ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Indian Secularism


The article “Sandwiched Nehru: Religious Minorities and Indian Secularism” by M Christhu Doss (EPW, 21 July 2018) evokes wider interests, for it talks about religious minorities and Indian secularism, suggesting Indian secularism to be a “comprehensive package of Nehruvian discovery, ideas, politics, and strategies, designed to grapple with the communal politics of his times.” It lays special emphasis on the dialogue of Indian secularism with the minorities—with reference to Christians in India—and its evolution.

For the many Prime Ministers of India, navigating secularism and the politics of hate that surround it has always been a challenge. Jawaharlal Nehru, as the first Prime Minister, faced the immediate task of resolving the communal crisis, on the basis of which the secular character of Indian polity would be designed for the time to come.

However, the anti-national discourse, strangely linked to religion, has gained currency over time. In present times, each minority group is repeatedly asked to prove their allegiance to the national flag. This itself highlights the problematic understanding of Indian secularism. Post independence, it was Nehru who was the forerunner in setting the course of Indian secularism, which Rajeev Bhargava contends is based on a model of “principled distance” between religion and state.

However, vis-à-vis the minorities, this raises a crucial question: Is the concept of Indian secularism in itself so problematic and fragile to be misunderstood by the body politic? Does it then fall upon the heads of government to direct this understanding (or misunderstanding) of Indian secularism, which is distinct from other forms of secularism? In other words, who gets to decide what this “principled distance” means?

During the Babri Masjid demolition, the Prime Minister was unable to avert the crisis. While the question of judicial intervention comes much later, the immediate damage is done. Thus, certain discourses have to be checked at the outset from circulating in the country, especially with regard to the minority question vis-à-vis the nation.

Since Indian secularism is susceptible to the interpretations of the heads of government who sway the meaning to suit their desired ends, it becomes pertinent at the institutional level to unambiguously describe the ambit of Indian secularism. If this task itself is impossible, or unacheivable, then, it is indicative of a grave problem within the conception of Indian secularism itself.

Sana Shah

New Delhi

Updated On : 10th Aug, 2018


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