Justice Markandey Katju-
Aatish Taseer, in his article ‘India is no longer India’ published in theatlantic.com has lamented that the secular India of Jawaharlal Nehru no longer exists, and has been replaced by the Hindu communal India of Narendra Modi. I beg to differ.
In my opinion, nothing substantial has changed in India.
Taseer refers to ‘The exalted idea of secular India’. But was India secular before Modi came to power in 2014?
To answer this question correctly we must first clarify some basic concepts.
Secularism means separation of church and state. Secularism means that religion is a private affair unconnected with the state, which will have no religion.
Secularism is a feature of industrial society, it is not a feature of feudal or semi-feudal society. This is because in feudal society people mostly subsisted by agriculture, and lived mostly in small groupings scattered over large rural areas. On the other hand, in industrial society, human groupings are large and are concentrated in cities, in factories, offices, educational institutions, etc. When people of different religions come into close proximity with each other they realize that people of other religions are not devils or demons, as they had been painted earlier, but are human beings with the same socio-economic problems as themselves.
Before the Industrial Revolution in Europe, there were feudal societies, in which there was no concept of secularism. In fact, there were several religious massacres and atrocities e.g. the St Bartholomew Day massacre of Protestants ( called Huguenots ) by Catholics in France in 1572, the burning of Protestants in England by Queen Mary, the massacre of Catholics of Ireland by Cromwell, the mutual massacre of Catholics and Protestants in Germany in the Thirty Year War ( 1618-1648 ) in which one-third of the population of Germany was killed, the burning of Jews and other heretics in the Spanish Inquisition, etc. It was only with the coming of the Industrial Revolution and the establishment of industrial society that secularism became a cardinal principle in Western nations.
In India, on the other hand, there were feudal societies, which became semi-feudal with the coming of a limited degree of industrialization, but there was never a fully developed industrial society as exists in North America, Europe, Japan etc. Hence though the Indian Constitution declared India to be a secular country the ground reality is that it never was. It was and still is, highly communal. Most Hindus are communal, and so are most Muslims. So it is not true that before Modi and the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janta Party ( BJP ) came to power in 2014 India was a secular country. Even before 2014 Indian society was largely communal, but this communalism was usually latent, erupting only occasionally in Hindu-Muslim communal riots. The Muslim appeasement policy of the Congress and other ‘secular’ parties ( which had an eye on the large Muslim vote bank ) caused a lot of heart-burning among the majority Hindu population, and this benefited the BJP which encashed this sentiment.
The Ram Janma Bhumi ( Ram Temple ) agitation catapulted the BJP to power in 1999, and most Hindus supported it, which fact also proves that India was never secular.
What has changed after 2014 when BJP under Modi came to power is that what was earlier latent, erupting only occasionally, has become open, virulent and continuous. But beyond that nothing substantial has changed.
Taseer has referred to the anti CAA ( Citizenship Amendment Act ) protests in India. The truth is that though most Muslims joined this protest, only a few Hindus did (the so called ‘liberals’ ). Most of the 80% Hindu population of India supported the CAA.
So I must disillusion Taseer. India is still India. It is only when there is large scale industrialization and formation of a fully developed industrial society that India will really become secular. But such a historical transformation will require a revolutionary upheaval, and it cannot be achieved by simply promulgating a Constitution.
[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own].