By Ram Puniyani
The word secularism has been brought to disrepute during last few decades. Secularism stands in India for equal respect for all religions and the principle that the state policies will not be dictated by religions. This is the central theme of Indian constitution. Its flawed practice by ruling parties has been used as a pretext by communal elements to downgrade it and the very principles of secularism itself have been questioned. The Supreme Court seven bench judgment that electoral process is a secular activity comes as a big relief for all those who uphold the underlying currents of justice inherent in the values of pluralism. The judgment says that India is a Secular State; elections in a secular state must not violate Principles of Secularism. It states that the Misuse of Religion for Political ends –violation of Section 123 of the Representation of People’s Act amounts to a corrupt practice under Indian election law, and further that the onus of preserving the sanctity and purity of the election Process lies not just with the candidate contesting the election, but his/her agent, the manifesto on which he/she contests.
The judgment states that the function of an elected representative must be secular in both outlook and practice as these values also emphasize that there should be affirmative action for the religious minorities; this is as well the part ingrained in the values of justice, which forms the foundation of secular democracies. This judgment gives a new rejuvenating strength to the inherent principles of secularism which the founding fathers of Indian Constitution envisaged.
The judgment has been welcomed by many political streams, including the one’s which have been questioning the secular values and which have built their electoral strength on the identity issues of religion. While it has shown the path for plural India, the India where the dignity and rights of all are respected at the same time, at the same time many challenges also need to be envisaged in the practice of this verdict.
The whole exercise which brought in this judgment began with the interventions which wanted the court to revisit the notorious “Hindutva Judgment’ of 1995, associated with the name of Justice Varma. That judgment held that Hinduism-Hindutva is multifarious, diverse, ‘difficult to define’ so it is a ‘way of life’. The confusions on which that judgment was based are due to the very nature of Hinduism, where there is no single prophet and diverse and conflicting religious traditions prevailing in this area have been brought under the umbrella of Hinduism. Still all said and done Hinduism is a religion by all theological and sociological considerations, as it has holy books, rituals, clergy, Gods-Goddesses and most other parameters for calling it a religion. This time the Court has not opined on this crucial aspect of the 1995 judgment, which needs to be revisited and revised keeping in mind its perception as a religion among the millions of Hindus.
Not addressing this issue has left the ground open for the section of communalists to continue to appeal in the name of Hidnuism-Hindutva and to escape being punished under provisions of people’s representation act. This discrepancy is not welcome as the major communal streams can merrily indulge in the use of religion for electoral ground and at the same time to escape the penal provisions of law. Secondly, use of “religions’ identify” has been the ground on which violence and polarization has been taking place. Take for example the issue of Ram Temple or beef; it gives a clear communal message. The use of this for political mobilization has been the major phenomenon over last over three decades. The Court verdict has nothing to say on these types of issues, which are an appeal to mobilize the community in the name of religion. This political abuse of religion’s identity for electoral power is antithetical to secular values. How does the country get over these emotive issues which create a political malpractice in a deeper sense? Unless these are addressed the political tendencies will keep finding more and more ground to appeal in the name of religion, though this appeal will be more subtle but will be having the same outcome.
One recalls that before the general elections of 2014, Mr. Narendra Modi In one of his speeches in Mumbai said that ‘I am born in a Hindu family: I am a nationalist, so I am a Hindu nationalist’. Massive hoardings were put up all over Mumbai to give this message. Will it come under corrupt practice or not? The hate speeches like the ones’ of AkbarUddin Owaisi and the large section of RSS combine like Yogi Adityanath, Pravin Togadia, Sadhvi Nirnajan Jyoti and their ilk is a deeper appeal to the religion of the electorate. Should it amount to corrupt electoral practice or not? There is a lot of symbolism which gives the message of religion, like using Islamic symbols by some, and using Hindu symbols, Hindu gods and goddesses in the posters of the candidates. Some candidates have been comparing themselves this or that god or goddesses, where will we put such a practice? Some time ago, UP BJP Chief, K.P. Maurya was shown posing as Lord Krishna facing the Kauravas of Yadav family were put up, how does one let it pass if elections and politics are secular enterprise?
On the other side will come the issues related to the marginalized sections of society. Demands for the neglected poor deprived sections may be related to caste or religion. Since the beginning of republic some communities have remained disadvantaged or victimized due to multiple factors. Adivasis, Dalits and religious minorities do fall in this category. There are enough reports showing the plight of these sections, Sachar Committee report being one example. These sectional demands fall under the category of ‘affirmative action’, which is integral part of the secular democratic nature of our Constitution. They cannot be labeled as an appeal to religion or caste in any way.
While Supreme Court has shown the way, overcoming the existing lacuna in the practice of secular values need to be restored in the society, and that will pave the way for justice and peace in the real sense.