The Religious Politics of India

According to most dictionaries, secularism is defined as “the belief that religion should not be involved with the ordinary social and political activities of a country”. In India, it implies that the state does not have any official religion, and treats all religions equally. However, there is a difference between what theory says and what practice offers– when it comes to something as ubiquitous and omnipresent as religion, it becomes difficult to deliver what the law promises.

In 1976, the word ‘secular’ was explicitly added to the Indian Constitution by the Indira Gandhi government, as part of the 42nd amendment. This was motivated by political ambitions, as the essence of secularism was always present implicitly in the Indian Constitution through various provisions like the Right to Freedom of Religion, Article 15, Article 16, Article 25, Article 26, Article 27, Article 28 and Article 325; Article 25 Clause 1 states that people can “profess, propagate and practice any religion subjected to public order, morality and health.”

However, Clause 2 of Article 25 states that “nothing in this article shall prevent the state from regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice.” While this provision was introduced to maintain harmony among religions by allowing the government to impose reasonable restrictions on the Freedom of Religion, it has always been used by the governments to win their political battles.

Indian secularism has sometimes been criticized on the basis that it succumbs to the majority’s rights, but this article examines how it is the majority that is denied its rights amidst the government’s appeasement of minorities.

Mamata Banerjee tops this ‘appeasement list’– unabashedly favouring minorities at the expense of majorities in West Bengal, be it when in September 2018, the state government banned Durga Pooja idol immersion and Dusshera celebrations after 10 pm since Muharram was to be celebrated the next day, or letting minorities take law and order in their own hands. Election manifestos too, have become a mere way for political parties to generate minority vote banks. For example, ahead of the Telangana assembly elections, the manifesto released by the Congress party contained only minority-centric schemes, like promising free electricity to mosques and churches, special opportunities in government contracts for the Muslims, an of Rs 20 lakh to poor Muslim students, and residential schools for Muslims. Minoritarianism is rampant is even the National Capital Territory– pamphlets released by Arvind Kejriwal actually contained the words “BJP is a communal party. till now the Muslims did not have any alternative, but now they have an honest alternative in the form of an AAP.”  However, if a party that comes to power talks about equality for all, a uniform civil code, or along with minority festivals, celebrates festivals like kanya bhoj in the Rashtrapati Bhawan that belong to the culture of the religious majority, it is accused of totalitarianism, spreading the tyranny of majority, or being intolerant.

This trend is deeply troubling, as if it continues amongst the political parties, then the concept of equality will soon lose all meaning. Every party will try to appease minorities for their vote banks and keep denying the same when questioned. It is high time we realize that a party cannot survive solely by wooing minorities while neglecting the majority; not only is it undemocratic, but often these petty politics also divide the two. We, as voters, are as responsible as political parties for this continued behavior, because we are the ones who vest such powers in them. It is time that we forgo selective policies and the policy of appeasement, and start looking for concrete foundational schemes that benefit all citizens equally; if we keep supporting vote bank politics, we will never be able to achieve substantial and holistic development of the countries, and in the name of secularism, majorities will keep on losing their rights.

In the upcoming elections therefore, we must be vigilant and not fall for appeasement policies, and instead choose wisely for the sake of the entire democracy.

Picture Credits : youthkiawaaz

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