Is India still secular?

Published: May 3, 2015
The writer is the author of Torment & Creativity (2014)

The writer is the author of Torment & Creativity (2014)

“We the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic Republic…”

— Preamble to the Indian Constitution

The founding fathers of India, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, wanted to model India as a secular country. Nehru, a self-proclaimed agnostic, stood for secularism, democracy and scientific temperament. The three goals were enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Though Dr Ambedkar is regarded the prime architect of the Indian Constitution, however, Prime Minister Nehru wielded considerable influence in its framing. The provision of the Constitution, which mainly postulates secularism, is its Article 25. It grants citizens of India of all religious persuasions to profess and propagate their faith “in a way that does not disrupt public order and does not affect morality adversely”. These words are construed to act as a constraint to the anti-conversion laws. Many states in India have already passed anti-conversion laws. Some of them are Orissa (in 1967), Arunachal Pradesh (in 1978), Gujarat (in 2003), etc. Secularism, according to the Constitution, does not mean separation of religion and state like it does in the West. What it means is equal treatment to all religions. The personal laws of all religious communities, whether they are of Muslims, Hindus or Christians, continue to be enforceable.

The goal of secularism, set by the Indian Constitution, has been under threat since the death of Nehru. The change, however, was slow, almost imperceptible. But since the 1990s, it has accelerated. The demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 is but one example. However, since the advent of the Modi government, the change has acquired gargantuan proportions.

One indicator of India moving away from the goal of secularism is the glorification, a near deification, of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who was the first home minister of independent India. Patel was a staunch Hindu and had a clear bias against Muslims, and preference for capitalists. The two attributes were in clear contrast to Nehru’s views. No wonder Nehru’s contribution to the stability he provided to the Indian Union, his efforts in solidifying democratic institutions, developing industrial infrastructure and bestowing a solid base to the Indian educational system are being underplayed in present-day India. In contrast, Patel’s deification has acquired huge proportions. Plans are on to build an 1,182-metre tall statue for him in Sadhu-Bet Island in Gujarat. When completed, it would be the tallest statue in the world, twice the height of the statue of Liberty in New York.

Modi won a landslide victory in the previous Indian general elections as the nominee of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Though the party was established in 1980, it is the creature of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), which was formed by K B Hedgewar in 1925. Previously, he was a member of the Hindu Mahasaba. Not finding it orthodox and aggressive enough, he wanted to establish a party which should exclusively devote to promoting cultural and religious heritage of Hindus, which in his view was the basis of Indian nationhood. The stalwarts of the party met Mussolini in Rome and declared their intention of organising it on the lines of the National Fascist Party of Italy. Radical and authoritarian Hindu nationalism became the creed of the RSS, which was also in line with the doctrine of Mussolini’s party.

Modi joined the RSS as a 10-year-old lad and remained its pracharak (full-time volunteer) for most of his life. His successful tenure as Gujarat’s chief minister, his vapid attitude towards solving the mystery of the Godhra train fire and the resultant massacre of thousands of Muslims, and above all, his resounding success in the 2014 elections have reinforced his ideological moorings derived from the BJP.

Hindutva is an important element of the BJP’s ideology. The party’s sub-group, the DJS, (established in October 2002) recently declared in no uncertain terms that “our target is to make India a Hindu Rashtra by 2021. The Muslims and Christians don’t have any right to stay here. So they would either be converted to Hinduism or forced to run away from here.” The group converted 250 Muslim to Hinduism in Agra in December 2014. It is hard to determine whether the conversion was by force, or coercion or bribery. Perhaps all the factors played their roles. The movement has been given the name of Ghar Wapsi (returning home) on the assumption (read assertion) that all Muslims and Christians in India were originally Hindus whose ancestors converted to other religions. Therefore, their conversion to Hinduism is regarded as re-conversion or a homecoming. The RSS supremo, Mohan Bhagwat, further played up this stance by stating: “Those who lost their way were separated from us. It is like a thief who steals our valuables. When the thief is caught, we will get our valuables back. They are ours.”

Hindutva has, to an extent, become a Frankenstein’s monster for Modi. There are some important Indian politicians who hold the opinion that the Modi government is not doing enough for its promotion. One of them is Sakshi Maharaj, a Hindu priest-turned-politician. He is a five times MP and a powerful person by virtue of his 10 million followers and his political clout. On several occasions, he has been charged by the police with rioting and inciting violence. He played an important role in the demolition of the Babri Mosque. Maharaj seeks to pass a law in the Indian parliament prescribing the death penalty for slaughtering cows. To him, Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse was a patriot, who stopped Gandhi from protecting Muslims by assassinating him.

