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Approach:

  1. Intro on Indian secularism and its abuse.
  2. Explain Constitutional secularism.
  3. Explain party-political secularism.
  4. State what can be done to even out this dichotomy.
  5. Conclusion.

Indian brand of secularism means equidistance from every religion and that there is no state religion. The notion of secularism has bear the brunt for being at the center of public & political discourse – it has been persistently misused & abused by vested interests. Distinguishing it from constitutional political secularism, scholars have called this abused version as ‘party-political secularism’.

Constitutional secularism: this is marked by two features –

  • Respect for all religions: Unlike the secularisms of predominantly single religious societies, ours does not blindly support any one religion, rather, it respects all religions. However, given the virtual difficulty of distinguishing religious from the social, BR Ambedkar opined that every aspect of religious doctrine cannot be respected, which must be accompanied by critique. It follows that state can intervene whenever religious groups promote communal disharmony or are unable to protect their members from perpetuated oppressions.
  • No strict separation: the Indian state abandons strict separation but keeps a principled distance from all religions. Thus, it constantly decides when to engage or disengage, help or hinder religion depending on how these enhances constitutional commitment to freedom, equality and fraternity.

Constitutional secularism cannot be sustained by governments alone and requires collective commitment from the judiciary, scrupulous media, civil society and aware citizenry.

Opportunistic secularism : ‘Party-political secularism’ born almost 4 decades ago, is a nefarious doctrine practiced by almost all political parties. This secularism has eroded all values and replaced them with opportunism. Opportunistic disengagement or opportunistic alliance with religious communities for immediate electoral benefit is its hallmark feature. It has removed the ‘critical’ aspect by bizarrely making deals with aggressive or orthodox sections of religious groups. This has ignited communal violence in many parts.

In a more recent trend, few majoritarian parties have started to directly appease the majority religion by demonizing others. This has eliminated the ‘principled distance’ of state from religion. This is uncontrolled majoritarianism under the garb of secularism – one that opposes ‘pseudo-secularism’ without examining its own unethical practices.

Today, Indian Constitutional secularism is being eclipsed by this party-political secularism. This has raised a question on the future of secularism in India.

What needs to be done ?:

  • A shift of focus from a politically-driven project to socially-led movement for justice. When two religious communities view each other as enemies, they get trapped in majority-minority syndrome, spiraling into political conflict & social alienation. The political project arose because religious toleration no longer worked. So, new forms of socio-religious reciprocity and novel ways of reducing political alienation are needed to bridge the democratic deficit.
  • A shift of emphasis from inter-religious to intra-religious issues. By muzzling dissent within the community, much needed internal reforms are stalled. Thus a much deeper introspection must be allowed through multiple dissenting voices, creating conditions to eradicate intra-religious injustices and make members free & equal.

Indian secularism is thwarted by as much party-politics as by religious orthodoxy and dogmas. Hence, a critique of religion from within is needed; a critique from outside will not work. Additionally, the popular-democratic struggles need support from intelligentsia. But it to be effective, these intellectuals should have learnt from a wide variety of cultural traditions, outside their immediate ambit.

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