News says, as part of Narendra
Modi’s PM campaign (there isn’t enough reason as yet to call it a
BJP election campaign) he has defined secularism in his own way.
He says for him secularism means putting India first. Like
everything else about Modi, mainstream media has given this ample
space. Yet again a section of India’s net savvy are tweeting,
retweeting, posting and reposting all about it.
If and when we manage to get over the fact that none other than
Narendra Modi is telling us what secularism should mean, we have
two interesting points that come out from his statements.
The Idea of India Begins With Secularism
Ramchandra Guha in his famous book India After Gandhi begins by
telling how as nation states around the world go, India is an
“unnatural nation”. Nations are built on some form of continuity
and similarity – religion, language, etc. India on the other hand
offers nothing but differences and diversity. How then has it come
together to form a nation? We are an unnaturally diverse nation –
a peculiarity in world politics. Tagore through Gora (and a host
of other writings) tells us the peculiarity is a beautiful and
powerful one. Nehru’s Discovery of India honestly notes conflicts
and reconciliations that have existed in our history and tell us
that the diverse peoples lived together not only out of affection
but also because they had no option but to cohabit despite their
differences if they wanted to share this land. Amartya Sen through
his The Argumentative Indian documents how the peculiarity has
made us the tolerant democracy we still are.
How and why we managed to become the unnatural nation is out of
this essays scope. But the moot point is we are a nation full of
diversity – language, customs, caste, culture, art and religion
too. And though the word secularism in English parlance is
intended to mean separation of religion from other affairs like
governance, in India it has also come to mean peaceful coexistence
of different religions.
Modi says his definition of secularism is “India first”. Unlike
Modi, knowing what we do, we realise that he is ignorant of the
fact that to have reached what we today know as India, secularism
Now if his ignorance is genuine and he isn’t well read enough to
know the most vital part of Indian history, we must pause and ask
if he even deserves to be a candidate. If his ignorance is feigned
and he only means to use the term Indian to evoke rabid
nationalism, then we can’t have a hawk like him as our PM. India
is essentially a pacifist state that does not engage in
unnecessary warfare. Agreed our security has serious lapses but
they need to be fixed without compromising our principles of being
a tolerant, pacifist, welfare state.
NaMo’s campaign in the media, both mainstream and online, is
increasingly, even if ironically, proving the strength of Indian
Mr Modi isn’t particularly known for his love for democratic
opposition. His heavy handed ways of working combined with the
Congress’ historical spinelessness vis-ŕ-vis communal politics has
resulted in a situation where there is no visible
democratic/parliamentary opposition or alternative to Modi and his
brand of politics in Gujarat. But not content with that, as
Keshubhai Patel, Sanjay Joshi, Gordhan Zadafia and a host of
others may attest and perhaps Haren Pandya too had he not been
murdered, Modi hasn’t kept any opposition even within the BJP.
Nitin Gadkari lost his post of BJP national president due to his
opposition to Modi’s PM candidature. L K Advani, the Hindutva
heavyweight with laurel like Rath Yatra, heading Babri demolition
and coining the term pseudo-secular, is now reduced to nobody for
being Modi’s contender.
So question is why is he talking about secularism now? Why isn’t
he dismissing secular and humanist values, which constitute his
single biggest opposition, with curt responses like people being
culled en masse is merely natural and equal reaction?
The reason is India is not Gujarat. And unlike the manufacturing
of considerable support for Hindu supremacy that was possible in
the Sangh parivar’s Hindutva laboratory, a repeat show is proving
to be far from easy in the rest of India.
Gujarat did not turn communal in a day. Gujarat not only knew the
political benefit of hate but hate paid direct monetary dividends
too – social segregation helps keep businesses, money and land in
the control of powerful castes and communities. Recall how the
Congress was reported to be peddling soft-Hindutva as opposed to
Modi’s hard-Hindtuva during the elections that followed the
genocide – in a sense proving that Gujarat voters offered little
alternative. In fact riots have for a long time been part of the
socio-political landscape of Gujarat and have been used time and
again in various towns and cities. Far from the spontaneity which
Modi accords to the post-Godhra riots, they were a sort of
culmination of the socio-political experiments in hate.
Socio-economic inequality, religious and casteist ghettoisation,
intolerance for diversity have all been made part of Gujarat’s
social fabric over a considerable period of time.
The humongous diversity in the rest of India however has ensured
that secularism has not only survived but there is little option
but for it to be there. So when NaMo wishes to grow beyond a
regional satrap, he has to face the force of secularism and the
reality that secular people in India are the majority. Macho
negation of it will just not do.
When BJP came to power under Atal Bihari Vajpayee it wasn’t on the
Hindutva plank but on the plank of being the better alternative to
the corrupt Congress. And it ended up losing power partly because
1) It was no better than Congress in terms of basic governance 2)
It added large scale communalisation and saffronisation along with
Rabid Hindutva is not acceptable to the larger masses of India.
Most certainly not to the majority of Hindus who live in this
country and have repeatedly voted against and been vocal against
their communal politics. To win elections, the BJP must provide
candidates who are acceptable to the larger masses. His role as
the chief minister who presided over one of the biggest exercises
in ethnic cleansing in India is indelible.
I daresay, NaMo and his trolls’ extremism is the best defence
against him becoming PM. Their blind bullying brings out the best
in secularism that’s there in this country.
Siddharthya Roy, blogs at blog.siddharthya.com
and can be reached at