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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 44, New Delhi, October 17, 2020

Maharashtra Governor Koshyari Mocks at the Secular Spirit of the Constitution | S N Sahu

Saturday 17 October 2020

by SN Sahu*

Mocking at the very idea of secularism and the secular State and secular framework of governance enshrined in the Constitution has always been the ideological pastime of BJP and its generation of leaders. They never missed an occasion or rather created numerous occasions to deride secularism and the enduring values associated with it. The Hindutva ideology determines the worldview of BJP and its legacy is carried forward by its leaders and ideologues. Its essence and core content is contrary to secularism so integral to the ethos of India right from the ancient period and so labouriously nurtured during freedom struggle and made part of the basic structure of the Constitution.

Therefore, Governor of Maharashtra Shri Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s letter of 12th October to Chief Minister of the State Shri Uddhav Thackeray questioning his decision not to reopen temples and places of worship during COVID pandemic and sarcastically asking "I wonder...you have turned secular yourself, the term you have hated" is nothing surprising. Governor Shri Koshyari with his roots in BJP and RSS is not first such leader to do so. The present Defence Minister Shri Rajnath Singh during his tenure as Home Minister of India while speaking in the Lok Sabha on Constitution Day on 26th November 2015 startled the House by asserting that Dr. Ambedkar never found it necessary to insert the words "socialist" and "secular" in the preamble of the Constitution and emphatically stated, "Our founding fathers believed that Preamble is the soul of the Constitution and no changes should be made to that that". He then urged for a wider debate on secularism in the country. Obviously, on the Constitution Day, he was disapproving the inclusion of the words "secular" and "socialist" in the Preamble through the 42nd Constitution Act by the Government of India headed by Prime Minister Shrimati Indira Gandhi and, therefore, questioning the constitutionally sanctioned architecture of secular State and idea of India.

Successive BJP Leaders Mocked Secularism

Even prior to that bizarre statement of Rajnath Singh aiming at manufacturing a debate on secularism by citing the distorted version of the discussion in the Constituent Assembly on the Preamble of the Constitution, the Modi government published an advertisement to the media on the Republic Day on 26th January 2015 featuring the original unamended version of the Preamble which did not have the words "socialist" and "secular." Such an advertisement without the words "secular" and "socialist") reveals NDA regime’s subscript indicating utter disgust and disregard of the idea of secularism. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued the advertisement and the Minister Shri Rajyavardhan Rathore defended the decision by giving a specious plea that the original Preamble was put in the ad for paying tribute to the founding fathers of the Constitution on the occasion of the Republic Day. But the ad smacked of a deeper design when hate campaign in the form of Love Jihad and Ghar Wapsi was engineered at the behest of those who swear by the worldview of BJP and carried it forward for the cause of majoritarianism in violation of the objectives of the Constitution. Therefore, deletion of the words ‘socialism’ and ‘secular’ from the advertisement of Preamble was a frontal attack on the Constitution of India itself which celebrates its inalienable secular and socialist attributes.

Yet another instance of condemnation of secularism was displayed in the more rabid manner in December 2017 when the Modi regime’s Union Minister of State for Employment and Skill Development Shri Anant Kumar Hegde made a sordid statement that people instead of calling themselves as secular should establish their identities by their caste or religion and trace their ancestries accordingly. He was reported in media for having said that “I will be happy if someone identifies as Muslim, Christian, Brahmin, Lingayat or Hindu. But trouble will arise if they say they are secular.” He even went to the extent of saying that the Government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi would change the Constitution. When several opposition parties protested against that statement in the Rajya Sabha the Government issued a clarification on the floor of the House that it had no plan to change the Constitution. It is worthwhile to revisit the article "Don’t Call Yourself Secular, Identify by Religion or Caste Instead: BJP Minister Anantkumar Hegde" published in thewire.in (https://thewire.in/politics/dont-call-secular-identify-religion-caste-instead-bjp-minister-anantkumar-hegde)

It is quite shocking that the dismissive approach to the secular credentials of the Constitution and our Republic was displayed in the victory speech of Prime Minister Modi in May 2019 when he described secularism as a "fake tag" used by several parties to cover their sins and all those who were using that "fake tag" fell silent after 2014 and never invoked it.

