Secular soliloquies

The right wing is on the rise, but secular parties and intellectuals have done little to spread the message of harmony among masses

pankaj-srivastava

Pankaj Srivastava | October 17, 2015 | New Delhi



In the second decade of 21st century, the world’s largest democracy which is also a secular country witnessed a case of lynching over rumours. A mob of locals beat 50-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq to death and severely injured his 22-year-old son upon hearing rumours that the family was eating beef. The killing of Akhlaq in Bisara village of Dadri, 45 km from Delhi, can be considered a turning point in Indian history.

This growing intolerance in Indian society has a definite political motive. In an interview with Governance Now (July 16-31, 2015 issue) renowned public intellectual Prof Ashis Nandy says, “I am afraid we are in trouble.” This came as a response when I asked him about his diagnosis of the present scenario in the country. The fear hinted by Nandy has been proved right with the Dadri lynching. “It is the first step towards the coming assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh,” Nandy says talking about the incident.

Nandy’s apprehension is not baseless. The statements by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders and its allies have made it clear that they are more interested to save the accused than to ensure justice, and are eager to make use of this incident in the run-up to the assembly polls scheduled for 2017. Controversial Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Sadhwi Prachi took no time in justifying the lynching. “Those who consume beef deserve such actions against them,” she said. Even union culture minister Mahesh Sharma has claimed that it was an ‘accident’ and not a case of communal violence. He ‘assured’ that the youth who have gone to prison will get ‘justice’. Shrichand Sharma, vice-president of BJP’s western UP unit, threatened to mobilise people village to village and organise a mahapanchayat in Dadri against the arrest of ‘innocents’. (This is a reminder of the Muzaffarnagar riots where a mahapanchayat had played a big role. BJP got a landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh in the Lok Sabha polls held after the riots). BJP MLA Sangeet Som addressed a meeting in Bisara village and alleged that no action was taken against the accused of cow slaughter and the innocents are being framed in a completely one-sided action. Som is an accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots and he is currently out on bail.

While the forensic test has confirmed that the meat found in Akhlaq’s home was not beef, this could not stop fringe elements from going vocal on social media.

This is the picture of a new India in the making where riots are being used for electoral gains. Communal polarisation in rural areas has also become rampant. “This is not astonishing for me. Actually there is no room left for ethics or morality in electoral politics. Citizenry has also become mum. It is like daily news for them. When people like Sakshi Maharaj can speak against the minorities in parliament, how can you stop people living in villages? Secularism is a concern only for a few English-speaking people. So-called secular parties have failed to propagate this very idea among masses in their own language,” says Ashis Nandy.

Undoubtedly, this is a great failure of the torch-bearers of the ‘Idea of India’ which regards secularism and inclusiveness as the crucial values. That is where ‘secular’ parties like the Congress, socialists and communists have failed miserably. They can easily accuse the Hindu right-wing and fringe elements of communalising the society but nobody has stopped them from countering communal hatred with peace and amity. The Congress and Samajwadi Party claim to be followers of Mahatma Gandhi, but not even a single leader has worked rigorously to spread the message of peace and love in the masses like Gandhi did. Gandhi broke religious barriers and brought ‘Ishwar’ and ‘Allah’ together. He understood the importance of cultural transformation and that is why singing Ram dhun in ‘Prabhat feris’ (morning processions) and ‘Prarthana Sabha’ (prayer meeting) was a must. Hindus and Muslims together used to sing “Ishwar Allah Tero Nam, Sabko Sanmati De Bhagwan”.

Secular parties have forgotten the importance of ideological and cultural campaigns. Gandhi has become just a photograph or a statue for most of the Congress workers. In the time of leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia and Acharya Narendra Dev, socialists were supposed to be more committed than Congress workers. Camps were being organised regularly for ideological debates and discussions. But in 2015, when Samajwadi Party under the leadership of Mulayam Singh Yadav, the famous disciple of Lohia, is running the  Uttar Pradesh government, this basic work has become a burden. Thousands of party workers wearing red caps are riding their bicycles across the state but only for shouting the name of their leaders.

Interestingly, leaders of secular parties use the word ‘secularism’ in their talks and interviews, but their practice shows that it is merely a strategy for them and is not at all a matter of commitment. Right-wingers always term these leaders as ‘pseudo seculars’ as they have no problem with communal elements of the minority communities. This allegation of appeasement politics certainly has some validity.
Seculars have tried to challenge the communal politics with caste mobilisations but it does not always work. This strategy has also weakened their moral appeal and reduced them as a leader of caste and clan.

Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor and socialist ideologue Anand Kumar says, “These so-called secular leaders have no courage to see their faces in the mirror of ideology. Their ideology is just to get power anyhow.” However, according to Prof Kumar, growing communalism in the society is not only a failure of the secular parties. “Economic and social insecurities have risen sharply and the level of unemployment has gone beyond any measure. Communal forces are using unemployed youth to fulfil their agenda. They organise them in the name of religion and eliminate their identity crisis. This is high time to undergo self-criticism to understand what went wrong. Why society has become so communal in the age of liberal economy?” he says.

There was a time when the left parties thought that the idea of class struggle will overpower the communal and other divisive tendencies. But they have failed to counter communal and caste politics with their idea of class consciousness. The impact of the Left can be seen only on intellectuals now.  Noted documentary filmmaker Sanjay Kak says, “In the midst of rioting and looting, the voice of secular India often remains silent just because our so-called secular parties have consistently failed to fight the ongoing struggle between secularism and communalism at the level of ideas at the grassroots level. Our secular intellectuals are either busy giving lectures in top universities or busy with television debates to put across their views before the urban elites. But the very same secular intellectuals have failed miserably in sending across their message to economically weaker sections of the society. Even our cultural ambassadors are busy addressing the urge of only the classes as they have failed to educate the masses who play a critical role in shaping the destiny of our nation.”

We need to change the mindset that the secularisation process is simply an intellectual encounter of secular forces with and against the religion. It is also a process of intellectual encounter with those who practise and promote caste politics at the block and the district levels.
Political parties can fail but India cannot afford the failure of this very idea of secularism. The state should be independent of any religion and people should respect each other’s faith. This was also a great resolution of our freedom struggle.

The success of vision 2020 very much depends on the strength of this idea. No nation of the world can touch the sky of development with the wings of communal fire.

feedback@governancenow.com

(The article appears in the October 16-31, 2015 issue)

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