What is it to be ‘secular’ today in India?

Debjanee Ganguly

A few weeks back an article by Harsh Mander on the secular politics of Congress unraveled a debate on secularism. The debates highlighted the plight of Muslims in the current polarized environment and how one could come out of this communal bind through liberal politics. As we know one can keep going around in circles without coming to any concrete conclusion on secularism and identity politics.

It was around this time that Ram Navami clashes unfolded in Bengal. Despite repeated warining the BJP carried out its march in Purulia district which led to causalities. It has left the TMC top brass rattled which is evident in the panchayat poll violence that TMC goons have unleashed in order to prevent opposition parties (namely BJP) from filing their nominations. Mamata Banerjee in a quick move to appease Hindus has also announced that Hindu priests would also get an allowance of Rs 1000 every month just like their fellow Maulanas. Clearly, Didi is worried. But she also tells us the nature of secular politics today – Hindu appeasement!

While the Congress seeks the erasure of the Muslim identity by ignoring the minority (unless theres a brutal rape or lynching – which hardly speaks volumes about secular politics), the BJP seeks erasure by through terror tactics and Hindu bravado. Congress President Rahul Gandhi did a temple run just before the Gujarat elections appeasing the ‘secular’ Hindu sentiments. But his party will not speak of the Sachar committee report findings initiated by their own government. The common Muslim might be forced to erase his own markers of Muslimness in the current environment, something that Mander has spoken of. But can we as a community afford this social, political erasure of the Muslim? This erasure of identity is forced and does not come from within the community as Guha hopes. This type of erasure/ neglect is only harmful. One cannot believe this willingness to become the abstract individual is a position of power in the current circumstance where the emergence of the radical Hindu is getting more and more concretized in the public space.

Politics that revolves around polarizing two communities will never entirely wish away the Other unless there is a larger motive. The motive being the usual cover-up for the failure of the political party etc. Congress hurriedly hanged Afzal Guru in 2013 in an unsuccessful attempt to assuage the feelings of the Hindu in the General Elections of 2014. BJP conducted risky surgical strikes to cover up the military failure to preempt the Uri attack despite repeated warnings. The consequences of the attacks and retaliatory ones were heavy on soldiers on both sides but the BJP considers this as a victory. The Muslim is the punching bag any time an internal threat arises. The BJP needs Muslims to keep Congress in check. Having reduced secular politics to a mere notinmyname event, the erasure of the Muslim in any meaningful existence is near complete. Secular politics too is leading to a slow erasure of the Muslim.

Protest marches have come to represent the buying of one’s conscience for the time-being. Do we as Hindus even care about the ideals upon which this country rests? Or are we only interested in harking back to ancient glory when we discovered the rocket and the internet? The quiet condemnation of polarization that came for Amit Saxena’s father is a beacon of hope. Secular Hindus must strive hard to desist polarization. Question the saffronizing of history and cross check facts and ‘statistics’. Cross check news before believing it. Get to the root of the problem which is political lack of will in addressing the economic issues; the lack of jobs and the rising costs. Lastly, ask yourself and others, what are the risks involved in wearing a skull cap or a burkha in public today? Would you dare?