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Poke Me: The sham and dangerous ‘secular debate’

Jan 29, 2015, 08.20PM IST

gandhi

This week’s ” Poke Me”, invites your comments on ‘The sham and dangerous ‘secular debate’. The feature will be reproduced on the edit page of the Saturday edition of the newspaper with a pick of readers’ best comments.

So be poked and fire in your comments to us right away. Comments reproduced in the paper will be the ones that support or oppose the views expressed here intelligently. Feel free to add reference links etc, in support of your comments.

By Gopalkrishna Gandhi

Indira Gandhi, at the height of the Emergency, introduced the 42nd Constitution Amendment Bill. It was intended, basically, to effect changes in the Constitution that would give the prime minister primacy in the political life of the country. The placing of ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ in the Preamble to the Constitution, to join ‘democratic’ and ‘sovereign”, was part of the 42nd Amendment’s exercise. Nearly four decades on, the question — Why were those words introduced in the Preamble at that stage? — is of but historical or academic interest.

What is important is that the Janata Party, which, in its election campaigns in 1977 had vowed to undo the ‘Emergency amendments’ when it came into power and did precisely that, did not disturb ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ as introduced in the Preamble. It could have done away with those two 42nd Amendment words as well, as part of its Emergency roll-up. But no, it left them exactly where that Act had put them. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani were in that government. They did not even suggest that these two words be taken out.

So, why this talk about removing ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ from the Preamble now?

I do not want to speculate on the official Republic Day advertisement which selected the Preamble page of the original Constitution that, naturally, did not have ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ on it. Perhaps the powers that be said, “Hey, what luck! This cardinal page does not have ‘secular’ in it, let’s use it!” Perhaps they did so routinely. What does matter — and causes great concern — is that the selection of that particular page without ‘secular’ in it has now been hailed as the ‘accident’ that must become ‘real’.

The Union Minister for Telecommunications has said that “we should have a debate” on whether ‘secularism’ should stay in the Preamble. “We do not have to say we are ‘secular’ in order to be secular,” is the line. The ‘delete “secular”‘ demand comes from those who know that the Constitution embeds the ingredients of secularism in Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.

The focus today is on the word; tomorrow it will be on the concept. “We do not have to be “secular” to be a democracy,” can well be the next line. And who knows, “We do not have to be a democracy as long as we have good government'”can follow.

‘Let us debate secularism’ is part of the tablet which contains the following edicts: ‘Gita for National Book’, ‘Good Governance Day instead of Christmas’, ‘Sanskrit as a compulsory language in schools’, ‘Shaurya Divas for Shahid Divas’. It fuels the ‘Ram vs Haram polarisation’ and ‘We want Godse mandirs and statues’ demand.

Those who question the presence and purpose of ‘secular’ in our Constitution are, essentially, going against the concept of minority protection. Speaking in the Constituent Assembly on November 29, 1949, with India’s sectarian divisions in mind, B R Ambedkar had this to say: “…To diehards who have developed a kind of fanaticism against minority protection I would like to say two things. One is that minorities are an explosive force which, if it erupts, can blow up the whole fabric of the State… The other is that the minorities in India have agreed to place their existence in the hands of the majority… They have loyally accepted the rule of the majority which is basically a communal majority and not a political majority. It is for the majority to realise its duty not to discriminate against minorities.”

A ‘debate’ on whether the Preamble should contain ‘secular’ is a democratic-sounding offer made by a supercilious communal majority to Indian liberalism. Let no parliamentary democrat fall for it. Those who want to rewrite the alphabet of the Constitution and the nation must be told to gratify their thirst for a majoritarian vocabulary anywhere that they want to, but not in the atrium of the Constitution of India.

‘Secular’ entered the Preamble 27 years after it was first drafted – better late than not. It is well that it stands in that intoning of aims, for its presence there makes its sanctity that much more difficult to trifle with. The trifling is being attempted on the assumption that there will be little protest. There should and there will be protest, for India is not a land of political amnesiacs or of the ideologically-doped. It is aware of the consequences of political lethargy and of blind faith.

Not India’s religious minorities alone, but every liberal will see in the offer of the ‘secularism debate’ the carrot of a ‘theocratic rebate’, which offers condescending protection in return for conformism, uniformity and political bhakti – something no Republic can accept.

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