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Ram Jethmalani is a senior politician and eminent lawyer.

Congress’ secularism is a myth

The terms “communal” and “secular” are used by political parties without understanding their true connotations.

deceptive lull in the Advani camp, and the expected JDU pullout, have dominated the political flavour of the week. Good riddance, for that removes once for all their Damocles' sword of blackmail and humiliation that continuously hung over BJP's head over the past year. I read that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has recently administered a baptism of Congress "secularism" to the hitherto "communal" Nitish Kumar, after his mea culpa of cohabiting with the BJP for 17 long years. Alongside, the new Congress summer offensive against Narendra Modi has started with a rather clumsy revival of the Ishrat Jehan case, full of howlers and blunders, causing a civil war between the CBI and IB, and revving up the stale "communal" propaganda against him.

Clearly, after his spectacular victories at the polls, the only accusations against Modi will be the imaginary ones concocted by the vote bank secularists of the Congress Party, instigated by their BJP supporters, that Modi is communal, arrogant, divisive etc. Alas, we have reached an unfortunate situation in India where anyone decisive is called divisive, and an honest, efficient, tough task master and achiever with remarkable leadership qualities is insulted by being labelled arrogant, and a one man show. Secularism and communalism are two words in India's political terminology that have intentionally been left undefined, so that they can be misused as weapons of attack by the Congress and its allies, against any political opponent, (presently Modi), without any accountability, or questions regarding their true meaning. I strongly believe that the Congress and other self-proclaimed secular political parties should be made to explain the meaning of these words to the people of India, instead of bandying them about like ignorant charlatans.

Strangely enough, neither the intelligentsia, nor the media ask these questions. Even stranger, the BJP, a constant target of the "communal" attack, has never considered it important to aggressively counter the communal charge, or demand an explanation regarding its basis, or point out the blatant communalism that the Congress practices continuously. The Congress and other political rivals of the BJP therefore continue misusing the words "communal" against the BJP and "secular" for themselves, even though neither the speakers nor the listeners care about understanding their true meaning. And with constant repetition, the brainwash becomes something of an idiom. I can understand that the BJP under Advani could not challenge the Congress on this issue, because of his Babri baggage, but it is now time to shed this passivity.

As repeatedly stated by me in this column, the fundamental tenets of "secularism" constitute complete neutrality by the state in matters of religion, neither supporting, nor opposing it; treating all citizens equally regardless of their religion, without favouring or giving preferential treatment to any particular religion or non-religion; constitutional bar against the state adopting any religion as its state religion; since religion is a matter of personal faith, there should be no mixing of religion and politics for vote banks. Undoubtedly, social values of all countries are bound to trace their origins to religion, but these must pass the test of rationality and public good before they are accepted as social norms.

I am certain that the policies of the Congress and its allies cannot pass the authentic test of secularism. If the Congress Party, the BJP, the Communist Parties, the SP, BSP, JD(U) etc have created their own versions of secularism and communalism, let the nation know about them, so that the subject can undergo the rigorous scrutiny of a public debate, including on television. I doubt whether the Congress party or its allies will ever do this. It is politically more opportunistic to leave these terms elusive, undefined and intentionally misusable, and cultivate sections of captive media and intelligentsia to disseminate disinformation and brainwash gullible sections of the people.

I have always maintained that India needs an inclusive "national secularism" agenda, which in any case forms the fulcrum of our constitution, as against the "communal secularism", practised by the Congress, and its satellites. What is polarising the nation today is not BJP or Narendra Modi, but the Congress party's own divisive, communal vote bank politics, to which it gives a fake label of "secularism". This distortion is then marketed by the Congress spin doctors to the media and the public, and the myth of Congress secularism and BJP communalism is perpetuated through the usual Goebellesian techniques. I request the readers to go through the Communal Violence Bill advocated by the National Advisory Council. It is a most communal and socially divisive document to ensure a permanent wedge between the religious communities of India. The UPA government has either been plundering the country, or cooking up ill conceived, non-implementable, financially destructive welfare schemes, that it neither has the commitment nor the vision to implement, and knock the Indian economy out completely. And judging from the present state of the economy, it has succeeded in good measure. It almost appears as if the NAC is successor to the colonialism and communal legacy of the Raj with a specific agenda to destabilise whatever is stable in India.

I also request my readers to revisit the Independence movement, and examine the role of the Congress Party in aiding and abetting the colonial powers in launching communal politics in India, that ended with the partition of India. There was no BJP during those years, so the standard accusation of communalism cannot be pointed towards them for the religious divide that developed in the Independence Movement, eventually culminating in the creation of Pakistan on religious lines. The onus of alienating the Muslims in pre-independence India can only rest on the Indian National Congress — for their repeated inability to deal successfully with the Muslim League, and their greed for power during those years — so much so, that large sections of influential Muslims went to the extent of exchanging their patriotism for the Two Nation call. The unpardonable and irreversible blunders of the Congress are documented in history, their refusal to share power with Muslims for one-third seats in the Central Legislature, or address their political security demands in a spirit of give and take, the failure of the Nehru Report of 1928, under the chairmanship of Motilal Nehru with Jawaharlal Nehru as secretary, and the ensuing "parting of ways" with Jinnah and his 14 points as a Muslim leader, and finally succumbing to the Two Nation Theory and creation of Pakistan.

How can the same Congress party that disastrously failed to protect the political security and interests of the Muslims of undivided India when it had to deal with the issue full front, and instead drove them to seek a separate state based on their religion, claim to be their only protector today? Accepting the solution of partition was tantamount to the Indian National Congress pleading guilty to that charge.

After Independence, utmost priority ought to have been given to imparting secular education as a compulsory subject in every school and college curriculum to build national integration and social cohesion, explain the position of religion as assigned to it by the Constitution of India, the rights and obligations of all religious communities. It was also important to sensitise all minority communities, particularly Muslims, to the concept of secularism, as it was some of their kinsmen who had opted for another state on the basis of religion, for which Indian Muslims had to bear the cross. But the Congress governments did nothing of the kind. Article 25 of the Constitution, which guarantees every citizen the right not only to profess and practise his religion but also the right to propagate it, is the foundation of Indian secularism. Not a single word of the text of the Constitution was changed after the word "secular" was added to the Preamble during the Emergency by Indira Gandhi, implying thereby, that the ingredients of secularism already existed. However, no commentary on the Constitution of India teaches these facts about secularism.

Over the decades, our indifference to the true practice of secularism has resulted in anarchic use of the words secular and communal, general ignorance or indifference among the people about their true meaning, and political licence to use them irresponsibly. Altogether, a formidable contribution of the Congress party to the political tradition of India.

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