Secularism And Us

Our Constitution doesn’t acquire its secular character merely from the words in the Preamble, but from a collective reading of many of its provisions, particularly the various fundamental rights that it guarantees.

There was a point of time, perhaps, when we might have taken the idea of a secular, pluralistic India, tolerant of all sects and religions, as a position set in stone. But, incidents, especially since the early 1990s, have radically altered both reality and our imagination. That certain groups, including many within the political party presently in power at the Centre and in many States, actively believe in a different kind of India is today intensely palpable.
Secularism and us
“Secular people,” he declared, “do not have an identity of their parental blood.” “We (the BJP),” he added, “are here to change the Constitution,” making it quite clear that in his, and his party’s, belief secularism was a model unworthy of constitutional status. Since then, the ruling government has sought to distance itself from these comments, and Mr. Hegde himself has, without explicitly retracting his statements, pledged his allegiance to the Constitution and its superiority. But the message, as it were, is already out, and its discourse is anything but opposed to the present regime’s larger ideology. Indeed, Mr. Hegde’s comments even mirror those made on several occasions by people belonging to the top brass of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, who have repeatedly stressed on what they view as their ultimate aim: the recognition of India as a Hindu state, in which secularism lies not at the Constitution’s bedrock, but entirely outside the document’s aims and purposes.
Inbuilt freedoms
Now, it is certainly true that the Constituent Assembly explicitly rejected a motion moved by Brajeshwar Prasad from Bihar to have the words “secular” and “socialist” included in the Preamble. But this was not on account of any scepticism that the drafters might have had on the values of secularism. Quite to the contrary, despite what some might want us to believe today, the assembly virtually took for granted India’s secular status. To them, any republic that purports to grant equality before the law to all its citizens, that purports to recognise people’s rights to free speech, to a freedom of religion and conscience simply cannot be un-secular. To be so would be an incongruity. Secularism, as would be clear on any morally reasonable analysis, is inbuilt in the foundations of constitutionalism, in the idea of a democracy properly understood. In the case of our Constitution, it flows from the series of fundamental rights guaranteed in Part III.Our Constitution doesn’t acquire its secular character merely from the words in the Preamble, but from a collective reading of many of its provisions, particularly the various fundamental rights that it guarantees. There was a point of time, perhaps, when we might have taken the idea of a secular, pluralistic India, tolerant of all sects and religions, as a position set in stone. But, incidents, especially since the early 1990s, have radically altered both reality and our imagination. That certain groups, including many within the political party presently in power at the Centre and in many States, actively believe in a different kind of India is today intensely palpable. Secularism and us “Secular people,” he declared, “do not have an identity of their parental blood.” “We (the BJP),” he added, “are here to change the Constitution,” making it quite clear that in his, and his party’s, belief secularism was a model unworthy of constitutional status. Since then, the ruling government has sought to distance itself from these comments, and Mr. Hegde himself has, without explicitly retracting his statements, pledged his allegiance to the Constitution and its superiority. But the message, as it were, is already out, and its discourse is anything but opposed to the present regime’s larger ideology. Indeed, Mr. Hegde’s comments even mirror those made on several occasions by people belonging to the top brass of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, who have repeatedly stressed on what they view as their ultimate aim: the recognition of India as a Hindu state, in which secularism lies not at the Constitution’s bedrock, but entirely outside the document’s aims and purposes. Inbuilt freedoms Now, it is certainly true that the Constituent Assembly explicitly rejected a motion moved by Brajeshwar Prasad from Bihar to have the words “secular” and “socialist” included in the Preamble. But this was not on account of any scepticism that the drafters might have had on the values of secularism. Quite to the contrary, despite what some might want us to believe today, the assembly virtually took for granted India’s secular status. To them, any republic that purports to grant equality before the law to all its citizens, that purports to recognise people’s rights to free speech, to a freedom of religion and conscience simply cannot be un-secular. To be so would be an incongruity. Secularism, as would be clear on any morally reasonable analysis, is inbuilt in the foundations of constitutionalism, in the idea of a democracy properly understood. In the case of our Constitution, it flows from the series of fundamental rights guaranteed in Part III.

Source – The Hindu