October 26, 2015

India: Not a Secular Act (Economic and Political Weekly, October 23, 1965)

Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XVII, No 43, OCTOBER 23, 1965


Not a Secular Act

Secularism is a word with different meanings in different contexts. Though it has never been clarified exactly in what sense of the word we claim our country to be a secular democracy, the importance we attach to this particular description of our polity, especially in all official references, is not to be minimised. Of the image of India which we are struggling to create in the eyes of the world, secularism and democracy are the two aspects which are being quite rightly emphasised. In our dispute with Pakistan especially, we expect the sympathy of the countries of the world for our being a parliamentary demo­cracy whereas Pakistan is a military dictatorship and for our being a secular state whereas Pakistan is an avowedly religious state.

Given all this, could the Prime Minister choose a less suitable moment to perform “bhoomipuja” of a river valley project and be photographed for newspaper publicity? The interpretation of secularism that most nearly conforms to the theory and practice of the Government is, of course, not of equal indifference towards all religions but of equal tolerance of and support for all religions. But is the Prime Minister not giving the impression of state patronage of Hindu rituals in a partial fashion by participating in rites which he has every right to believe in as a private individual but not as a Prime Minister and not in connection with a project built with public funds?

Let’s face it: there has never been an example nor can we imagine there would be of a public work being inaugurated with a Muslim or Christian ritual. If Pakistani propaganda wants to describe India’s claim to secularism as so much hypocrisy could it be supplied with more useful material?