Not ‘Secularism’ again
Posted online: Sun Jun 24 2012
Now that the Chief Minister of Bihar has dragged ‘succularism’ into the political discourse, it is time to deconstruct it so that we can end this pointless debate once and for all. I have deliberately misspelt the word because when said in Hindi that is how it is usually pronounced. It is a hard word to write in devnagri and the Hindi and Urdu equivalents do not quite mean what secularism has come to mean in the Indian political context. It is a foreign word that evolved in a European context when the powers of the church and the state were separated. In India, since none of our religions were led by pontiffs who controlled armies, or had vast temporal powers, we had no need to make this separation.
But, the word secularism is used in India more than almost any other country. Why?
Well, because when we entered our current era of coalition governments, political parties of leftist disposition found it convenient to keep the BJP out of power by saying they would only ally with ‘succular phorces’. The BJP became a pariah after the Babri Masjid came down and so whenever someone like Nitish Kumar wants to hurl abuse at the party he is in alliance with in Bihar, or one of its leaders, the ‘secularism’ debate gets revived.
Currently, he appears to be positioning himself for prime minister in 2014 and seems to believe that he will only be in the running for this job if he can eliminate Narendra Modi before the race begins. He is not alone in this endeavour. On my wanderings in Delhi’s corridors of power last week, I ran into journalists and politicians who went on and on about how Modi could never be prime minister because of the violence in Gujarat in 2002.
They said pretty much what the Chief Minister of Bihar, and his cohorts, have said which is that the prime minister must be a man who is ‘clean and secular’. So how do we explain Rajiv Gandhi? How should we understand why he was given the biggest mandate in Indian parliamentary history after justifying the pogroms that killed thousands more Sikhs in 1984 than Muslims were killed in Gujarat in 2002? Were Indian voters un-secular when they gave him more than 400 seats in the Lok Sabha?
If there were still a chance of major communal riots in the future, there may have been some point to reviving this talk of secularism. But, there has not been a single major Hindu-Muslim riot since 2002 despite Muslims from next door having been responsible for the worst terrorist attack on Indian soil in 2008. Before 26/11, there were other attacks by Islamists on Hindu temples, commuter trains in Mumbai, stadiums in Hyderabad and bazaars in Delhi. None of these ugly acts of violence caused riots. Our 24-hour news channels have made communal riots impossible and the average Muslim has begun to understand this. I noticed this while travelling in Uttar Pradesh during the recent elections.
So let us stop this silly talk of secularism and communalism and start demanding from those who want to become India’s next prime minister that they tell us what they can do for this country.
Here is my own list of questions.
What will the next Prime Minister do to end the licence raj that prevents the education system from achieving its full potential? What will he do to fix our broken public healthcare system? What will he do to make sure that every Indian has enough electricity to at least light a few bulbs and run a ceiling fan in his home? What will he do to create new jobs for the estimated 13 million young Indians who enter the job market every year? What will he do to revive the Indian economy? What steps will he take to ensure that India becomes a fully developed country by the middle of this century?
When I heard Aung San Suu Kyi’s address to both houses of Britian’s Parliament in Westminster hall last week, what impressed me was the clarity with which she spelt out her vision for her country. But, throughout her speech, something kept bothering me and by the time she finished, I discovered what it was. What bothered me was that I could not think of a single Indian leader who could make such a speech.
The Indian political landscape today has become a desert in which only the stunted progeny of stunted political leaders bloom. We need our political parties to throw up real leaders and we need a political discourse in which real political problems are discussed.
So can we stop fishing ‘secularism’ out of the dustbin of history and holding it up as a shining ideal? Its relevance faded a long time ago.
Follow Tavleen on : Twitter @ tavleen_singh
Foreign writer opens our eyes: Loot of Hindu Temples by Secular Governments
The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act of 1951 allows State Governments and politicians to take over thousands of Hindu Temples and maintain complete control over them and their properties. It is claimed that they can sell the temple assets and properties and use the money in any way they choose A charge has been made not by any Temple authority, but by a foreign writer, Stephen Knapp in a book (Crimes Against India and the Need to Protect Ancient Vedic Tradition) published in the United States that makes shocking reading.
