A discussion in the Lok Sabha commemorating the adoption of the Constitution and its chief architect B R Ambedkar, on Thursday went on a different track due to the heated discourses on secularism and intolerance by the ruling party and the Opposition.
The government was celebrating the 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar holding a special sitting by both the Houses of the Parliament for two days. The day is also observed as the Constitution Day commemorating acceptance of the draft statute on November 26 in 1949. Prominent persons from different fields strongly voicing against the rising intolerance in the country and the massive jolt in the Bihar elections had tarnished the image of the BJP government. On the first day of the winter session of the Parliament, Home Minister Rajnath Singh initiating the debate said that secularism was the most misused word today and that the country was facing issues in ensuring social harmony because of its misuse. This has reiterated the approach the Sangh Parivar has been exhibiting for decades as well as the reluctance of the government to retreat from all the extreme stands despite the social pressures. By pointing out that the formal translation of the word secular was "panth nirpeksh (neutral of faith)", he reconfirmed the anxieties of the secular society. The people of the country had expected the Prime Minister to react to the growing intolerance due to the present circumstances where the fascist tendencies of extreme right-wing groups have stained the image of the nation before the rest of the world and posed obstacles to the economic growth of the country. But the PM tactfully evaded the criticisms by the secular minority communities and avoided condemning the intolerance tendencies but was engaged in the usual articulations. The failure of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister to comprehend that these escapisms are what that encourage the lunatic fringe groups to continue their activities, reinforce the anxieties related to the secular future of the nation.
The word ‘secular’ was incorporated in the Preamble through the 42nd amendment of the Constitution in 1976. But right from the start, the apex Court on several occasions had made clear that secularism was the core of the Constitution. At a time when secularism was considered as a western concept not related to religion, the apprehension that it could lead to misunderstandings in a country where different religious communities coexist was the reason why it wasn’t incorporated in the Constitution. It was also stated that the secular outlook of India was different from that of Europe and that it was the realization of religious harmony and the impartial approach among the people belonging to different religions. The Constitutional experts have several times clarified this aspect in the discourses related to secularism. Similar to what the Prime Minister earlier said, the concept of secularism that grants equal citizenship to those belonging to minority communities and those possessing cultural diversity instead of the supremacy of majority population, is what has been envisaged in India. The Home Minister is therefore questioning the existing secular social order and one which should be retained, by accepting the Sangh Parivar’s demand of removing the ‘secular’ word from the Constitution. That the reason why Sonia Gandhi’s stance that those who should safeguard the Constitution are moving against it, becomes relevant. The Prime Minister and his government should have contemplated the growing fascist tendencies and intolerance in the country. The freedom of expression is curbed creating an atmosphere of fear among the people with the sense of being closely watched rampant among them. Instead of resolving the issues related to the matter, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s statement that the fundamental rights of citizens were violated due to the existence of personal laws in different communities confirms that the government is wary of the usage of the term secularism in the Constitution and also the secular social life prevailing among the communities .Only when the PM’s declaration that peace and harmony is the core of democracy and that he believed in the concept of unity in diversity upheld by the Constitution, is implemented would the government be able to put an end to intolerance and discrimination in the country. If effective steps are not taken, these attempts, just like Sitaram Yechury said, would remain just an event management program created to promote the image of PM Modi.