The aforementioned constitutes the chronicle showing the disparaging remarks of BJP leaders on secularism. Maharashtra Governor Koshyari’s sarcastic interrogation to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray if he had turned secular abandoning Hindutva is the latest episode in the serial articulations of BJP leadership in offending secularism. It is as much an affront to the legacy of our freedom struggle rooted in secularism as to the Constitution, the basic structure of which, among others, is secularism.

Mocking Secularism Means Mocking Sardar Patel’s Secular Outlook

It is well known that BJP, NDA Government and all those BJP leaders mentioned attempt to appropriate Sardar Ballavabhai Patel as their shining icon. In fact the Modi regime has declared birthday of Sardar Patel as National Unity Day and it is celebrated with much fanfare across the country. Paradoxically they conveniently disregard his secular outlook and his commitment to secularism and consign his articulations on secularism in the Constituent Assembly to oblivion. In doing so BJP and its leaders ruthlessly and serially negate the secular vision of Sardar Patel.

He integrated princely States to the Indian Union and single-handedly employed secular means to foil the attempts of some princely rulers who used some Hindu Gods and Hinduism not to join Indian Union. The most prominent example was that of Travancore whose princely rulers tried to defy Sardar Patel to be part of India on the ground that sovereignty of Travancore lay in Lord Padmanav and so He could not be made subservient to the sovereignty of India. That princely ruler had the audacity to tell Sardar Patel that if Travancore joined Indian Union Hinduism would be in danger. The great Sardar dismissed all those arguments and asked the Travancore rulers to be part of India without attaching any condition. Eventually, Sardar prevailed over religious factors which were mischievously brought in by invoking Hinduism against the unification of India.

It is instructive to note that BJP leadership which tries hard to appropriate Sardar Patel is absolutely silent on the secular means Sardar employed to unify India. It is all the more shocking that the same leadership is trampling upon his secular vision and outlook which he coherently expressed on numerous occasions in his interventions in the Constituent Assembly. While moving the provision for reservation for scheduled castes and tribes in the Constituent Assembly he asserted in May 1949 by saying that, "They were laying the foundation of a truly secular democracy in India."

Again on June 5, 1949 while he said in the Assembly that "...a healthy secular outlook is the foundation of true democracy" he interestingly invoked God in defence of secularism. He added by stating in the Constituent Assembly that "And now we are today with the grace of God and blessings of the Almighty laying the foundation of a true, secular democratic State where everybody has an equal chance and equal opportunity. May God give us wisdom and courage to do the right thing to all manner of people as our Constitution provides."

After the Constitution was adopted and enacted Sardar Patel while addressing a meeting in Fateh Maidan in Hyderabad on October 8, 1950 said that people should realise that they were citizens of a secular democracy enjoying equal rights. He did so after the integration of Hyderabad to the Indian Union. It was an invaluable statement of assurance to the Muslims to make them feel secure as citizens in secular India.

Contemptuous Remarks on secularism by BJP Leaders Violates the Constitution

It is worthwhile to note that apart from negating the secular vision of Sardar Patel, the galaxy of top leaders of BJP through their contemptuous remarks on secularism are violating the Constitution of India the basic structure of which is secularism. All such BJP leaders take oath either owing allegiance to the Constitution and in case of Governor Koshyari he is oath-bound to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of India. In fact in response to the sarcastic observation of the Governor Shri Koshyari if Chief Minister Thackeray had turned secular leaving behind Hindutva the Chief Minister aptly replied "...what about the Constitution on which you were sworn in as Governor? Secularism is at the core of Constitution. Don’t you follow Constitution?. " Such a reply is evocative of the 1994 Bommai judgement of the Supreme Court which declared secularism as the basic structure of the Constitution. It also observed that "Any State Government which pursues unsecular policies or unsecular course of action acts contrary to the constitutional mandate and renders itself amenable to action under Article 356". The apex court’s affirmation in the same judgement that "In matters of State, religion has no place" assumes significance to convincingly say that Maharashtra Governor’s sarcastic remark as to why Chief Minister chose to become secular by discarding Hindutva is completely in violation of the Constitution.

The successive leaders of BJP through their willful statement against secularism are negating the legacy of freedom struggle rooted in secularism, trampling upon the secular outlook of Sardar Patel and above all violating the basic structure of the Constitution. Is this the vision of New India conjured up by Prime Minister Modi.

* (The author was OSD and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan, had a tenure in PMO as Director and served Rajya Sabha Secretariat as Joint Secretary )

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