June 29, 2012
Defining ‘Secular’: The war rages on
It was Nitish Kumar who lit the fuse on the amorphous word this time. He did that last week by warning that his party, the Janata Dal (United) would accept only a ‘secular’ prime minister. His target was clearly Narendra Modi, said to be the likely choice of the BJP for that post. Why the Bihar CM’s bouncer to his ally BJP should have been bowled at the time it was is a separate subject for debate.
The issue is that Kumar was wrong in not realising that:
Even after 10 years of investigations, Narendra Modi is still innocent of the charge of being personally responsible for the post Godhra riots of 2002. Even Supreme Court judge Ajit Pasayat, (now retired), who orally alluded to ‘Nero fiddling while Rome burnt’ during a hearing on Godhra did not have evidence to put down that remark in his written judgment.
Amidst the decade-old demonisation of Modi unleashing a ‘Genocide’ against Muslims, nobody has explained why, of the total 1044 killed in those riots, 254 were Hindus.
Modi fielded 247 Muslim candidates on the BJP card in Gujarat’s civic elections of October 2010, and, more unbelievably, 118 of them were victorious. Would a ‘communal’ chief minister do that ‘secular’ act?
Even after Indira Gandhi got the word ‘Secular’ into the Preamble of the Constitution of India with the 42nd Constitution Amendment Act, 1976, our nation is not secular. Take a look below
‘Dr Ambedkar made it clear in Parliament that he did not believe our Constitution was secular because it allowed different treatment to various communities and the legislatures could frame separate laws for different communities.’ (‘Reforming The Constitution’ UBS Publishers Distributors Ltd, 1992, edited by Subhash C Kashyap, an eminent Constitutional authority.)
In the above book, Kashyap writes, ‘Where there is discrimination between man and man on the grounds of religions… where the administration of places of worship can be entrusted to Government Officers… where even fundamental rights are demanded and conceded on grounds of communities, it is a cruel joke to talk of secularism.’
The Indian nation as a whole is itself not ‘secular.’ Unknown to almost our entire political class, the Preamble of the separate Jammu and Kashmir State Constitution, November 1956, does not proclaim J&K State as a ‘Secular’ State, courtesy Article 370.
Come now to Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief who was provoked by Kumar’s remark to talk of dharmanirpeksh. He too was wrong in not realising that the word dharmanirpeksh does not denote the adjective ‘secular.’ The exact Hindi word for ‘secular’ is panthnirpeksha, coined, at the behest of Indira Gandhi, by Lakshmi Mall Singhvi, (1931-2007), a literary figure and an altogether very versatile personality who was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1998… He said the word ‘secular’ should more appropriately be translated as panthnirpeksh. He argued that dharma, the fundamental duty, is the foundation ethic of the Indian nation and of every walk of life, and the very foundation for the section called Fundamental Duties of Citizens being part of Mrs Gandhi’s Constitutional amendment. Panth, on the other hand, meant religion. That is how the word panthnirpeksh to denote ‘secular’ got into the Hindi version of the Preamble of our Constitution. It is, therefore, a shame that dharm continues to appear in Articles 15, 16 and 25 of our Constitution’s Hindi version with regard to ‘Prohibition of discrimination…,’ ‘Equality of opportunity…’ and ‘Right to freedom of Religion’ respectively in the English version.
Below is another true story.
In 1977, the Janata Party government introduced a Constitution Amendment Bill wherein one clause sought to define the word ‘Secular’ as ‘equal respect for all religions.’ The proposal was passed in the Lok Sabha where the newly elected Janata Party was dominant, but was rejected by the Congress majority in the Rajya Sabha.
The Congress should no longer object to that definition suggested 34 years ago. Why? Because in a lecture delivered on June 9, 2007, at the Nexus Institute, The Hague, Sonia Gandhi herself proclaimed that ‘India is a secular country. The term secularism means equal respect for all religions.’
Let me end with a poser. A political party represented in our Parliament from 1952 till now says in its website that among its aims is ‘To secure and protect the rights and interests of the Muslims and other minorities in the state.’ Which is that party? And can it be labelled as ‘secular?’
