The widely broadcast television inauguration of the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor by Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed the nefarious designs of the ruling regime. The invocation of Hindu symbols and ritualistic practices by the Prime Minister in a state function gave de facto official status to the majority religion. These developments open up many questions regarding the relationship between state and religion in a multi-religious and multicultural country.
While the Constitution categorically proclaims India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic, the current ruling regime is willfully ignoring this promise. Choosing to stay true to the vision made in Nagpur, this right-wing Brahmanic regime prioritizes intolerance. While direct physical violence by these forces is most obvious, one should also be wary of the deep discursive violence inflicted. For a political formulation whose imagination is supported by religion, the multicultural reality of the subcontinent is distasteful. While a single definition of secularism has been elusive, modern nation states have long grappled with this principle.
Scientific socialism since its inception has understood the role religion plays in a society of unequal exploitation. Marx wrote: âReligion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.
In India, too, reformers have constantly tried to suppress orthodoxy practiced in the name of religion and to bring our society into line with modern democratic values.
As significant energies of our freedom movement were invested in driving out the British, at the same time our leaders were aware of how independent India would come into being. Secularism was a characteristic of the main participants in the struggle for freedom. Gandhi, while claiming to be a Hindu, never tolerated religious discrimination. Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Bose, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad and others were steadfast in their commitment to a future secular state. BR Ambedkar issued the bugle call for caste annihilation and initiated perhaps the greatest social reform on this earth. EV Ramaswamy Periyar established rationality at the heart of Tamil society and Sri Narayana Guru’s calls for an end to discrimination based on birth have resounded with much echo. From the leaders of the Ghadr party to the left-wing revolutionaries led by Bhagat Singh, complete unanimity prevailed over the role of religion in the independent Indian state: it was to be a private affair with the state keeping the equidistance of all organized religions. . The republic that was inaugurated was a secular democratic republic with fundamental rights guaranteeing non-discrimination based on faith. The pro-British minority who advocated a state religion or a theocracy found few adopters among the population.
In India, we saw the rise of the RSS-BJP in the uncertain years after the 2008-09 financial crisis, riding Hindutva’s tank. The Hindu religion had no institution akin to the church, and it has remained strongly localized in practice. RSS and its obsession with uniformity have led them to conceive monolithic interpretations of certain currents of Brahmanic texts, which they wish to impose on this extremely diverse society. This thought is not only dangerous for community harmony but it can also set us back hundreds of years by diverting us from matters of material interest. Some contemporary developments have been worrying in this regard. Recently, a few municipalities in Gujarat embarked on a mission to ban the public sale of non-vegetarian food. A BJP MP from Gujarat has issued an ultimatum to the tribals that the benefits of the reservation will be taken away from them if they do not convert to Hinduism.
The elevation of the religion of the majority as a de facto state religion is becoming a real threat. We must be aware of the words of the French thinker Voltaire: ââ¦ anyone who can make you believe in nonsense can make you commit atrocities. The rise of religious common sense can only be challenged and rejected by putting the emphasis back on the real and concrete issues of dignity, livelihoods, health, employment and housing.
The important question before us is: should we allow religion to interfere with, or take over, the functioning of a secular state or should we resist this deviousness from the Hindu right? The lessons of our independence movement and the sacrifices of countless freedom fighters point us in only one direction.
The writer is Secretary General, CPI