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Redefining secularism

These days the national debate is centred around the theme of secularism. The Congress- JD(S) alliance in Karnataka is sought to be built around the idea of conserving the ideals of secularism and keeping out right wing ideology.  So what really is secularism and what does being secular mean in a country of multiple faiths such as India?  The simple meaning of secularism is separation of religion from the state or a government that is not dictated by any religious values. This debate has gained traction especially after Yogi Adityanath the priest of Gorakhnath Math was chosen to become the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. The choice of a temple priest to head a state government has breached the constitutional ideals propounded by the likes of BR Ambedkar who saw the dangers of India adopting the trajectory of Pakistan – a theocracy. Indeed, the essence of the Indian Constitution is violated if any religious leader joins a political party and holds an official position of power.

Along with the onslaught on secularism there are hordes of right wing supporters who believe that the Congress Party that ruled the country for over six decades had practiced the politics of appeasement of those from the minority faiths such as Muslims and Christians. In fact new words have been coined to isolate intellectuals and writers who believe in the ideals of secularism.  They are now given a pejorative term “sickular.” This word has been generously used by right wing propagandists to suggest that being secular means being anti-Hindu, pro-Muslim and pro- minority.

Secular should actually mean that religion should not influence politics. But all this has changed since May 2014 when the cow was considered sacred and beef eaters lynched.  Also the political discourse today is tainted with religious ideologies. The idea of a Hindu nation is being actively promoted although Prime Minister Modi came to power purely on the plank of development. The BJP as a political party needs to understand that religious politics will not sustain in the long run. India’s lifeblood is pluralism which is guaranteed by the secular nature of the Indian Constitution.  

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