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Anshul is a Political Science and Law graduate from the University of Delhi. He is interested in political, legal and policy developments and frequently writes on related themes. You can contact him on anshulkumarpandey [at] gmail [dot] com.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Debating UCC - Accomodating Orthodoxy

(Above) 'Hindu Triad' by M.F. Hussain.
Part III of a series of articles on the Uniform Civil Code. To read Part I and Part II, click here and here.
As a student of History, Nehru chose to look at India not in a short time span of 1757-1947, but in a larger context – as a 5000 year old civilization. In his view, India’s woes at that time were a mere blip in its civilizational journey and as with all the other dark chapters of its past, this too was to pass. He also tried to look at the common threads that bound the history of our subcontinent; the threads which would have to be woven in the modern idea of India. Speaking of the need to counter the British divide and rule policy, he writes in his Autobiography:
“If there is no common national or social outlook, there will not be common action against the common adversary. If we think in terms of the existing political and economic structure and merely wish to tamper with it here and there, to reform it, to ‘Indianise’ it, then all real inducement for joint action is lacking. The object then becomes one of sharing in the spoils, and the third and controlling party inevitably plays the dominant role and hands out its gifts to the prize boys of its choice. Only by thinking in terms of a different political framework – and even more so a different social framework – can we build up a stable foundation for joint action.”
Secularism was the ‘stable foundation’ of the joint action that he spoke of, for without secularism, the old inter-religious disputes had the power to reduce to dust all the efforts that had gone into gaining independence. Modern India, India of the new age, was to be a society in which people would have the freedom to practice any religion that they wanted and the state would not judge them on the basis of their religious background as the British state notoriously did.

However, was Secularism a western concept being imposed on India? Was there anything in the history of the subcontinent which warranted such a religiously neutral approach? Or was it just a figment of one’s imagination – a hope elevated to the level of national policy?

As opposers of British rule, as desirers of independence, all freedom fighters had a tendency to focus on India’s positives rather than despair by dwelling on its negatives. They wanted to eradicate the social and political ills that the country had accumulated over time, but they wanted to first build on its innate strengths. They wanted to make the people of the country aware about its rich and varied past and were themselves influenced by India’s history in sufficient measure. If Secularism was not in the character and history of the Indian people then they would rise up and reject it and like with all their demands, the Indian state will have to concede this too. 

But Indians did not rise up in arms against Secularism. They had no reason to do so. And that was characteristic of their heritage. In The Discovery of India, Nehru writes:
“India with all her infinite charm and variety began to grow upon me more and more, and yet the more I saw of her, the more I realized how very difficult it was for me or for anyone else to grasp the ideas she had embodied. It was not her wide spaces that eluded me, or even her diversity, but some depth of soul which I could not fathom, though I had occasional and tantalizing glimpses of it. She was like some ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously. All of these existed in our conscious and subconscious selves, though we may not have been aware of them, and they had gone to build up the complex and mysterious personality of India.”
Had Nehru been alive in the 1980s, would he have objected to the telecast of such serials on India’s national broadcast network? I don’t think so. These serials became a vehicle of arousing Hindu political consciousness in the background of the gaffes committed by Rajiv Gandhi. Devoid of context, these serials would have just remained a non-political religious discourse. As mentioned earlier, the Indian version of Secularism is that of equal respect to all religions. Nehru wouldn’t have caved in to the demands of the Muslim orthodoxy and he definitely wouldn’t have allowed the locks of the disputed structure to be opened. As regards the serials, even if the initiative was taken up by someone else, his record shows that his attitude would have been one of mild indifference.

Orthodoxy begets orthodoxy. The way the Indian state began caving into the demands of the minority orthodoxy one after another, rightly made the majority of the Hindus feel alienated. If anything, the meteoric rise of the Bhartiya Janata Party was an electoral expression of that feeling of alienation – a feeling which political leaders had actively fostered through the complete distortion of Nehru’s concept of Secularism.

By the early 1990s, the idea of Secularism had meta morphed into the politics of minority appeasement and by implication, the politics of Hindu hatred. As Shashi Tharoor notes in his book Nehru: The Invention of India, the Congress party had no problems allying with Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in Kerala, but counted the Bhartiya Janata Party as “communal” and its worst enemy.

The haste to garner Muslim votes meant that by the turn of the millennium, the Congress leadership had started bending over backward to accommodate the Muslim orthodoxy, throwing all the pretense of their alleged secularism to the winds. Anyone speaking against the ill practices prevalent in the minority community was branded as "communal" and "Islamophobe" and conversely, anyone forwarding even the most ridiculous criticism of Hinduism and Hindu practices even without researching adequately about the same, became a "reformer" and a "secular" person. A Wendy Doniger or an A.K. Ramanujan were entitled to secular liberal outrage in the name of free speech, but the same outrage was subdued or was expressed with reservations in case of a Salman Rushdie or a Taslima Nasreen for the fear of "stereotyping the minorities". The Congress leadership felt no hesitation in ordering a lathicharge against Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev when he organized an anti-corruption rally in the heart of Delhi, despite him having a mammoth Hindu following, but were at pains to defend themselves after Zakir Naik, a radical Islamic preacher who had been hailed as a "messenger of peace" by Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh and who had been provided police protection by the then Congress government in Maharashtra, was found to be the inspiration behind the terrorists who wreaked havoc in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.

It is no surprise then that the voters, sick of this deliberate twisting of words and double standards for different communities, elected the "communal" Bhartiya Janata Party first in the states, then at the center with full majority in May 2014.