The discussion in Parliament to commemorate the Constitution turned out to be a confrontation between the ruling party and the opposition on the definition of secularism and its interpretation in the Indian context. Home Minister Rajnath Singh stirred up a hornets’ nest when he asked the opposition not to distort secularism and maintained that it was totally unnecessary to include the terms “socialist” and “secular” in the Preamble of the Constitution as was done through the 42nd amendment. “B.R. Ambedkar had never thought on the necessity to incorporate it in the Preamble as these two words were part of the Constitution. It is inbuilt in the Indian system,” he observed.
Rajnath, in fact, was making a larger political point, which is closer to the view held by his colleagues in the Sangh Parivar that the vast majority (in the country) has a flexible and tolerant attitude. This was the reason that Hindus demonstrated greater acceptance towards other religions. The reverse was probably not true and One-Book Religions tend to be more rigid in implementation. Therefore, it was not surprising that various religions co-existed in this country and this was in account of the overall liberal approach of Hinduism.
The definition of secularism varies from country to country and in India the State allows all religious tenets and practices to flourish, though there has been a demand that there should be a uniform civil code for all citizens, something which is seen as a challenge to the beliefs of some religions. In the Western world and developed societies, there is strident separation of the State from religious institutions and every citizen is treated equally before the law.
However, in India, there are political parties which use religion to further their prospects and in the process contribute to making our politics divisive at times. The Indian Union Muslim League, the Shiromani Akali Dal and some of the parties in the north eastern part of India are among organisations that apparently use religion to improve their chances in elections. The BJP has also been accused by its opponents of playing the Hindu card at crucial times to enhance its scope, while the Congress is often charged with minority appeasement to consolidate its position.
One of the reasons that led to the Congress debacle in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was its perceived tilt towards the minorities, a fact also acknowledged by senior leader A.K. Antony, who went into the causes of the defeat. The party used to maintain a fine balance amongst various communities, which had got disturbed during the ten years of the UPA rule, creating an impression, rightly or wrongly, that the Congress had been ignoring the dominant Hindu community and giving plum positions to the minorities. The supreme irony was that the minorities, like the majority community, deserted the grand old party in the electoral battle, leading to its rout.
Therefore, it is crystal clear that religion plays an emphatic role in the politics of the country and particularly after 1991, caste too has become a major factor in determining how things unfold in the political arena. In addition, there are regional parties which exploit both lingual and regional sentiments to promote themselves while taking on national parties. Interestingly, most of the regional parties have had their origin in anti-Congressism and some are headed by former Congress leaders, who, in order to carve their own political future, floated outfits which focused more on local aspirations. Despite going through its bleakest phase, the Congress continues to be the only party in the country, primarily due to its historic past, that has presence throughout the length and breadth of the country. The BJP, though being the ruling party, has yet to make inroads in parts of South and Eastern India.
Coming back to the debate in Parliament, the impression is being created that Ambedkar alone was responsible for giving the final shape to our Constitution. Dr Ambedkar was a very distinguished and eminent legal luminary, who chaired the Constituent Assembly comprising 284 members. Therefore, the Indian Constitution was a document produced through the collective effort of several outstanding citizens who borrowed the best from the practices in many democratic countries in order to produce one of the finest constitutions of the world. Dr Ambedkar was instrumental in coordinating the suggestions of all others.
Secondly, it would have been ideal if a joint session of Parliament was held to commemorate the Constitution to highlight the importance it has in the functioning of various institutions. By holding discussions in the two Houses separately, the focus has somehow got diluted from the Constitution and is more on politics and the agenda of the parties. For the sake of record, the Constitution draft was finalised on 26 November though it officially came into force on 26 January 1950.
Finally, when we talk about secularism, there is a bitter truth that everyone must accept. India is secular and democratic, because it is a Hindu dominated country. However, it does not mean that we should give up our pluralism and tolerance for each other. Indians have co-existed for thousands of years, despite their many differences. The time has now come to concentrate on our future. Between us.