The problem with the secular state
According to reports, Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy has strongly objected to common Indian citizens celebrating the non-military pre-emptive air raids carried out on Jaish-e-Mohammed (literally, “The Army of Muhammad”) camps in Pakistan’s Balakot by the Indian Air Force on February 26. The reports state, citing a viral video footage of the CM talking to his party members, that he thus objected to the celebrations because he anticipates the same would alienate “members of one community, and in the coming days, this will lead to innocent lives being lost.”
To put things into perspective, Chief Minister Kumaraswamy is currently leading a coalition government with his party Janata Dal (Secular) and Rahul Gandhi-led Indian National Congress as allies at the Karnataka State Assembly. Incidentally, it was Rahul Gandhi’s grandmother Indira, whose Congress-led government had introduced the term ‘secular’ in the description of the Indian republic in the country’s constitution through the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution of India during an emergency imposed by Mrs Gandhi. This was in the year 1976.
Kumaraswamy’s objection to Indians celebrating their own security force’s fitting response to the Jihadi group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which has over the last two decades attacked and killed numerous innocent Indian citizens as well as security personnel, is in line with the so-called secular mentality that has been institutionalized in this country by the Congress Party in the post-partition era. In a complete and utter perversion of the idea of secularism borrowed from the West, the Congress Party has redefined it as blind appeasement of the minority communities, and especially a specific minority community which incidentally forms the staggering majority of the populaces of several neighbouring countries of India, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Maldives.
From the very beginning of our democratic republic’s history, such appeasement has taken deep root in the political culture centred around its electoral system. And over the last seventy-plus years of that history, the fruits borne by it have been terrible for the republic. It has contributed to the deepest fault line in the body politic of India by way of preferential treatment of the minority at the expense of the aspirations and fundamental rights of the Indic populace, i.e. Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs. It is pertinent to note at this point that the Indic populace of India’s neighbouring country, or whatever little is left of them, faces a constant pressure of conversion or eviction at the hand of the majority community of those countries.
However, the flip side of the Karnataka Chief Minister’s objections is the acknowledgement of the biggest elephant in the room in the context of religious conflict in India and the Subcontinent. By objecting to celebrations at the Indian air raids in Pakistan-based Jihadi camps, and especially by citing the reasons for his objections, the Chief Minister has in effect accepted that a section of Indian citizens, characterised by the religion they practise, do get miffed by the legitimate actions taken by the Indian armed forces while defending the country.
Such acknowledgement from someone placed in the highest ranks of administration, however indirect, does expose the fragility of the post-Partition Nehruvian vision of the Republic of India. This ill-defined and fragile vision of the body politic of a region, which has been under relentless attack from its western and north-western borders since the last 1200 years, has done little to bestow its inheritors with a solid grounding in its civilizational identity. Instead, it has taken them further and further away from their roots, and even worse: it has proactively encouraged them to hate such roots by orienting the school and university curricula.
To keen and honest observers of Indian electoral politics, it would seem that Indian politicians and administrators, when they utter the word ‘secular’, do not imply the complete separation of church and state as conceived by the West at the advent of Lutheran Protestantism in the 16th century. Instead, what Indian politicos imply by that word is actually a visible bias towards religious minorities in dispensing not just welfare schemes but also justice and fundamental rights, which were supposed to be equally dispensed to all citizens of the Indian republic, irrespective of their caste, creed and sex in an ideal scenario. Indian secularists from every walk of life – politicians, bureaucrats, NGO workers, academicians, journalists and so on – suffer from an incurable defeatist psychology which makes them feel eternally duty-bound to attend to every illegitimate demand, however subversive it may be for the Indic peoples, of a specific minority group. They remain obsessed with taking extra care so that none of the oh-so-delicate feelings of that group is hurt.
In doing so, they not only continue to unjustifiably mollycoddle a specific group of Indian citizens while humiliating and upsetting the Indic populace of the country: they also unwittingly end up homogenizing the whole of that minority – as if every individual belonging to that group thinks, feels and acts in essentially the same manner. This amounts to infantilizing full-grown adult citizens, and keeping them in that man-(or woman)-child state for an indefinite period of time. These citizens, despite their religious minority status, should have been treated like free individuals, which is also the most dignified way a state may treat its citizens. Individuals must be left to themselves to choose their respective destinies and pursue them, of course with due safeguards provided by the state as is enjoyed by all other citizens – but no one individual should be offered an extra helping hand by any government simply because they subscribe to a specific religion. That would ensure minimum government intervention in personal and social spheres and eliminate (or at least minimize) the scope for appeasement politics with an eye to religious/ethnic constituency pooling.
At the heart of such monochromatic perceptions of minority groups – whether ethnic or religious or otherwise – as is expressed by the current Karnataka CM’s concern over celebrating India’s punitive actions against its sworn enemies, there lies a sweeping stereotyping of otherwise internally diverse communities. It may be safely claimed that the state’s perception towards its subjects determines, to a considerable extent, the subject’s self-perception. It is in the interest of both the subject and the ruler that the latter treats it with dignity, and truly dignified treatment can only be dispensed to an individual subject once state-sponsored stereotyping of an entire community by its religious profile ends.
It is not only wrong to assume that a significant number of a minority group will not rejoice in India taking bold steps in ensuring its citizens’ safety, but such assumption may also potentially enhance the chance of individuals from minority groups to make the same assumption about themselves. It is wrong on all fronts. That vicious cycle must be stopped from grinding more lives – whether minority or majority – under the giant cogs of an overtly patronizing, presumptuous secular state.
Sreejit Datta teaches English and Cultural Studies at the Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University in Mysore. Variously trained in comparative literature, Hindustani music and statistics; Sreejit happens to be an acclaimed vocalist who has been regularly performing across multiple Indian and non-Indian genres. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org