Secularism is probably the most abused word in India, there is no political party which does not call itself secular and likewise there is none which does not accuse the rest of being pseudo-secular. The word itself bears its origin to the revolutionary anti-feudal struggles of Western Europe, but in India it has acquired a life of its own so that every charlatan pays lip service to it but none takes it seriously. The present stand-off between BJP and JD (U) gives us an opportunity to examine the way the idea of ‘secularism’ has been appropriated, (mis)used by various political parties within the Indian context.
BJP’s pseudo-secularism theory
Perhaps the majority of opponents of BJP do not know that this party and its ideological wing RSS in fact consider them to be the only truly secular political formations in India. Despite Babri Masjid and Gujarat carnage it is their claim that apart from the Sangh Parivar no other political grouping has the true grasp of what secularism means and they declare that the rest all are ‘pseudo-secular’. It is claimed that Hinduism is the only truly tolerant religion of the world because it accepts the possibility that there are multiple ways of reaching the God, and hence within its world view even Christianity and Islam would be accepted as true religions. Christianity and Islam on the contrary are not tolerant because they believe that there is only one true God and one true religion and hence the rest of the religions are false. So the solution suggested is, if Hinduism becomes the dominant religion of the country, accepted by all non-Hindus as a way of life, there would be peace and unity forever because Hindus are tolerant to all religions. So anybody who does not believe that the Hindu way of life ought to be accepted by all Indians is pseudo-secular. Ideological charade notwithstanding, in practice however this grand philosophy devolves to this: ‘say we are tolerant, or else…’ So, Sangh parivar cadres will riot, terrorize and browbeat the minorities to teach them ‘tolerance’/ ‘the Hindu way of life’. Aggression against the ‘outsiders’ also gets inverted into intolerance toward dissent within, so the adherents of the ‘Hindu way of life’ will also try to gloat over the fractures within. The kind of hate speech that the Brahminical literature contains towards Dalits and women gives the lie to the claim that the ‘Hindu way of life’ can ensure universal tolerance. No justice loving individual can seriously believe that BJP and Sangh Parivar are secular, even if we consider the specific meaning that the word has come to acquire in India.
‘Black mail secularism’ of Congress
Congress too is not a secular party, if we strictly adhere to the dictionary meaning of the word. According to the Oxford dictionary ‘secular’ means, ‘not adhering to religious or spiritual matters’. Congress leaders however frequently invoke religious symbols and idioms when it suits their purpose. Peaceful co-existence of religions, rather than strict division between the state and religion seems to be the stated ideal of most of the Congress leaders. However there is no count of occasions on which the Congress party has provoked communal violence to further its political interests. The formula is old and time tested- ‘fan communal frenzy and then pose as the messiah of the minorities’. The British invented this technique and the Congress perfected it. Both BJP and Congress have equal stake in communal polarization, Congress cannot pose as the savior of the minorities unless BJP keeps fanning communal sentiments of the majority community. In this sense both these parties, though seemingly each others’ mortal enemies are in fact the two sides of the same coin. Congress cannot survive without the BJP, its message to the minorities being “Vote for us if you do not want BJP to rule because thing are going to be worse for you under them.” Congress’s reliance on ‘blackmail secularism’ means that election after election they need not promise anything except that things would be worse if BJP comes. Any criticism of how they rule and what they do to the people is out of question for the minorities who merely vote against BJP’s terror.
Corporate agenda behind the smoke screen of secularism
The impasse depicted above sums up the Indian national politics of 90s. As BJP realized the growing weariness of the people with the slogans of Ram Mandir and Hindutva, it felt the need to reinvent itself and the answer was found in the mantra of NAMO; the smoke screen of ‘development’, obsession with the GDP numbers and a general propaganda that if the affluent grow more rich the poor too should feel proud of the nation’s achievements. A grateful big business then laurels NAMO with the title of “Vikas Purush.” Congress and regional ‘secular’ politicians on the other hand invoke the fear psychosis of the persecution of the minorities to win elections and pursue pro-rich neo-liberal reforms with equal zeal. Obsession with secularism and communalism, promoted to a great extent by the corporate media, hides the fact that insofar as national policies are concerned, there is absolute consensus across party lines. BJP, Congress, JD (U) all pursue the same set of policies that promote profits for big business and deprivation for the toiling masses. In the absence of any real differences of opinion vis-à-vis economic policies, secularism and communalism become the favored slogans for politicians of various hues who try to woo the public by loud professions of the fact that their shop is different, a pathetic bid to hide the glaring fact that underneath their cloaks they are all the same; lackeys of the big business.
The toiling masses of the country do not stand to gain anything either out of the blackmail secularism of Congress or the Hindutva brand of politics. Irrespective of which of the two wins, the real winner would the big business and the corporate led neo-liberal policy regime which keeps its feet in both the boats, financing both BJP and Congress. Elections have been reduced to five yearly reality shows which merely decide which section of the political elite will facilitate the profits of big business at the expense of the toiling masses. In terms of national policies there is no difference between BJP and Congress, both privatize health, education, facilitate corporate land grab, bust unions and eliminate subsidies. The lot of working class depreciates day by day whereas the lower middle class too is haunted by the specter of jobless growth.
Secularism of the toiling masses
The need of the hour for the vast masses of the toiling masses of the country is to wage a resolute struggle against the wanton neo-liberal policies of the corporate houses that push them to the brink. But this struggle needs unity of the toiling masses cutting across caste and religious divides. The secularism of the struggling masses emanates from unity in struggle against the common oppressor. It is borne out of a simple understanding that an average Hindu worker in a Reliance factory has more in common with a fellow Muslim worker than Anil Ambani who deprives both of their hard earned fruits of labor. The toiling masses are bound together not by virtue of some abstract principle of tolerance but due to the express need for unity to fight a common battle and therefore they cannot let themselves be swayed by communal passions or fear psychosis which weaken the struggle. Secularism borne out of the need to unite against the common oppressors is proletarian secularism, secularism of the billions of toiling masses in this country.
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