Published Date: Jun 29, 2012
FRONT PAGE | Tuesday, June 14, 2011 | 2:02:55 AM
PNS |New Delhi
A day after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee launched a frontal attack on anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare and his team, the civil society members hit back at the ruling dispensation in the Centre. Accusing the Congress of behaving in an “autocratic” manner, they decided to brief the UPA allies and the Opposition parties about the goings-on in the meetings of the Joint Drafting Committee (JDC) for Lokpal Bill.
“The Congress is not only excluding its UPA allies in the talks for the Lokpal Bill but also the Opposition parties. It thinks as if only the ruling party is important. It shows the Congress’ concern for parliamentary democracy,” said activist Arvind Kejriwal, while talking to mediapersons on Monday.
He said the civil society members would now brief the non-Congress parties on the issue. “We will brief them as to what all is happening at the JDC meetings,” he said.
The civil society would write to the political parties with details of the deliberations that have taken so far at the joint panel meetings. They would also attach the documents circulated during the meetings.
Kejriwal, a member on the joint panel, quoted Mukherjee as saying the MPs were elected representatives of the people and they had the powers to legislate laws. “But the MPs cannot become dictators if they are elected once in five years,” he retorted.
Replying to Mukherjee’s attack on Hazare, lawyer Prashant Bhushan said it was a proof of the Minister’s skewed understanding of democracy and arrogance of power. They have also written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying an honest person like him should not be scared of being investigated by an independent Lokpal.
In turn, without naming Hazare Congress went all out against him by alleging that the Gandhian was an “unelected dictator” who was acting at the behest of “forces attempting to destablise the country”.
On Sunday, Mukherjee, who is the JDC chairman, had stated that the civil society’s agitations and fasts were undermining established institutions of democracy such as Parliament. Lawyer Prashant Bhushan and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, both members on the joint panel, spoke to the mediapersons on Monday to trash the charges made by the Finance Minister.
Responding to Mukherjee’s charges, the civil society members, in a statement, said, “Such statements betray a distorted understanding of democracy and an arrogance of power.
They show a mistaken understanding that the people have no role to play in governance and law making once they have elected their representatives and they have formed a Government.”
While Mukherjee had taken a dig at the fast undertaken by Hazare in April, Bhushan retorted that fasting, as Gandhi had demonstrated, was the most non-violent and civilised means of expressing oneself and exerting democratic pressure on any Government. “Unfortunately, a party which considers itself as the political legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, is reviling civil society movements and fasting as anti-democratic,” he said.
Bhushan also objected to Mukherjee rejecting the demand of civil society to televise live the proceedings of the JDC and calling it a circus. He asked whether by this logic it meant that Parliament was also a circus and the MPs were animals in that circus.
Kejriwal repeated the points made in the letter written by all five civil society members to Manmohan Singh to buttress their argument that the PM should indeed be brought under the purview of Lokpal.
He reminded the Government that Mukherjee himself as the chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Lokpal Bill in 2001 under the NDA rule had recommended that the PM should covered under the ambit of Lokpal. Later, in January this year, in the draft law prepared by his Ministry, Law Minister M Veerappa Moily suggested inclusion of the PM in Lokpal’s purview, he said.
Kejriwal went on to state that the draft law was sent to Home Ministry under P Chidambaram, which also concurred in March with this view. Even Manmohan Singh had advocated the inclusion of PM in Lokpal’s ambit, he said, adding that in the last 10 years the Government’s view has been in favour of bringing the PM under the purview of Lokpal. Incidentally, three out of five Ministers – Mukherjee, Chidambaram and Moily – are on the joint panel for Lokpal Bill.
Kejriwal asked, “Now, all the three Ministers have suddenly taken a U-turn and they appear to be adamant on keeping the PMO out of the Lokpal’s ambit. We are wondering what happened post-March, which prompted the Government to suddenly take a u-turn on the issue?”
On the other hand, stepping up its attack on Hazare and BJP-RSS, Congress charged that the greatest danger to the democracy is from the unelected dictator. “If democracy faces its biggest peril, it is from the tyranny of the unelected and tyranny of the unelectable,” party spokesman Manish Tewari told mediapersons without naming Hazare or BJP or RSS.
Apparently sending the message to Hazare and his colleagues not to take the engagement with the Government for granted, he said there can be only one veto in Indian democracy and that is in the hands of people and “not any one individual”.
Taking strong exception to Hazare’s threat to go on an indefinite hunger strike from August 16, Tewari wondered whether it was democratic to talk about such threats when one is engaged in a dialogue with the Government.