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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 34, New Delhi, August 8, 2020

August 5, a Blot on our Secular Democracy | Sukumaran C.V.

Friday 7 August 2020, by Sukumaran C.V.


August 5 will be written as the most bizarre day in the history of secular democratic India. On August 5, 2020, the Prime Minister of secular democratic India was seen kneeling down, participating in the foundation laying ceremony of Ram Temple at Ayodhya, and performing the Hindu religious rituals. Temples were built in ancient and mediaeval times and the driving force was devotion, not politics. The grand temples of South India were built in the mediaeval times by the Chola, Pallava, Kalinga and Vijayanagara Kings. As the agrarian economy of those times was mainly temple centred, temples fulfilled many socio-economic functions. But to build a temple today is anachronism at its peak.

Of all the politicians of India till date, there is no better religiously oriented man than Gandhiji. We can’t find a politician who was/is more deeply religious than Gandhiji in the whole world. And yet he didn’t use religious sentiments in politics. That is why he becomes one of the great symbols of Indian secularism. In his autobiography, the Mahatma describes his experience of visiting the Viswanatha Temple in Benares: “Where one expected an atmosphere of meditation and communion, it was conspicuous by its absence... I went near the Jnana-vapi (Well of Knowledge). I searched here for God but failed to find him...How much hypocrisy and irreligion does the Prince of Yogis suffer to be perpetrated in His holy name?” (The Story of my Experiments with Truth, Part III, Chapter 20—In Benares).

On August 5, what India witnessed at Ayodhya was not connected with religion but irreligion. It tarnished not only the image of Indian secular Democracy but also the image of Hinduism. India’s PM participating in the foundation laying ceremony of a temple can be seen only as a new low of our democracy. We have to delve on it very seriously to find out why Indian democracy became so meaningless and (ir)religious. It may be the commissions and omissions of our secular parties that helped the Hindutva politics to defile our democracy. After Gandhi, Nehru and Azad, we didn’t have real secularists to make our democracy more and more democratic, inclusive, plural and secular. That may be the reason the BJP could win elections democratically to damage the democracy which was painstakingly built by the true secular democratic heroes. It may be technically not right to accuse the BJP of undemocratically building the temple, because the party promised the people in its election manifesto the construction of the Ram Temple and it is fulfilling its promise. But the pertinent question is why a party that promises a temple in its election manifesto is voted to power in the largest democracy of the world?

To find a plausible answer to this question, I once again went through The Discovery of India and Nehru’s observations on the General Election of 1937 seem to have some insights for the dilemma Indian democracy has been facing since 1992. In the third chapter of The Discovery, under the subtitle ‘General Elections’, Nehru says: “Votes and elections would not take us far; they were just small steps in a long journey, and to delude us with votes, without intelligence of what they signified for subsequent action, was to play us false and be untrue to our country....We wanted no change of masters from white to brown, but a real people’s rule, by the people and for the people, and an ending of our poverty and misery.”

Under the British rule, votes and elections didn’t take us far. Today, democracy being manipulated for the undemocratic activities of temple building and strengthening the majoritarian ethos indicates that votes and elections haven’t taken, and don’t take, us far in Independent India too.

In his autobiography I am not an Island: An Experiment in Autobiography, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, one of the great writers of India, says:

“India was killed by the British and their ‘Divide and Rule’ policy. But not by the British alone. India was killed by fanatical Muslim Leaguers who played upon the community’s apprehensions and fears to produce in them a peculiar psychosis which was a dangerous combination of inferiority complex, aggressive jingoism and religious fanaticism.

India was killed by the fanatical Hindus, the Hindu fascists and Hindu imperialists, the dreamers of a Hindu empire, the crusaders of Hindu Sangathan, who provided the ideological fuel for the fire of Hindu communalism and fanaticism.

India was killed by the Communist Party of India which (during the days of its ‘People’s War’ and ‘pro-Pakistan’ policies) provided the Muslim separatists with an ideological basis for the irrational and anti-national demand for Pakistan.

India was killed, and stabbed in the heart, by every Hindu who killed a Muslim, by every Muslim who killed a Hindu, by every Hindu or Muslim who committed or abetted, or connived at, arson and rape and murder during the recent (and earlier) communal riots.” (Chapter 27—Who Killed India?)

K. A. Abbas wrote about the India of 1947. Forty five years later, in 1992 the Secular Democratic India witnessed the fanatics demolish a medaeval edifice and ignite large scale communal riots; fifty five years later in 2002, the Secular Democratic India witnessed genocide committed by fanatics in Gujarat. And sixty five years later in 2012 January, the Secular Democratic India connived with religious fundamentalists to scare off a famous writer from attending the famous Jaipur Literature Festival. And, in 2019, the nation witnessed the grand old ‘secular’ party joining hands with those who unleashed communal riots in Mumbai in December 1992 and January 1993, to form government and share power in Maharashtra. And two days ago, on August 5, 2020, the Secular Democratic nation witnessed its Prime Minister performing religious rituals in the foundation laying ceremony of a temple where the medaeval edifice was demolished in 1992.

Secular India stands ashamed and crestfallen 10 days before it celebrates the 74th Independence Day.

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