US President Barack Obama, who is otherwise highly laudatory of India’s economic progress, its culture and its leader, warned the Indian government against religious intolerance. He went to the extent of declaring that religious intolerance will stall India’s economic progress and wreck its democracy. Modi has not spoken out against intolerance, much less taken action against it. The International New York Times has editorially commented: “Mr Modi’s continued silence before such troubling intolerance increasingly gives the impression that he either cannot or does not wish to control the fringe elements of the Hindu nationalist right.”

Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2015.

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Reader Comments (37)

  • Paki
    May 3, 2015 - 2:30AM

    “Plans are on to build an 1,182-metre tall statue for him in Sadhu-Bet Island in Gujarat.”

    some correction required here. If this is built as mentioned, this will not only be the tallest statue, but will be tallest structure of any kind built by humans. Much higher Vs any other structure of any type that exist on this planet. Recommend

  • May 3, 2015 - 2:39AM

    Patel had more to do with Indian Constitution than Nehru did. Dr. Ambedkar, the father of Indian Constitution got most of his ideas from Patel, not Nehru. Besides Patel did not dislike Moslims, he was the savior of Muslims. Just because he was a true Hindu does not make Patel anti-Muslim. Recommend

  • ajeet
    May 3, 2015 - 3:20AM

    Nice to know that Muslims find secularism good when they are in minority. Once a majority, they want sharia.Recommend

  • Bairooni Haath
    May 3, 2015 - 3:50AM

    Maybe you should concern yourself in protecting minorities in Pakistan instead of worrying about India. More Muslims have been killed in the name of religion in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan than in secular India. Indian Muslims can practice their religion without fear and visit their Mosque without a security guard frisking them. Something to think about.Recommend

  • Amased
    May 3, 2015 - 5:59AM

    The BJP government wants to ban Conversion completely. Why are Muslims opposing it? The BJP government wants to bring a common law for all religions in India. . Why are Muslims opposing this? Moreover, there ate too many things happening in Pakistan. Why care about what happens in India. India will be secular or not, No need for Pakistan to air its views. You are simply a noise.Recommend

  • Rajiv
    May 3, 2015 - 6:56AM

    It depends on how you define secularism.
    The constitution will stipulate all citizens will have equal rights. Any muslim, christian, or buddhist can become Prime Minister, Army Chief, President, Election commissioner, etc.
    No discrimination based on religion.

    If you define secularism as hindus required to be slaves in their own country, being afraid and bullied by minority, the answer is a resounding NO. India will not be “secular’ by this definition.Recommend

  • komal s
    May 3, 2015 - 7:54AM

    Pakistanis do not get the fact that BJP for the first time is lead by a person from the so called backward community. Vajpayee, Advani the darlings of Pakistan are also product of RSS. Congress loves Patel, as much as BJP does except they love Nehru more. No Muslim in India will categorize Patel as anti-muslim. Indian constitution which Pakistanis admit as being secular is repeatedly quoted by modi as his sacred book. BJP wants uniform civil code, i.e no special laws for any religion. Remember we have some real archaic laws for Hindus which needs to go away too. BJP would like ban on conversions. Typically minorities should welcome ban on conversions because it protects them. Ironically everybody see this ban as protecting majority Hindus. Please think through why? Recommend

  • satender
    May 3, 2015 - 7:54AM

    yes you are right.. CORRECTION IS REQUIRED the statue is called statue of unity.. and it will be 182 metres tall. search wiki for more.Recommend

  • Ravindra Sharma
    May 3, 2015 - 8:11AM

    india is fully surrounded by the anti democracy countries and apart from China all are more or less religious fanatics . Shrilanka and Maynmar are ruled by Buddhists fanatics , Pakistan and Bangladesh are ruled by Muslim fanatics so is it possible for India to remain secular to the core ? So far as preamble of the Indian constitution is concerned Socialist and Secular was not written in the original constitution but inserted by Indira Gandhi during emergency era and it can be re amended . So far as China is concerned they are ruled by authoritarian party which stopped Namaz and Mosques , restriction on beard’s length but the darling of Pakistan . There must be balanced opinion .Recommend

  • rama
    May 3, 2015 - 8:49AM

    I am not sure why Pakistan is more concerned about the Indian minorities. If Pakistan can’t live upto the expectation of its founding father Jinnah and I don’t what these intellect were doing when Pakistan was changed to Islamic republic of Pakistan. Again and again Pakistanis are attacking the Modi govt. without knowing the fundamental facts. Minorities including Muslims in India are in the safe hands, neighbours don’t have to bother about it. If you very concerned about the Muslims in India, as per term of the partition of the sub-continent from British govt, you can repatriate those Muslims who compliant that they are not safe in India.
    Stop these non-sense and respect the elected govt Recommend

  • Amit Lunia
    May 3, 2015 - 8:50AM

    But people get killed when they proclaim they are secular in Pakistan or Bangladesh.

