The Congress party was in power for all but 12 years since Independence, and claimed to be the sole repository of India's secularism, until it received competition from later parties which also learnt how to diddle this grand concept to camouflage their communal intent and vote bank politics. It is, therefore, not surprising that they have neither defined nor explained to the people of India, the true meaning and practice of "secularism" or of its antithesis "communalism". The term secularism was so misused and abused by the Congress and its allies, that by the end of UPA 2, it came to be understood in popular perception as anything anti-majority and pro-minority, regardless of constitutional provisions.
The Constitution of India proudly proclaims in its Preamble that India is a secular state, explained in Article 25, which gives every citizen the right to profess and practice any religion of her/his choice, plus the right to propagate it. These three rights, wisely, are subject to public order, health and morality. Not many among our politicians, religious leaders, or the informed citizenry grasp the enlightened wisdom and secularism of this provision.
The first proposition that emerges from Article 25 is that in India, religious beliefs and practices (of any religion) can well have the potential of being a menace to public order, or a threat to human health or offensive to morals. The second corollary is that anyone propagating his or any religion is entitled to compare and contrast it with other religions and demonstrate the superiority of the one he propagates, without inviting prosecution for blasphemy or heresy. In other words, it presupposes that society must have developed a tremendous spirit of tolerance to peacefully hear arguments for and against any religion. Lastly, should there be an alleged conflict between the scripture and public morals, it will not be decided by the scripture itself but by something else, namely the highest faculty of the human brain — reason. In short, the meaning and mandate of India's secularism is a life guided by reason and logic, but inspired by tolerance and common good. My own view of secularism is to make as many persons happy as you can while you live, through any religion that you practise, and increase the sum total of human happiness.
The definition of secularism, accepted worldwide is, (a) complete neutrality by the state in matters of religion, neither supporting nor opposing it; (b) treating all citizens equally, regardless of their religion, without favouring or giving preferential treatment to any particular religion or non-religion; (c) constitutional bar against the state adopting any religion as its state religion; (d) no mixing of religion and politics for vote banks, as religion is a matter of personal faith.
Secularism as a political principle, the mainstay of our Constitution summed up in Article 25, came to us only after Independence. However, secularism has always been an integral and well documented part of our social and political ethos from the beginning of recorded history. We have always welcomed religions from all over the world. Judaism came to India through traders around six centuries before the Christian era, and Jews settled in the Malabar coast in peace and prosperity. We welcomed the Islamic faith, also in the Malabar, which had a flourishing maritime trade linking Rome, the Levant, and South East Asia. India's first mosque, Cheraman Jum'ah Masjid was built in 629 AD on land given by local Hindus, and even today, people of all religions make offerings in the mosque. Parsis immigrated to Gujarat and Sindh around 8th century to avoid persecution of their Zoroastrianism faith during the Muslim conquest of Persia. Thereafter, they settled in India in peace and prosperity, integrating into the national mainstream while retaining their religious and cultural identity. The people of India, and the many forms of Sanatan Dharma that they practised, have never persecuted any other religion. The essence of our plurality and its coexistence is writ large and loud in our philosophic texts, and was also practised in action and spirit when Hindu kings ruled the subcontinent. Our ancient and modern belief is that all humanity is one family "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" (Mahopanishad VI 71-73).
India's innate secularism was universally witnessed, when it refused to make transfer of populations a condition for Partition. This is a great tribute to Hindu leadership, that despite the strongest provocation in the demand for Pakistan, based on religion, we refused to declare ourselves a Hindu state, but chose to be secular, conferring on all citizens the right to profess, practice and propagate their religions.
I am certain that the secularism of the Congress and its allies cannot pass any authentic test. If the Congress, or their allied "secular" parties have created their own versions of what constitutes 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 or its allies will ever do this. What suits the Congress is to leave these terms elusive, undefined and intentionally mis-usable, and cultivate captive sections of the media and intelligentsia to disseminate disinformation and brainwash gullible sections of the people.
How many people, including the politicians, the media, the youth who form the fulcrum of our country, or the informed citizenry, know the actual meaning of secularism, or the evolution of the word "Hindu", or how the word "Hinduism", originally a geographical and cultural construct, was branded into a religion by foreign rulers for convenience? Do they even know the difference between the words, "Hinduism" (which, by the time the British established themselves, had completely intruded into India's religious terminology as a religion through linguistic imperialism), and "Hindutva" as defined in the Supreme Court judgement of 1995? Do they know that Hindutva cannot by any stretch of demagoguery be labelled a religion? It is not even synonymous with the foreign coined "Hinduism".
It is unfortunate that after being subjected to the misguided political narrative on secularism over decades, we do not today have a single authoritative textbook, which properly explains what secularism as defined in our Constitution means. It is time we had one. It must draw from the authority of the famous Supreme Court judgement of 1995, popularly called the Hindutva judgement. This judgement held that Hinduism is not like monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity or Islam. It does not believe in a single God, a single scripture or a uniform set of rituals or beliefs. It has no single founder like Jesus Christ or Prophet Muhammad; even its date of its birth is not known.
The Court was persuaded by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan's book Indian Muslims, The Need for a Positive Outlook, in which he wrote that "Hindutva" means "Indianisation". The way of Hindutva, says the Maulana, aims at developing a uniform culture by obliterating the differences between all the cultures coexisting in the country. This is said to be the way to communal harmony and national unity. The Maulana rightly concludes that the concept of Hindutva will obliterate the distinction between Ram and Rahim.
Our secular education must help the young to put religion in its proper place. The idea that any one of our existing religions represents the infallible word of the only true God is steeped in an encyclopaedic ignorance of history, mythology or even art, all of which are essential ingredients of civilisation. History also records that when religion reigned supreme in society, it lost its humaneness, and has always been an enemy of science. Take the case of the scientist Bruno, burnt at the stake in 1600, for daring to lecture about Copernican astronomy, that the earth rotates around the sun. Galileo, the great astronomer and scientist, persecuted by the Church, escaped life imprisonment by a pretended retraction and migration from his country of birth. Women across the western world, branded as witches were burnt for heresy or blasphemy. Alas, killings for blasphemy still persist in many parts of the Islamic world.
No doubt religion might bring some dilution of despair, some solace to the forlorn and some palliative to explain this world's pain and suffering, by offering a heaven full of beautiful houries and delicious wines in the next world or next life. But on the whole, religion has a terrible balancesheet in the spreadsheet of history. It can be said with perfect justification that all the ships of all the navies of the world can float comfortably in the ocean of innocent blood that has been shed in the name of religion through our history.
Education must be geared to prevent religion going astray and to become a strong cementing force uniting the nation in a warm embrace of mutual love and tolerance. The government must invite scholars to produce a standard textbook on Indian secularism, the study of which should be compulsory for every student. The BJP manifesto states that it would facilitate setting up of an inter faith consultative mechanism to promote interfaith harmony and trust under the auspices of religious leaders. Let it be set up soon, and be mandated with preparing a basic textbook for all our students, citizens, religious leaders and politicians, for them to inculcate, profess, practise, and propagate India's true secularism.