Hinduism is not separate from secularism: Here is how
There is much trepidation among certain section of Indian liberals that we are creeping into the kind of religious intolerance that we see in Pakistan. With BJP at the helm in center, they claim that secularism is under threat. TV channels debate this ad nauseum and what is lost in the noise is an honest and open debate on secularism itself.
The modern concept of secularism is of western origin. In particular it came out of the French revolution in the late 18th century. There was a particular backdrop to that. France as much of European states had two power centers that constantly vied with each other while simultaneously ignoring the need of the people. The two power centers were the Monarchy and Vatican/Church. With “democracy” the monarchy had to take a back seat. The idea of secularism was to keep the church away from the realm of governance so that they would focus on religion and spirituality alone.
This definition of secularism does not readily apply in the Indian context. If you replace Church with Temple, there is no historical basis for separating government with “Temple”. Unlike in Chrisitanity, Hinduism is not an organized religion. Catholic religion is organized like a corporate world with the Pope acting as the CEO. He commands over the entire Catholic church organization with its layers of senior execs and mid-level managers.
Hinduism has no such supreme religious leader. There are a few Shankracharyas but they do not have any influence outside their Matt. Historically too, temple has not played much role in the matter of governance. Individual Brahmins have played the role of advisors to a King, but it was based on their individual merit, rather than as an appointee from say Haridwar, or Tirupati etc. In any case, since India went into Islamic rule and then British rule for over a 1000 year, the temple really had no say in the matter of governance. In summary influence of temple in matter of governance is irrelevant both historically as well as in current situation.
In India, secularism as we know it, was first introduced by Nehru. He had his own romantic idea of secularism that he wanted to overlay on India. Though he was not a historian by any stretch of imagination, he penned “Discovery of India” in which he characterized Harappa civilization as a secular society. It is not clear how he arrived at this conclusion as you do not see presence of multiple religion or strong influence of organized religion in governance during that time. But Nehru went on to imagine this secularism and extended it to the India of 1947. Dr. Ambedkar who was smarter than Nehru refused to buy into Nehru’s interpretation of secularism and refused to incorporate it into the constitution.
While Nehru started this ridiculous idea, his daughter took it to the next level which was to use it for vote-bank politics. Since Indira Gandhi was the underdog when she took over after Shastri’s death, she chose to develop a Muslim vote bank and linked into secularism. Later with the Shah Bano case, Rajiv Gandhi completely changed the meaning of secularism to Muslim appeasement. Sonia Gandhi completed this caricature of secularism by equating it to jihadi appeasement. This explains her extreme anguish over Batla house encounter where hard-core terrorists were killed after an intense gun battle.
While the idea of secularism – be it the French or the Nehruvian definition – may be alien to the Indian context, the idea of mutual respect has always been part of Indian ethos – or more specifically the Hindu ethos. Since ancient times, India has been a land of multiple religion and sects that has co-existed very peacefully. It is not uncommon in a typical Hindu family where father venerates Ganapati, son venerates Hanuman, and mother venerates Durga – that is in the same family we have Shaivik and Vaishanavik followers. You will not find this situation in a Christian family where father and mother are Catholics and Son is a protestant.
In fact even within Catholicism, they might subscribe to only “Methodist” Church and not any other church denomination. Same goes for a Muslim family too – you will not find a Sunni and Shia in the same family. In Hinduism, the different streams of religion are not viewed as antagonistic to each other. Any difference if any, is a matter of intellectual debate rather than a matter of conflict. Infact, a Shaivik person can simultaneously be a Vaishnavik person for an occasion or so. That is why someone who is a Ram-bhakt has no problem visiting Balaji temple in Tirupati. In fact, he even takes it a step further and occasionally visits a Gurudwara or a Jain temple.
This is the secularism that we practice in India. It is not a gift from France or Nehru. It is who we are and its origin is the Hindu ethos. This Hindu ethos is what we call Hindutva. Thus Hindutva is the basis of Indian secularism.