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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 1, December 22, 2012 [Annual 2012]

Secularism: Corner-stone of Our Political Faith

Thursday 3 January 2013, by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah

Indian polity is an admixture of variegated ethos and divergent cultures. Many are the common ideals and objectives which we share. Amidst this apparent sea of diversity there is a common bond which unifies us, that is, our heritage of being Indian.

At the centre of this great heritage is the concept of freedom of the spirit and oneness of mankind. It is this great principle that made Gandhiji identify himself with the high and the low and dedicate his life to removing untouchability and communal disharmony from our land. He worked for an India in which every one would feel that it is his country in whose making he has a role to play and in which every individual shall feel part of the whole India, the land of the Buddha which has bequeathed to the world the message of tolerance and goodwill.

Gandhiji and Nehru strove to give substance and form to our ideals. They projected it as the corner-stone of the philosophy of the political system of our society, and themselves practised its basic principles which are non-violence, tolerance, acco-mmodation and brotherhood.

The term secularism enshrines these very principles. With secularism as the fundamental basis of our society, we gave ourselves a Consti-tution which aims at establishing an equitable social order in which the ideals of virtue and freedom will inspire political, economic and social institutions so that millions submerged in abysmal poverty are redeemed and their quality of life is raised.

In recent months, and particularly during the last few days, there surfaced certain situations that put the very foundation of our society under great strain. Separatist tendencies, distrust and hatred seemed to foul the atmosphere. There was a communal eruption at Moradabad recently which rocked several other places. Forces of reaction and obscurantism loomed large on the horizon threatening the very fabric of our society.

But every time there have arisen such dark clouds blurring our vision momentarily, the cons-cience of India has awakened and beckoned us to the right path. The voice of secularism comes loud and clear again and warns us that there is no salvation for us except through mutual goodwill and amity. We have to pull in unison if we are to prosper as a nation. The builders of our nation saw that the only hope for our country lay in its adherence to the ideals of socialism, secularism and democracy. Such is the vastness, variety and composition of our masses.

And I am proud that our people have time and again demonstrated unwavering faith in these ideals. A handful of those who try to disrupt the course of our progress along the path shown by our leaders by polluting the air with communal poison or by raising sectarian slogans should realise that their folly will only bog them down in poverty and backwardness and that India of Gandhi, Tagore, Nehru and Azad will march ahead in spite of them.

Today our country is confronted with many challenges, both internally and externally. While there was need to build internal cohesion and solidarity and close our ranks, we have to be alive to the situation in the whole region. The forces of destabilisation have to be kept on leash and no quarter should be given to them. The challenges on the external fronts can be faced more effectively if we maintain unity and solidarity and do not allow sectarian forces to raise their head.

Distrust and suspicion find expression in many ways. The long-drawn-out turmoil in the North-East and Assam, the struggle for economic betterment, rise of communal and parochial forces, and lack of the urge to work and feel like Indians are matters that should exercise our minds. These can be overcome, I believe, if we learn to show under-standing of each other’s viewpoint and demonstrate a greater degree of tolerance and patience. After all, no problem is incapable of solution, provided there is the will to solve it. If this atmosphere of lack of trust and understanding is allowed to continue, it could surface in the form of various types of flare-ups or violence, as has been witnessed from time to time. It is secularism alone—that is, under-standing, accommodation and tolerance—that will help us out of this confusion.

It is rather tragic that thirtythree years after achieving the freedom of the country we should still be groping in the dark and fumbling for a clear-cut political and social objective. These very aberrations in our basic convictions have sustained the atmosphere of uncertainty, where some sections of our population still harbour doubts about their future and entertain a feeling of insecurity. It was the duty of all Indians, to whichever part of the country they may belong or to whichever ideology or faith they may adhere, to work for creating a sense of oneness and unity among all, especially the Harijans, Muslims and other backward classes.

In the State of Jammu and Kashmir, we remain steadfast and consistent in respect of our objectives as enunciated in the Naya Kashmir programme. This political document represents the sheet-anchor of our philosophy—social, economic and political. The concept of secularism is not something which has found its way into our body-politic suddenly or recently. It is embedded deep in our philosophy and heritage. Our faith in this ideal transcends many other things and no Kashmiri can reconcile himself to a situation where this ideal is not allowed to flourish. This is the lesson which has been passed on to us by great seers, saints and sages.
The greatest acid test of the Kashmiris’ commitment to secularism, socialism and democracy came in the dark days of 1947 when the whole sub-continent was engulfed in an orgy of violence and hate. At that time, the Father of the Nation, Gandhiji, could see a ray of hope only in Kashmir. Kashmir was the only and an isolated outpost of sanity and tolerance in the whole of the sub-continent. In those crucial days, our message was truth, non-violence and amity. The people of Kashmir did not allow passion or emotional stresses to overtake their reason and they gave a clarion call to their countrymen to shun violence, hate and distrust.

It is not as if there are no elements in the State who do not want to fish in troubled waters and pollute the peaceful atmosphere of communal harmony. But the people here have never paid any heed to this propaganda and have always rejected such elements. Recently, as everybody has seen in the wake of unfortunate happenings in some parts of the country, determined efforts were made to spoil the peace in Kashmir and test our secular credentials. It has to be recorded that people—Muslims and Hindus—throughout the State have emerged unscathed and demonstrated their firm adherence to secular values.

While warning the people against the challenges to our secular and composite fabric, I would be failing in my duty if I do not beseech the people to continue their endeavours and march to progress. In fact, one of the principal objectives of such aberrations is to distract our attention from whole-hearted devotion to development. The only effective reply to such challenges, in the ultimate sense, I believe, is to step up the tempo of progress.

(Annual 1980)

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