The Tribune - Spectrum

, June 9, 2002

Secularism as hijacked by the Left
G.V. Gupta

Pluralism and Equality
edited by Imtiaz Ahmed et al. Sage, New Delhi. Pages 375. Rs. 325.

KONARD-Adenauer-Foundation aims at promotion of democratic values of equality, pluralism and secularism and sponsors inter-cultural inter-religious dialogues to facilitate it. It organised a workshop to enable "an assessment of the way these core values, originating in Europe but finding acceptance in South Asia as part of its struggle against colonialism and subsequent building of nation-states, had roots in its civilisational ethos and to evaluate the implications of their adoption as part of package of nation building project". Thus, European values provide the standard to judge the issue of suppression or promotion of aspects of religious-cultural values of South Asians to build a modem Nation-State. The book is collection of papers presented along with an introduction and summary of discussion.

The workshop examined five relationships. It felt that unlike Western-Christian philosophic tradition of individual being at the core of rights and responsibilities, in the Hindu tradition individual is merely a part of asocial group having ‘Dharmic’ obligation of a social duty only. There is no individual-state relationship to protect non-alienable individual rights (C. Badrinath and Habisch). In individual-group relationship, individual rights get ignored in favour of group rights by the state and there is no intra-group equality. Inter-group relationship can be secularised only on the basis of conscious application of equal basic rights for all (Bhargava) and where people can carry their religious badges (Imtiaz Ahmed). Conflicts have multiple identities of religion, language, region, ethnicity and employment etc. (Ghosh). The nation building project has to negotiate the issue of its changing role during globalisation as also its relationship with the social groups i.e. secularism. Yogendra Singh sees no basic conflict between globalisation and the nation. Samaddar sees a conflict between democratisation of nation and globalisation i.e. equality versus liberty. Kumkum Sangari has penned a comprehensive and brilliant essay on gender justice.


The core-question is of individual state relationship: Individual rights are against state but, simultaneously, a strong state is required to protect these rights. A culturally deficient constituent cannot create a better state. Therefore, do we first have to have a new concept of state as a value? In the workshop, Indian values were located only in ‘Vedant’ with C.Badrinath as the sole expert on tradition. Implicit in this is abandonment of classic Indian concept of the state and connected religious and cultural values. Unstated issue is whether in that case India can remain a nation? Can a modem constitution be the sole base for the creation and existence of a nation? However, the accepted background assumption of the conference is that India a functioning democracy. Is it only because it is a mass democracy with a little of civil society? One participant thinks so.

Irrespective of Greek tradition, Holy Empire was not much respectful of individual rights. Nation-states emerged with concept of rule of law to protect contracts with freedom of enterprise and market. Three centuries progress made it slightly tempered by welfare concept. Here equality means equality of opportunity. Equality and liberty, together, in this sense formed the core of secularism in the West.

The tragedy of secularism in India is the hijacking of the concept by the leftist. Dominant Nehrivian discourse in English justifies a state concentrating all economic power remaining blind to the fact that this has created a Hindu bourgeoisie power and an all powerful Brahamanic bureaucracy relegating the Muslim traders, artisans and craftsmen to ghettos. This has retarded the chance of emergence of an Indian capitalist class and has bound India down to a feudal order with romantic notions of Muslim culture. Communism created a tyranny most oppressive of minorities. Only freedom of market to sell labour can unshackle the caste bound oppressed by the feudal lord. Marxist practice in India has created the equation of traditionalist=Brahmanic=Hindu=free marketist=supplicant of American imperialism=male chauvinists.

Cultural values here have been sought only in texts treating Hindu as a monolith created by Manu, sanctified by colonialists, and adopted by resurgent Brahamanic Vedics and Vedanti. Tradition of polytheism, treatment of philosophic school only as an opinion (mut) and of organised religion as a path (panth), practice of ahimsa and respect for ‘arth’ taking money as a scale of gain or loss rather than feudal concept of prestige (ijjat) which are at the core of democratic experience in India find no mention here. The fault lies in selection of participants who are known Leftists from JNU with some sprinkling from Delhi and Calcutta, with the sole exception of Badrinath, who could have met only in the heritage hotel of Neemrana with liberal pocket allowances, This forcibly puts ordinary liberal ‘sanatani’ Indian and those wanting freedom of market in the ‘other’ camp. This also leaves out eclectic Muslim.