    Even Zaid Hamid was accusing the Saudi Monarchs of the heinous crime of being secular

    Why so much worried about Indian secularism, let it become Hindu PakistanRecommend

  • satender
    May 3, 2015 - 10:34AM

    why these pakistani is so obsessed with indian secularism. Recommend

  • Tyggar
    May 3, 2015 - 10:46AM

    An Islamic jihadi fundamentalist country worried about Secularism in another country. Oh! the hypocrisyRecommend

  • sabi
    May 3, 2015 - 11:15AM

    Anti conversion bill means ban on freedom of expression or freedom of conscience am I right?.
    Would this mean ban on preachings.I don’t really see any logic behind this law -can someone explain it to me.Recommend

  • Spaced Out
    May 3, 2015 - 11:32AM

    If the author did a little bit of more historical digging he will find that Patel was a staunch anti-Hindu fundamentalist – a very separate position from being staunch Hindu. He banned the RSS/Mahasabha and it was bcoz of Nehru that they were allowed to operate again. Patel was more ruthless and would have kept them away. This is all on historical record.

    The deification of Patel is an attempt by the Right to frame the early years in a Nehru vs Patel framework. They cannot praise Nehru as they see (wrongly) it being equivalent to praising congress. But the Indian National Congress of those early years and it’s current incarnation Congress (I) are very very different entities. But historical nuances do not make for good political sloganeering or polemical opinion columns. Recommend

  • Secular India
    May 3, 2015 - 11:43AM

    India is Secular Country for centuries, not just from 1947!! For centuries India was Hindu majority land…inspite of many other religious rules came and went…but India remained Secular. Secular tradition is in blood of Indians..more so in we Hindus!! Now BJP lead coalition has won majority seats in LokSabha..upper huse..but BJP has managed to get just 31% of votes..that too on Development agenda not on Hindu Rashtra or Hindutva slogan of Communal agenda. Hence, India is not BJP…but India is Secular inspite of BJP coming to power with 31% vote. Recommend

  • @Shamim ahmad+ETeditors
    May 3, 2015 - 12:11PM

    Why do you post articles with such wrong FACTS.This is the ORIGNAL preamble of constitution by Ambedkar :

    WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly
    resolved to constitute India into a
    and to secure to all its citizens

    Secular and socialists were added when there was no(sham) parliament at the time of Emergency 1975-77. Recommend

  • Dubya
    May 3, 2015 - 12:16PM

    Author seems to be in his 60’s… But it seems he does not know the history of his era …
    He must have read the history written by Pakistani Mullas … who have said muslim is the only religion in the world … He needs to grow up mentally and not physically …
    Home work maaaann … home work …
    You cant just “ässemble” an op-ed…Recommend

  • ravi
    May 3, 2015 - 12:21PM

    Can the enlightened author, give us an idea about Conversion/ Blashphemy laws and its application.

    Also we want to learn a lot about Minorities protection and implmentation lawsRecommend

  • Sumit
    May 3, 2015 - 12:32PM

    Pakistanis preaching India about secularism. Is this the joke of the year????Recommend

  • sanjeev
    May 3, 2015 - 12:39PM

    India is secular only because it is Hindu majority country. Even if a small part of India becomes muslim majority, they deny rights to other minorities and want to create separate home land exclusively for muslims where non-muslims are dhimmis. Hence to keep India ideal we have to ensure in no part of the country non-Hindus become dominant. Recommend

  • Menon
    May 3, 2015 - 5:29PM

    Why do Pakistani authors spend so much time thinking about India? Don’t you have any issues of your own to think about? Recommend

  • G. Din
    May 3, 2015 - 6:40PM

    Neither the British nor the Muslim rulers of India could deflect Hindus from practicing secularism. Even before they imposed gratuitous bestiality on us by invading a thoroughly peaceful civilization as the Hindu,, we gave shelter to fleeing followers of alien religions, such as the Jews and Zoroastrians, who had absolute freedom to practice their religions. Imagine the author, living in a society which has given us such crude life-denying concepts as death for “blasphemy” and “apostasy” commenting on India’s secularism. A little shame is in order here!Recommend

