The phrase, ‘Indian Secularism’ is best recognised though least understood. Like Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous jibe about the ‘Indian Civil Service’, Indian Secularism is neither Indian in ethos nor true to its western definition. Its meaning varies with place, time and context. Its inclusiveness is exclusive! This means members of a minority community are ipso facto deemed secular whereas members of the majority community have to prove themselves at every turn to be eligible for the secular tag.
‘Indian Secularism’ eludes definition! It can only be exemplified and contrasted! For example, its more vocal proponents make a yearly ritual of doing the rounds of television studios for condemning the destruction of an inanimate, disused structure on December 6, 1992. But they are willfully oblivious to the forced exile of 5,00,000–7,00,000 Hindus from Kashmir beginning January 19, 1989. There was not a squeak when the might of the Indian state failed to enforce an arrest warrant against Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid for over twenty years. But ‘the law should take its course’ debates were aplenty in television studios when the Sankaracharya of Kanchi was arrested on Diwali eve in 2004. They were not able to condemn Akbaruddin Owaisi’s seditious speech without in the same breath invoking Praveen Togadia and calling for his arrest. The government of Andhra Pradesh had to arrest Swami Kamalananda Bharathi, the President of Hindu Devalaya Parirakshana Samithi to balance the arrest of Akbaruddin Owaisi, although in his speech the former was only reacting to the latter’s rabid utterances.
If one were to name a remarkable failure of India as a nation, it is its inability to forge a national identity. The more poignant aspect of the failure is that its leaders not just failed to bring about national integration but actually worked to stratify its myriad fragments. Someone said in a lighter vein that Coca Cola and fast food define the cultural identity of American youth. On a more serious note, democracy and free enterprise, innovation and competitiveness, military and scientific achievements define America’s national pride. For the proponents of Indian Secularism the concept of national pride is anathema. For them national pride is synonymous with jingoism. For them the antidote for jingoism is an artificial construct called composite culture that negates a glorious past stretching backwards for thousands of years.
It is in this context that some recent press reports make for disturbing reading. According to one of the reports, ‘a major chunk of the over 20,000 foreign preachers that descend on Indian shores every year’ preach radical Islam. Organisations like Tableeghi Jamaat Nizamuddin Markaz, which controls the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), Islamic Research Foundation, Ahl-e-Hadis, Jamait Ulema-e Hind invite these preachers from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Further, according to Syed Mohammed Ashraf of the All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board, the lure of petro-dollars and the inability of the government of India to intervene have been contributing to the radicalization of Indian Islam. (“Wahabi Islam Gaining Ground in the Country”. The New Indian Express, Hyderabad. January 14, 2013. p.7). The government’s inaction seems to be particularly surprising because according to Indian laws foreign nationals visiting India on tourist visas are not allowed to preach religion.
A second report (“Most Muslims Held for Terrorism are Innocent”. The New Indian Express, Hyderabad. January 14, 2013. p.2) relates to a convention on ‘Politics of Terror Targeting Muslim Youth’ (sic). The convention which has by now become an annual ritual was addressed by the usual suspects, left and left-leaning politicians. That the subject matter of the convention amounts infringement in the activities of the law enforcement agencies is only one aspect. There is a subtle attempt to form a coalition of Muslims, Dalits and Tribals and pit it against the rest of the society, a tactic employed by Western evangelists to weaken the Hindu society. One of the speakers in the convention made an outrageous demand that the Government should issue a ‘conduct certificate’ to those acquitted by the courts to the effect, that they were wrongly arrested in the first place!