Hundreds of temples in centuries past have been built inIndia by devout rulers and the donations given to them by devotees have been used for the benefit of the (other) people. If, presently, money collected has ever been misused (and that word needs to be defined), it is for the devotees to protest and not for any government to interfere. This latter is what has been happening currently under an intrusive law.
It would seem, for instance, that under a Temple Empowerment Act, about 43,000 temples in Andhra Pradesh have come under government control and only 18 per cent of the revenue of these temples have been returned for temple purposes, the remaining 82 per cent being used for purposes unstated.
Apparently even the world famous TirumalaTirupati Temple has not been spared. According to Knapp, the temple collects over Rs 3,100 crores every year and the State Government has not denied the charge that as much as 85 per cent of this is transferred to the State Exchequer, much of which goes to causes that are not connected with the Hindu community. Is it for this that devotees make their offering to the temples? Another charge that has been made is that the Andhra Government has also allowed the demolition of at least ten temples for the construction of a golf course. Imagine the outcry writes Knapp, if ten mosques had been demolished.
It would seem that in Karanataka, Rs. 79 crores were collected from about two lakh temples and from that, temples received Rs seven crores for their maintenance, Muslim madresas and Haj subsidy were given Rs 59 crores and churches about Rs 13 crores. Very generous of the government.
Because of this, Knapp writes, 25 per cent of the two lakh temples or about 50,000 temples in Karnataka will be closed down for lack of resources, and he adds: The only way the government can continue to do this is because people have not stood up enough to stop it.
Knapp then refers to Kerala where, he says, funds from the Guruvayur Temple are diverted to other government projects denying improvement to 45 Hindu temples. Land belonging to the Ayyappa Temple, apparently has been grabbed and Church encroaches are occupying huge areas of forest land, running into thousands of acres, near Sabarimala.
A charge is made that the Communist state government of Kerala. wants to pass an Ordinance to disband the Travancore & Cochin Autonomous Devaswom Boards (TCDBs) and take over their limited independent authority of 1,800 Hindu temples. If what the author says is true, even the Maharashtra Government wants to take over some 450,000 temples in the state which would supply a huge amount of revenue to correct the states bankrupt conditions.
And to top it all, Knapp says that in Orissa, the state government intends to sell over 70,000 acres of endowment lands from the Jagannath Temple, the proceeds of which would solve a huge financial crunch brought about by its own mismanagement of temple assets.
Says Knapp: Why such occurrences are so often not known is that the Indian media, especially the English television and press, are often anti-Hindu in their approach, and thus not inclined to give much coverage, and certainly no sympathy, for anything that may affect the Hindu community. Therefore, such government actions that play against the Hindu community go on without much or any attention attracted to them.
Knapp obviously is on record. If the facts produced by him are incorrect, it is up to the government to say so. It is quite possible that some individuals might have set up temples to deal with lucrative earnings. But that, surely, is none of the governments business? Instead of taking over all earnings, the government surely can appoint local committees to look into temple affairs so that the amount discovered is fairly used for the public good?
Says Knapp: Nowhere in the free, democratic world are the religious institutions managed, maligned and controlled by the government, thus denying the religious freedom of the people of the country. But it is happening in India. Government officials have taken control of Hindu temples because they smell money in them, they recognize the indifference of Hindus, they are aware of the unlimited patience and tolerance of Hindus, they also know that it is not in the blood of Hindus to go to the streets to demonstrate, destroy property, threaten, loot, harm and kill Many Hindus are sitting and watching the demise of their culture. They need to express their views loud and clear Knapp obviously does not know that should they do so, they would be damned as communalists. But it is time some one asked the Government to lay down all the facts on the table so that the public would know what is happening behind its back. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not secularism. And temples are not for looting, under any name. One thought that Mohammad of Ghazni has long been dead.