  • Jag Nathan
    May 3, 2015 - 6:53PM

    Can a Muslim convert to be a Hindu in the author’s native Pakistan and hope to remain alive? Of all the people, Pakistanis are least qualified to define what is secular and what is otherwise. We do not need any Good Conduct Certificates from Obama and the United States were one every black person is now incarcerated, and where its opens season on Blacks people, Fredie Grey in Baltimore being the latest example. Muslims in India are allowed remain Muslims only because Hindus are tolerant. Such a case cannot be made about Hindus in any Muslim country. In conclusion, yes the vast majority of are Hindus and we take possession of India and her heritage. And we make no apologies to anyone for making our claim and being assertive.Recommend

  • abstracthinker
    May 3, 2015 - 7:49PM

    Unfortunately you cannot do much about it as you aren’t an Indian citizen. Why don’t you make Pakistan secular ? As a Pakistani you SHOULD be able to fight for this. Recommend

  • genesys
    May 3, 2015 - 10:04PM

    Proof that India is secular…growth in minority numbers with muslims topping the list.Secularism is Pakistan..proof in the vanishing numbers and trying to escape to other nations..therein lies the difference.Forget constitution and Patel and Gujarat and all that stuff.Just focus on numbers and you will who is secular!Recommend

  • Sarvesh Tiwari
    May 3, 2015 - 10:51PM

    Is India still secular?

    Yes Mr. Shamim Ahmad, my country has always been secular and will remains so as long as Hindus are in majority. Irony is that above article is coming from a person who is a national of an Islamic Republic, where slight variation from Wahabi version of Islam is seen as infidelity and people are killed with impunity on daily basis. I am not talking about Hindus of Pakistan because they come to India on pretext of pilgrimage and then do not want to return back to secular Islamic Republic. Recommend

  • the eddy
    May 4, 2015 - 12:04AM

    These people talk about Seculatrism of India or the West , where muslims are a minority ; but one can judge from their relative tepidity towards non-Muslim issues back home , that how dishonest they are..It seems that when they define themselves Secular/Liberal , it is more for face-saving & for winning the company of Secularists in these countries , otherwise they are no Secular people.Recommend

  • Rao
    May 4, 2015 - 12:30AM

    The height of 1182 meter high statue! It is amazing! Do Indians have the ability to design and build it?Recommend

  • Mirza
    May 4, 2015 - 11:21AM

    Has India’s secular constitution and judicial system being ambushed by their generals? Have they established military courts and hanging nationalist opponents of establishment? PM and govt come and go but the constitution remains supreme. Recommend

  • Tony Singh
    May 4, 2015 - 11:37AM

    “The height of 1182 meter high statue! It is amazing! Do Indians have the ability to design and build it?”

    This is what happens when people write articles with half baked ideas and no research.Recommend

  • Vik
    May 4, 2015 - 2:24PM

    Indian state is secular. This means that it cannot legislate any law based on religion(like declaring Ahmedis non muslim). If it does, Indian court will nullify it as it goes against the basic structure of indian constitution. That is all it means. It doesn’t mean that Indian people are free from sectarianism.Recommend

  • Appan
    May 4, 2015 - 8:35PM

    YOu are wrong. It is just that no one can be converted to another faith by force or inducement. However, if an individual decides to change his faith, he can go ahead., This means, there will be no ban on preaching. However, “secularists” are silent on this for the reasons best known to them.Recommend

  • sabi
    May 4, 2015 - 11:06PM

    Thank you for responding to me.That was itRecommend

  • Arijit Sharma
    May 5, 2015 - 1:56AM

    I get the Pakistani logic – Pakistan MUST be an Islamic State because there are Muslims in Pakistan and India MUST remain secular because there are Muslims in India. Recommend

  • May 5, 2015 - 7:12AM

    Dipak@Arijit Sharma: you are not just funny but extremely intelligent. Thank you.Recommend

  • abstracthinker
    May 6, 2015 - 12:02AM

    @the eddy:
    That’s why I asked the gentleman to worry about his own country. The gentleman also doesn’t reveal that in Islamic countries(including Pakistan) the word secular is usually a word of abuse. I have lived in the middle east for over 12 years. A common sentence used for example when something the governments don’t like happens: “this is the work of un-islamic secular elements”Recommend

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