May 27, 2017

Secularism and the State - the Nehru Model | Anil Nauriya

Mainstream, VOL LV No 23 New Delhi May 27, 2017

I. The “Nehru Models”: The Historical Nehru Model and the Posthumous Nehru Model

In most circles where opinion-making on behalf of minorities takes place, one of the reasons for appreciation of Jawaharlal Nehru’s approach towards the minorities generally is his statement that majority communalism, that is, sectarianism, is more dangerous than minority communalism. He said that “the communalism of a majority community must of necessity bear a closer resemblance to nationalism than the communalism of a minority group”. (The Tribune, November 30, 1933) This statement must, however, be understood along with his insight expressed on the same occasion that majority and minority communalisms feed off each other. (Idem) His approach is not therefore a blank cheque to minority communities to nurture and nurse their own respective communalisms as some of his majoritarian detractors allege.

One consequence of the focus on this aspect of Nehru’s approach has been that other features of the Nehruvian secular state have not received as much analysis as these deserved. It was hardly ever noticed therefore that there are in fact at least two models that contend for recognition as the Nehru model.

The notion of the secular state that was implemented after independence emerged from the Congress-led freedom struggle. Nehru invariably emphasised the connection between the establishment of a secular state and the “whole growth of our national movement”. (The Statesman, Delhi, July 8, 1951) It is intrinsic to the Gandhi-Nehru framework. It is a model of equality and equal citizenship.

A secular state was thus established and it went beyond the usual European notion of a denominational state whose secularism consisted merely in the separation from the very church to which that state was simultaneously committed. We understood, and rightly understood, a secular state to be a non-denominational state and a state, that was religiously neutral as specified in the Karachi Resolution of 1931. Gandhi, in speaking of a secular state, had also defined it in clear terms in what would now be depicted as a Nehruvian manner, that is, in terms of separation of the state from denominational religion (May 6, 1933; January 27, 1935; January 20, 1942; September 1946; August 16, 1947; August 17, 1947; August 22, 1947; November 15, 1947; November 28, 1947; all cited in my article Gandhi on Secular law and State in The Hindu, October 22, 2003)1

Similarly, when it came to society, as distinct from the state, both Gandhi and Nehru emphasised the concept of equal respect and protection of all religions, thus reconciling the concept of a religiously neutral state with a concept of equal respect for the humanist values that may be located in each religion. For Nehru, “A secular state means a state in which the State protects all religions, but does not favour one at the expense of others and does not itself adopt any religion as State religion.” (The Statesman, July 7, 1951)

And then there is a constructed Nehru model or a quasi-Nehruvian model which is actually a posthumous Nehru model constructed largely after the split in the Congress in 1969. This model resembled but was somewhat different from the actual Nehruvian model. It could not last for more than six or seven years and ended dramatically with the firing at Turkman Gate, Delhi during the tenure of the Emergency regime in 1976. [. . .]

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