India is in a pretty bad state today. The economy desperately needs to be repaired, as do rural distress, the job crisis and the free-falling rupee. The country’s institutions demand urgently to be rebuilt — the media, police, judiciary, universities, the planning process, the Election Commission of India. Our constitutional pledge of a secular democracy stands damaged.
During the election campaigns, the opposition leaders spoke of everything else — the agony of farmers, unemployed youth, suspect defence deals, crony capitalism and indeed crony institutions. Never did they speak of secularism. The 2019 general election has been framed as a battle of Narendra Modi against the rest. This is how the Opposition has fought the electoral battle, of Modi versus the rest. This is how the majority of Indian voters view this combat. The virulent hate speech was central to this election campaign, with Modi mocking his rival, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, for seeking election in a constituency in which he would have to depend in part on Muslim and Christian voters.
If Modi is returned with an emphatic majority when ballots are counted on May 23, as many exit polls predict, this will signal that a significant majority of Hindus endorse the Hindu supremacist ideology of the RSS. A second scenario is of reduced support for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), its tally falling short of the half-way mark. The possibility that many regional parties could be persuaded to support an NDA government only if it is led by a less belligerent leader than Modi, possibly Nitin Gadkari or Rajnath Singh.
The least expected scenario, of the victory of the United Progressive Alliance or a federal front of regional parties, cannot be ruled out yet. Whatever the final outcome, this fight to salvage, defend and fortify secularism will have to be fought by the Indian people.
Earlier generations of Indians, by & large, were persuaded by Gandhiji’s ethics of justice, tolerance & communal harmony. Hence they hailed him as the Mahatma & later, proclaimed him as the ‘Father of Nation.’ But today Mahatma Gandhi’s values of justice, unity etc are summarily branded as the “language of Pakistan,” “anti-national” etc. Why so?
Secularism is not just for Hindus to practice. It is not a one way street either. Ponder this: Muslim majority countries on either side of our border either declare themselves Islamic republic or at the least make Islam the state religion. Even after the Bangladesh court said they need to be secular, Islam is still state religion. In practice Bangladesh is nothing but an Islamic republic. Nothing in our laws enacted in the last 5 years or law enforcement in the last 5 years declares supremacy of HIndus
Many elections have passed by, but still there hasn’t been any visible change in India. The main reason for elections is to bring in change for the benefit of the nation. Progress is only possible by a secularist leader but we can only attain a secularist leader when we have a secularist voters who vote according to development agenda and look beyond the religious identity. But this depends completely on the voters as they can bring the change they want to see in India by supervising the government. We have to remember that we need a selfless leader who is by the people, for the people and of the people and not belonging to a particular religious sect. This is the true meaning of a leader i.e. a person who is not just a representative, but a role model for the millions of people.
Secularism is overrated. While the latest narrative equated it to divisiveness, the pre BJP narrative equated it with minority appeasement and blind siding the identity and self-esteem of the majority.