Columnist M J Akbar writes .. ‘Mahatma Gandhi would have been puzzled by any suggestion that Hinduism was an obstacle to secularism; his Hinduism was an inexhaustible well of brotherhood , just as his colleague Maulana Azad offered Islam as a superb rationale for inter-faith harmony. Both used a faith-influenced dialectic almost unconsciously . Hindu-majority India is not secular because Gandhi was secular; Gandhi was secular because India is secular.’ (Excerpt from TOI Blog Article dt 21 July 2013, ‘Mahatma-versus-Modi-Tale-of-two-Nationalists’)
It was in the year 1989, I had returned from the United States, having dropped out of the Graduate business school since I could not get my choice of the academic program and resultant financial aid. I was only 24 yrs old then. Quite immediately, within a month or two, I took up a sales job to sell a franchise business scheme working with a Mafatlal group enterprise, in order to set up franchised business centers that would bring about significant changes in business communication and usher in a novel ‘concept of rental office space’ to facilitate business travelers in conducting business. I had to travel extensively to the rural, semi-urban and mini metro cities in Maharashtra and Goa states for almost 20 days a month. I fell in love with India from that moment and was attracted to the diversity that is inherent in the Indian society. Every village, town or city was different from one another ; the food preparation, dressing style was unique but varied and the culture, religion as well as their style of hospitality represented a diversity. Being utmost secular, I could equally relish eating Maharashtra favorite ‘Vada pav, Usal and Misal’ preparations, or my Muslim friend prepared Kheema (also called as Qeema) with handful loaves of freshly baked bread in his Nasik house during the Eid celebrations, or the spicy varied fish or chicken based foods and sumptuous gravy along with business colleagues who are catholic Christians based in Goa. All of this .. in addition to my staple food – the usual South Indian (Tamil) vegetarian food preparations ! Well, as the popular quote goes .. ‘The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.’ 🙂
India is a secular country as per the declaration in the preamble to the Indian Constitution. It prohibits discrimination against members of a particular religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The word secular was inserted into the preamble by the 42nd Amendment. It implies equality of all religions and religious tolerance & respect. India, therefore does not have an official state religion. Every person has the right to preach, practice and propagate any religion they choose.
It is not possible to think about this in any other way. After the independence and partition, a large number of Muslims were left in India and hence leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru preferred to keep India secular. This decision was made so that the Republic of India shall have no national religion and the people of India shall be free to follow any religion of their choice. Thus India remained politically secular and its people continued to passionately practice their religions. Such an exemplar camaraderie among people practicing various religions while living in one society is not to be witnessed elsewhere in the world. And fortunately, no political party or any opportunist political leader has been able to weaken the power of resilience built within this religiously varied population, despite so many trials and resultant trauma it has faced in the past.
In this light, I find writer M J Akbar’s observation as quite right. BJP’s Lok Sabha election campaign chief Narendra Modi is free to practice Hinduism as much as any other political leader wishing to practice his or her religion that is different from Hinduism. What matters importantly .. Is he is secular in his thought process and electoral interests to accommodate all prevailing religions of India in his nationalist plan ?