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Former home secretary ‘gagged’ from questioning India’s secularism

| TNN |


File photo of former Union home secretary Madhav Godbole.File photo of former Union home secretary Madhav Godbole.
MUMBAI: The abrupt cancellation of a hard-hitting lecture on the lack of secularism in the country, which was to be delivered by former Union home secretary Madhav Godbole at Mantralaya on April 4, has raised questions about whether the organisers felt uncomfortable about its content, which included criticism of the ban on cow slaughter.

The event had been organised by the Maharashtra branch of Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), an independent body.

Sources said Godbole was invited to deliver the B G Deshmukh memorial lecture by state chief secretary Swadheen Kshatriya, the honorary chairman of IIPA’s state wing. Godbole has delivered the B G Deshmukh memorial lecture twice before. This time, he chose the topic ‘Is India a Secular Nation?’, an issue also dealt with in his forthcoming book. He was asked for a copy of his speech in advance to circulate among audience members, as is the practice. This was sent to the organisers on March 11, sources said.

However, on April 1, Godbole was informed that the lecture had been cancelled as it coincided with the ongoing budget session of the assembly. However, the date for the event had been picked by the organisers, who are expected to be aware of the state government’s schedule.

When contacted, Kshatriya said, “The lecture has been postponed since IAS officers would not have been able to attend.” When told it had, in fact, been cancelled, he added, “I will find out the details after the assembly session.” He also pointed out that the event had been organised by the IIPA, not the state government.

TOI has accessed a copy of the speech, in which Godbole writes “the concept of secularism has lost all credibility”. “It is disconcerting that in recent times, serious questions are being raised about India’s secularism. It is for the first time since Independence that the ‘Hindu Rashtra‘ ideology is being talked about so openly, defiantly and persistently,” he adds.

It lists several signposts which “raise serious doubts” about India’s secularism, the including the destruction of the Babri masjid, the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, the 1992-93 Mumbai riots and the post-Godhra violence.

“The demolition of the Babri Masjid is a shameful chapter in India’s recent history, raising serious doubts about its secularism,” he says. About the Gujarat riots, he says, “The Godhra riots were qualitatively different in that it was state-sponsored violence against the minorities.” The anti-Sikh riots, he says, were all the more shocking since they took place under the “benign leadership of the central government”. The speech is critical of successive governments for failing to take action against perpetrators of communal violence.

What is striking is the total lack of political will on the part of all political parties to address these critical issues, raising serious doubts about their real commitment to secularism, whatever may be the rhetoric indulged in by them for public consumption,” it says.

Pointing out that the ban on cow slaughter is not in keeping with secularism, he says, “Particularly after the BJP government came to power in the Centre in 2014, the demand for banning cow slaughter has gained strength. Effectively, ‘ban the beef’ has become the national motto and another potent instrument in the hands of extremist elements to disturb the peace and communal harmony of the country.”

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