Mark Tully in a recent article has expressed his anguish at the spirit of secularism being abused, if not murdered. On the pathway to Partition, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and seven of his Muslim League colleagues wanted the maximum number of Muslims to migrate to the new holy land, and similarly, wanted Hindus and Sikhs to come away to India. Dr BR Ambedkar had supported this idea in his 1941 book Thoughts on Pakistan. Dr Rajendra Prasad, our first Rashtrapati, had a book published in 1946 called India Divided.
He suggested that those Muslims who were unable to move should be allowed to reside in India on visas issued by New Delhi. Karachi was to look after similar arrangements for the Hindus and Sikhs there. What should have been a straightforward arrangement was distorted by Gandhi’s idiosyncrasies and Jawaharlal Nehru’s political compulsions. He had become the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party with virtually no support. Earlier, out of the 16 Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs), 15 had expressed their choice for Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and one PCC for Acharya J. B. Kripalani.
None had opted for Nehru. This was not to Gandhi’s liking; he asked the Sardar to step aside and got Nehru selected by the 21-member Congress Working Committee (CWC). In short, Nehru had become a leader without obvious followers. He was, therefore, in need of securing a support base. The Muslims who remained behind in India were bewildered as to their future and were sitting ducks for Nehru. The Pri me Minister used all the authority at his disposal to assure the non-migrant Muslims that they were safe. Nehru went to the extent of rushing on the streets of Delhi to protect their lives.
He instructed the High Commissioner to Pakistan, Sri Prakasa, to persuade those who had already migrated to return. For example, Sri Prakasa would ask as to what would happen to the textile industry of Banaras, if the Muslim weavers did not go back. Nehru exhorted Bidhan Chandra Roy, then West Bengal’s chief minister, to prevent persecuted Hindu refugees from East Bengal from crossing over to safety in India. There are letters from Nehru to Roy confirming these instructions. The Sikh leader Master Tara Singh proved too firm for Nehru and the latter was forced to let refugees from Punjab flow in. The Prime Minister showed his bias when he included Articles 25-30 in the Constitution giving special privileges for the minorities, a euphemism for the Muslims.
These Articles were originally drafted not to please the Muslims, but to persuade the League on not insisting upon Partition. After the vivisection, they had no relevance and over the years, made the Hindus less than equal citizens. A n accurate definition of secularism was provided by Prof. Bernard Stasi, who was commissioned by President Jacques Chirac of France. Stasi highlighted the three essential principles of secularism as: (i) freedom of conscience; (ii) equality in law for spiritual and relief; and (iii) neutrality of political power., In other words, there are in any modern state, three sets of relations: (a) religion and the individual; (b) the state and the individual, and; (c) the state and religion. The state is excluded from the relationship at (a) above. In the second (b), the state views the individual as a citizen and not as a member of a religious group.
The implication of the third (c) is that religion and state function in two separate areas of human activity. Professor Donald Smith has compared the above relations as three sides of a triangle. And the integrity of (a) and (b) is largely determined by the third relationship which separates them. Therefore, for any state to function as a secular state, it is of the utmost importance that there is a wall of separation between the State and the religion. The state, however, has to maintain absolute neutrality between one religion and another. The French insistence on secularism or the absolute separation of the Church from the State goes back to 1905 when in December that year, a Republican Law was passed by the country’s National Assembly.
Its Article 1 assures the liberty of conscience. It guaranteed the free exercise of religious beliefs. The only restrictions were decreed in the interest of public order. The Stasi Report emphasizes secularism as a cornerstone of a democracy. Every state is sovereign and has the right to frame its Constitution as well as its other laws according to the needs of its society. How else has Malaysia declared itself an Islamic Republic, completely overlooking the presence of Hindus, Buddhists and Christians who comprise nearly half of the population? Why should Bangladesh and Pakistan have the privilege to call themselves Islamic? Bangladesh had reduced its Hindu population to 10 per cent by 1991.
The figure for 2020 is not yet readily available. In 1947, Hindus comprised 30 per cent of East Bengal. Pakistan has today, according to its own census figures, only one and a half per cent Hindus. The rest have suffered ethnic cleansing. The fact that India has never challenged the rights of Bangladesh or Pakistan to do what they have done to their non-Muslim minorities means that we have respected their sovereignty. Going further, would the Emirates in West Asia be justified in not allowing a temple to be built on their territory? Should Saudi Arabia have the right to disallow even the entry of a non-Muslim on the soil of Mecca and Medina? Does any universal declaration of human rights apply to these respected members of the international community in general and the UNO in particular?
In India, the practice during British rule was non-interference by the government in affairs of religion. This was especially so after the so-called Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. It was only after Independence and the advent of vote-bank politics that Sarva Dharma Samabhava began to be twisted in order to play one community against the other. Articles 25 to 30 were first introduced in 1946 with the intention of dissuading the Muslim League from insisting on Partition. Mysteriously, however, they survived in the draft Constitution even after the country was torn asunder by Partition. The Marxists also call themselves secular. Their idea, however, is active hostility against religion and religious symbols and practices. Karl Marx had considered religion to be the opium of the masses. In pursuance of this philosophy the Stalinists converted many a church, mosque and synagogue into shops, museums or offices across the Soviet Union.
No doubt the Bible had laid the foundation of secularism, Matthew 22:21, in which Christ is quoted as saying: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” Hinduism has never been a structured religion, unlike Christianity. The concept of secularism therefore, does not apply to this country. Tolerance is the name of the Hindu game. Even Jawaharlal Nehru did not think it fit to mention secularism as part of the Preamble of the Constitution. Indira Gandhi, under pressures of the Emergency, slipped this provision into it in 1976, at a time when her regime had thrown most opposition leaders behind bars and shackled democracy itself. Nehru had cultivated the minorities for his support base.
His successors put to use the same people as a vote-bank in every election. They were believed to vote, up to 90 per cent of their presence in the voters’ list, whereas the others, according to their whims and on the whole, did not poll more than 35 to 40. This pampering of the minorities went to the extent of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeatedly declaring that Muslims ought to have first claim on the country’s resources. “Muslims First” was his regime’s slogan, which continued up to 2014.
(The writer is an author, thinker and a former Member of Parliament)