10th Anniversary Issue
August - September 2003 

Year 10    No.90-91


‘Enlarging the constituency of the secular minded’

KG Kannabiran

Communal politics we inherited from the British. Liberal values we have learnt from the British and used against the British in our freedom struggle. Apart from the ordinary criminal laws, the British left us the legacy of special repressive laws, which the British used against the peoples’ struggle for Independence. We replaced the Government of India Act 1935 with a Constitution, and thus announced that we are breaking away from our colonial past and the colonial mindset. But have we? Did we make a radical departure, either in the character of governance or in political practices?

We have borrowed liberal values and incorporated them in our Constitution. We have not only retained all repressive laws but also improved upon the repressive content of British laws, which is used against the protesting people. We have inherited communal politics, which was reinforced by the communal violence of the partition days and consumed around a couple of million people. The Constitution, which was debated in the background of Partition and the violence that followed, designedly gave us a secular system of governance, making no reference to either Hindu or Muslim or any other religion or faith.

Secularism was, until the 42nd Amendment, the inarticulate major premise of our governance. After the 42nd Amendment, secularism was explicitly made one of the major premises of our constitutional arrangement. Nonetheless, communal politics and violence were present in some part of the country or the other and was slowly becoming part of our political practice. Its entry into political practice spelt dangerous forebodings for the plural character of our society. This was not realised until religion as politics, leading a subterranean existence with less than nominal existence in representative bodies, surfaced in a big way as a major contending factor in the last decade and a half of the 20th century.

The degeneration of electoral politics reduced secularism and the protection of minorities into the treatment of minorities as vote banks. This led to the attempt at appropriation of members of the majority religion as a vote bank by the RSS and BJP, and this seems to be a logical trend in electoral politics. Electoral politics devoid of social purpose and a movement towards bringing about equality and justice can only be for power and will therefore be violent.

In such circumstances, democratic governance will be the first casualty. Rebellions to overthrow the unjust order will be put down with a heavy hand and by draconian laws. Parties like the BJP with a single-point anti-Muslim and anti-minority agenda, not only have to keep rebellion at bay but also to reduce minorities living in the country to the status of second class citizens. Stunning atrocities such as the Mumbai and Gujarat riots alone will subdue the minorities by the terror such atrocities create. It is necessary to confront such atrocities by waging an incessant and unremitting struggle against these trends.

We cannot expect redress to the victims from governments because these atrocities are sponsored and supported by these governments as in the case of the Delhi, Mumbai and Gujarat carnages. Redress very often comes from campaigning to enlist and enlarge the constituency of the secular minded in the country.

Communalism Combat has taken up this challenging task, and has been campaigning for a decade now. The editors and their team do not merely run this magazine but are also involved in other activities campaigning against communalism and for secularism. If the genocidal trend is to be stopped and the country saved for democracy and human rights, there is a need to strengthen the movement initiated by the editorial team of Communalism Combat, as reflected in the role they played in exposing the carnage in Gujarat.

(KG Kannabiran is president, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, PUCL).

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