and theories, secular states have changed their means of functioning with politics and religion. This game in which one of the two tries to monopolise the other, keeps the equilibrium of secular powers ever shaken. The ‘secular’ state of Turkey had its President taking part in Hagia Sophia’s first prayer in 86 years, and the ‘secular’ state of India witnessed its Prime Minister inaugurate the construction of the Ram Mandir on August 5, 2020.
However, as criticism over Indian PM Modi’s move to attend this ceremony starts to abound, one must realise that maybe the faultiness of the action is backed by an idea which itself is faulty and illusionary. For a political scientist like Christopher Jaffrelot, India’s secularism has always been screwed. Not because it wasn’t ‘western’ in its approach, but because its outlook and affinities with pluralism and multiculturalism were much more than it could handle. How can a newly born independent nation that rose fiercely at Gandhi’s idea of Ram Rajya (The rule of Rama) forget its inclinations towards a ‘Hindu civilisation’ in a matter of a decade? How could a nation that was compelled to fight the colonial rulers instigated by the idea that India’s lands were always attacked by outsiders, colonisers, intruders, and Muslims be forgotten once India became independent?
The question remains: how does a nation that endured a national struggle with several secular symbols and undoubtedly persistent Hinduistic virtues, try and push itself away and remain ‘equidistant’ from all religious communities including Hinduism.
PM Modi in his victory speech in 2019 had said that for the last 30 years, political parties in power had practised nakli (fake) secularism, and true secularism was embedded in the idea of sabka saath sabka vikas, which is translated by his party as “justice to all, appeasement to none”.
Rajeev Bhargava in his article ‘How to rescue genuine secularism?’ claimed, “It is communal to believe or act in a way that presupposes that one can’t be a Hindu without being anti-Muslim, or vice-versa. Communalism is communitarianism gone sour. It is to see each other as enemies locked in a permanent war with one another.”
In this light, if one explores the idea of the Supreme Leader of a modern secular India inaugurating a temple and the allegations that such a deed negates the oath that he took as a Prime Minister, one must come to terms with the fact that the Indian PM is an outright Hindu. In 2019, when the PM made a visit to Kedarnath, his actions weren’t criticised because Kedarnath receives respect in the Hindu faith. The picture of him meditating in a cave was not being called ‘un-secular’ or ‘fallacious’ because the leader of the country is a follower of the Hindu faith and, hence, it would be mere hypocrisy to expect him to bow down his head in a mosque on a Friday afternoon or sing melodies in a Church on a bright Sunday morning.
So where does the problem exactly lie when it’s about inaugurating the Ram Mandir? The trouble lies in the fact that the inauguration, specifically of the Ram Mandir, symbolises a celebration; a new beginning of a place of worship of Lord Ram, and also communicates the end of another place of worship - the Babri Masjid.
Amartya Sen, the Indian Nobel Laureate, when discussing the ideals of secularism claimed that “The state must be equidistant from all religions – refusing to take sides and having a neutral attitude towards them, and the state must not have any relation at all with any religion”. In matters of these, the inauguration of the Mandir not only denies every atom of being secular, it moreover rejoices the construction as a predestined merriment.
If August 5 marked the construction of the Mandir and the imprisonment of every violator that pulled the Masjid to dust, would the criticisms against the PM be the same? Or would that be an element within the orbit of secularism?
What happens when justice seems to exist nowhere and celebration remains at the peak?
The answers remain unknown and unheard, and it boils down to one query; which is more flawed: is the ‘Indian ideal of secularism’ deeply flawed?
Maybe Muslims haven’t forgotten the demolition of the Babri Masjid, maybe they haven’t forgotten the Godhra Riots, maybe wishing them ‘Eid Mubarak’ via a tweet from the PM feels like mere hypocrisy, maybe they cannot choose to forget the faces of young Muslim boys who were lynched, and maybe every wound remains so wide open that they haven’t moved an inch towards recovery.
The criticisms that surround the inauguration of the Ram Mandir by the PM, that are deemed as mere ‘insecurities’ of a minority community, maybe aren’t just insecurities.
It’s sheer panic to witness and accept a blow to the nation’s secular fabric which in hindsight seems rather largely inevitable.
“The systematic push for political power by the Hindu right-wing would not have advanced without the ground prepared by the Ayodhya movement. It has contributed to India’s foundational shift from a pluralist democracy to majoritarian rule,” said Zoya Hasan, a political scientist and professor emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
“The message is a clear one: here is a day which should be celebrated as the day BJP fulfilled two of its core promises. The fact that no opposition leaders have raised their voice against this event being held in the middle of a pandemic shows how powerful the BJP has become,” said Sanjay Kumar, Director of New Delhi based think-tank Center for the Study of Developing Societies.
Like Rajeev Khanna in his article in The Citizen had said, “This Babri Masjid = Ram Janmabhoomi campaign has had a devastating impact on people like myself, who have spent most of their lives under its shadow…. The poet Kaifi Azmi was not wrong to describe the Babri demolition as Ram’s ‘Doosra Banwas’ (second forest exile) in one of his iconic poems under the title. But those who have never subscribed to the plurality of Indian ethos are once again busy bombarding us with calls to celebrate Diwali this August 5th”.
India’s secular mechanism is just like a vehicle with a failed break. And what happens to such a vehicle which is moving too fast, beyond bounds and red lights?
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