The disadvantaged Hindus, pampered Minorities
By RK Ohri, IPS (Retd.)
Barely 6l years after Independence once again the Indian nation stands at the crossroads of history. The ideal of evolving a common nationality by assimilating different religious identities into a national identity, that is the Indian identity, has remained a pipedream. The reasons for this abject failure to weld all citizens into Indians first and Indians last are many and varied. The most important reason for this monumental failure is that the post-Independence political leadership of India has remained a prisoner of the same grievance centric minority politics which had led to Partition of the country in 1947.
For the last six decades the same divisive ideology, nurtured in the garb of secularism, has remained the dominant theme of Indian polity. The situation was further exacerbated by the insertion of secularism in 1976 as an essential feature of Indian Constitution during the Emergency which gave a cross-eyed slant to the Indian polity.
History is an eloquent witness to the fact that the Hindu civilization has always been exceptionally tolerant and peaceful, both by scriptural tradition and ethical training. But during the last few decades the belligerence of the largest minority, namely the Muslims, has begun to bedevil the Indian state much in the same manner as it did in the pre-Partition era. Unfortunately the old mindset of minority-appeasement continued to dominate the Indian leadership even after India attained Independence. It was prominently reflected in the incorporation of Articles 29 and 30 in the Constitution which conferred certain extraordinary rights and privileges on minority communities thereby elevating them the status of some kind of 'super citizens' because no comparable rights were allowed to members of the majority community. These two discriminatory Articles, ostensibly incorporated for protecting the cultural and educational interests of minorities, fly in the face of the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution. They have been the source of promoting divisiveness between the majority and the minority communities thereby delivering a body blow to the ideal of unity and integrity of the Indian nation. This invidious constitutional provision has placed the Hindus at a serious disadvantage, not only vis a vis the minorities, but even in terms of the secular ideal professed by the Indian State. It is time that this wanton violation of the right to equality is debated at public fora in a bold bid to seek resolution of this gross discrimination embedded in the Constitution.
Presently the Indian political system is choc-a-bloc with unprincipled busy bodies who consider minority-centric vote-bank politics, deceptively woven into the fabric of secularism, as passport to power. In no other country the word secularism is misused in such a devious manner as it is in our country. Interestingly most politicians wearing secularism on their sleeves are either casteist leaders or leftover leftists of yesteryears who have lost their secular moorings. Indian political theatre has an overwhelming presence of unprincipled politicians who consider minority-centric vote-bank politics the easiest passport to power. They have no moral compunction in singing paeans to secularism while donning skull-caps for attending Iftar parties, or haranguing in caste-based congregations of Brahmins, Yadavs or Rajputs in a brazen bid to ride to political power. Surprise of surprises, most of them defend with great gusto the grant of religion specific dole called Haj subsidy, but oppose enactment of a common civil code as envisioned in Article 44 of the Constitution!
Despite tall claims often made by politicians and orchestrated by the mainstream media, the fact remains that today India is anything but a secular democracy. The Indian political system fails to fulfil the two most important prerequisites of a secular democratic nation. First, the Indian Constitution falls short of the basic postulate of uniform application of all laws to its citizens, irrespective of their caste creed, religion or gender. Absence of a common civil code is a glaring example of non-application of uniform laws in the matter of marriage and inheritance. It is well known that the Muslim women, constituting nearly 7.5 per cent of the country's population, continue to be denied the right to equality because of strident opposition by the community's clerics and community leaders. The second pre-condition for a country's claim to be a democracy is the principle of equality before law. As mentioned above, Articles 29 and 30 of the Indian Constitution are a flagrant violation of the principle of equality before law. Even Article 370 conferring a special status on the state of Jammu & Kashmir is an aberration because it does not gel with the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution. For instance, under Article 370, no law enacted by the Indian Parliament is applicable to the state of Jammu & Kashmir, unless it is duly approved by the state legislature. Even the Governor of J&K state takes oath of his office under the separatist constitution of that state, while Governors of all other states take oath under the Indian Constitution. By allowing a federating state, and only one single state, to have a separate Constitution is a wanton violation of the principle of one nation, one country. It is antitheatical to the very idea of national unity.
As highlighted by K. Subrahmanyam in a very perceptive article, "No country can call itself democratic or secular unless it has a common civil law."1 Democracy implies that all citizens have equal rights and are to be treated equally under the rule of law. Allowing different personal laws is a negation of both secularism and democracy because it means that a person's religion determines the laws by which he or she is to be governed. For that reason India cannot be termed either as a secular state or a democracy. 2 Commitment to secularism entails that all social and political relationships will be governed by laws enacted democratically. It is unacceptable that "the laws will be beyond the competence of democratic governance for some sections on account of their having God's sanction". 3. He further pointed out that because of the first-past-the-post electoral system a person often gets elected even when he or she polls 30 per cent, or even less, of the total votes cast. The result is that Parliament seldom represents the true will of the majority of the electorate. This faulty system has robbed the majority of its due legal and constitutional rights and has perpetually enabled a minority, or a coalition of caste and communal vote-banks, to dominate the majority. Those who come to power on the strength of divisive politics and deviously cultivated vote-banks have therefore no interest in national unity. In the struggle for political power secularism and democracy are often used as slogans for seizing power.3
These are some of the glaring examples of the Indian state functioning in an anti-secular and communally partisan manner. Thus in 'our India' all essential attributes of secularism are more honoured in breach than in observance.
If we compare the theory and practice of democracy and secularism as practiced in India with the British parliamentary system, considered to be the role model for our country, we find that the two systems are poles apart. In the United Kingdom uniform civil and criminal laws are enacted and enforced for all citizens, irrespective of their religious beliefs, creed or gender, without making any exception. But not so in India. Unfortunately that ideal of uniform application of all laws to every citizens, the quintessential hallmark of secularism, is totally missing in the Indian system.
The recent decision of Government of India to send a 15-member delegation led by its Labour Minister, Oscar Fernandes, to Vatican to participate in the canonization of Sister Alphonsa by Pope Benedict XVI, exposes the ugly face of Indian secularism. Not to be left behind in the race for vote-banks, the CPM-supported Kerala government also sent a delegation headed by a minister to Vatican. Interestingly the same politicians had no qualms in filing a derogatory affidavit in the Supreme Court denying the existence of Sri Ram in a bid to destroy the Ram Sethu.
Interestingly the British commitment to secular ideal has not deterred the UK government from declaring itself a Christian nation. Upon ascending the throne, the monarch invariably assumes the title "defender of the faith", and all important state functions, including the coronation and inauguration of the Parliament session are accompanied by a Christian prayer, often led by the Archbishop of Canterbury himself.
In sharp contrast, in India's putrid political dispensation, sham-secularist politicians take sadistic pleasure in heaping scorn and calumny on the religious icons of the majority community, namely the Hindus. No wonder, the ideal of forging a common nationality has eluded the Indian nation. We have remained a nation divided against itself entirely due to serious flaws in our Constitution and weird machinations of self-serving politicians.
(The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)