The only good thing Prime Minister Indira Gandhi did in her repressive rule during the Emergency was to include the words secular and socialist in the preamble to the Constitution. Morarji Desai who succeeded her had all the changes she made in the Constitution deleted, but retained the amendment to the preamble.
The Jana Sangh, the earlier incarnation of the BJP that had merged with the Janata Party, raised no objection. Both L.K. Advani and Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Jana Sangh stalwarts who had joined the Janata Party, were among the enthusiastic leaders who supported retaining the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ in the preamble.
It is apparent that the omission of the two words from an advertisement issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting should not be construed as intentional on the part of the government. The ministry has admitted its mistake. The matter should have ended there and then.
But the controversy has been kept alive by BJP chief Amit Shah. He said at a press conference that the old preamble is the real one. However, the Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley has stated that what held the field was the new version of the preamble. The confusion was confounded by Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad who stated that the omission of words, secular and socialist, gives an opportunity to debate the matter all over again. It is a pity that the Law Minister should say so without realising the sanctity of the Constitution. That a liberal person like him should say it is all the more reprehensible. The matter was debated fully when the two words were included.
The only inference one can draw from this episode is that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which guides the party, wants the words “secular and socialist” dropped. For them, at least the word ‘secularism’ is an anathema. Because of the countrywide furore, the BJP has not pursued the matter. Maybe Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who stayed silent in public, advised the party that the country was not yet ready to jettison secularism and socialism. The RSS probably considered it a reverse, not a defeat, and will come back to this agenda when the climate is favourable.
True, the lessening support of the Congress, which is ideologically secular, has adversely affected secularism. But the party and the ideology are not synonymous. In fact, secularism has suffered because the Congress deviated from it in action. In its race to grab power, the party pushed ideals into the background. Congress president Sonia Gandhi&’s commitment to the ideology has never been in doubt, nor was that of her son Rahul Gandhi. But there are many state leaders who do not hesitate to take a parochial line for the sake of votes. Sonia is reportedly unhappy but is afraid of taking action against them because their exit from the Congress may hit the party in a way which may be fatal.
The Congress is in the midst of gathering information from the ground, according to its leader Anand Sharma, and may come out with a report in March. Yet what it does not realise is that it has lost contact with the workers who are disillusioned that the Congress has distanced itself from the ethos of secularism and socialism in pursuit of power at any cost.
Mahatma Gandhi is still the icon. But the party has given space to such elements who are trying to put up a memorial to pay homage to Nathu Ram Godse who shot Gandhi dead. His name was nowhere in the picture till recently. But a few days ago an underpass at Alwar, Rajasthan, was sought to be named after Godse. The Congress and other secular organisations, including the Leftist parties, should analyse their action and the way in which they have been pushing their programme because Godse represents an ideology that Mahatma Gandhi fought tooth and nail.
Socialism became the socialist pattern during Jawaharlal Nehru&’s lifetime because he felt that the ideology was difficult to practice. The concept has become so diluted over the years that the public sector undertakings which were supposed to attain the commanding heights are on the back burner. Over the years, the private sector has been encouraged by different political parties because the industrialists provide the money for elections. This nexus cannot be broken until there are drastic electoral reforms to lessen the role of money.
Welfare is not dependent on socialism, but egalitarianism is. If industry and business expand, at least the wealth will increase. But the nexus between politicians and the bureaucracy does not allow rapid progress. Red tape apart, corruption at every step saps the energy which can be infused for society to go ahead.
Communalism is the real problem. The nation&’s strong reaction has stopped the ghar wapsi movement. Christians are still the target. But their number is limited and does not count much in electoral politics. Otherwise, the BJP government would not have dared to declare even Christmas day into a Good Governance Day! As the archbishop of Delhi said, the measure was the result of a hate campaign.
The Muslims, nearly 15 per cent of the country’s population, have not got their due, particularly in jobs. But they have been able to stall the relentless efforts to push them aside. Their votes stand them in good stead. If they do not fall prey to the mechanisations of Akbaruddin Owaisi, who is trying to attract Muslims in the name of religion, the realisation that there is no go from secularism will take roots.
Yet the nation has to ponder seriously how it is being forced to compromise with communalism, the opposite of the ethos of the freedom movement. How many of us today remember Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi, who stood boldly for secularism during the heyday of the Muslim League? They were visionaries and unlike the present leaders sought the redemption of the multi-cultural and multi-religious society that India is.
The writer is a veteran journalist and commentator