Why I'm not celebrating Independence Day in Modi's India

Under the prime minister's stewardship, a secular India is now veering towards a Hindu India.

 |  5-minute read |   15-08-2017
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As India turns 70, it's time for some serious introspection than celebrations. The Indian democracy is at a crossroads, as under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stewardship a secular India is now veering towards a Hindu India.

Plurality has been the hallmark of India. This is a land of bewildering diversity. India is home to many ethnic groups, with distinct religious, linguistic and cultural identities.

The Indian system, with its secular and democratic character, has managed to maintain this diversity for the past seven decades and provided a space for each group to compete and cooperate.

The democratic pluralism in India has given all socio-religious groups a place at the table, thereby maintaining the unity and integrity of the country.

India has been able to survive and thrive as a state and a democracy due to its willingness to accommodate varying groups and their interests. This has been a key in maintaining the principles of democracy despite the deep religious and ethnic divisions within the society.

trishul_081517014827.jpgThe rise of the BJP has threatened the secular character of the country and with that has brought serious dangers to democracy itself.

While the country has been successful in maintaining a working peace among various religious and ethnic groups for seven decades despite hostilities, there is a serious lack of effort to analyse the reasons behind it. Why has India been different than her sisters in South Asia, and her cousins in Asia, Africa and Latin America? Here, the contribution of the Congress party in India needs serious attention. These days, of course, the shortest and surest way to commit intellectual suicide is to praise the Congress party in India.

However, there is a need to acknowledge the contribution of the party in bringing and nurturing democracy in a developing and divided society like India. It has been providential for India to be governed by a mass-based political organisation like the Congress party in its post-independence period.

This well-spread, mass-supported organisation, not only drove out the British peacefully, but it also took collaborative control of the country which provided possibilities for various religious and ethnic groups to share the power. Transcending region, religion and caste, the Congress party was successful in uniting the country and providing a platform of power-sharing, the cornerstone of success in any democracy.

The worst suffering inflicted on India due to the loss of Congress domination since late 1980s is the rise of the BJP. From nowhere in the mid-1980s, this Hindu chauvinist political outfit became a major force in Indian politics. Its spectacular ascendance to power under its charismatic but controversial leader, Narendra Modi, in 2014 has posed serious challenges to the concept of informal power-sharing among religious groups within the Indian democracy.

The rise of the BJP has threatened the secular character of the country and with that has brought serious dangers to democracy itself.

As Donald E Smith, who wrote a pioneering book on Indian secularism in 1963, rightly argues, “Democracy and secularism are tightly held together by logic. If India abandons one, the other will go.”

Hinduism, as an unorganised religion, has been conducive in establishing and promoting secular institutions in India. But, the rise of organised Hindutva is threatening to change that altogether, and instead promotes the opposite of secularism - religious fundamentalism - in the country.

A country cannot be democratic without being secular. Democracy as an idea grew out of the concept of secularism in the 17th century Europe. The idea that the society is made by human beings, and not by a religious authority is the key for democracy to survive and grow. 

Many countries that are now democratic could not have become so without going through the process of secularisation. But, fundamentalist forces consider secularism as a threat to their survival and always work against it. 

The Sangh Parivar is doing all it can to make India a Hindu country. The RSS does not miss any opportunity to declare India as a “Hindu Rashtra”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared himself as a Hindu nationalist. The chief minister of UP, Yogi Adityanath, is openly endorsing the idea of India for Hindus only.

Government policies dealing with religious diversity in the Indian democracy as well as its established institutions that enforce those policies have increasingly come under pressure. 

Non-Hindus are more than 20 per cent of India’s total population. This large minority population seriously challenges the BJP’s narrative of social cohesion and homogeneity. The BJP never misses any chance of spreading misinformation among Hindus to contribute to its own fantasies and desires to “purify the country” by getting rid of the minority.

For the past three years, serious attempts have been made to do away with the secular legacies of independent India. Hindutva forces are continuously belittling Jawaharlal Nehru and his idea of celebrating diversity of India. Not only continuous attacks are taking place on the secular foundation of the country, on which the pillars of Indian democracy are standing, there are also direct assaults on various democratic institutions.

The "Congress-mukt Bharat" slogan of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah is in reality a call for "Opposition-mukt Bharat". The Modi government though has come to power in a multi-party electoral competition, due to lack of a significant parliamentary opposition it has fashioned itself into a hegemonic electoral authoritarian regime. It does not hesitate to openly manipulate elections and sufficiently use threat to suppress any socio-political activism. It is using coercive powers to curb any dissenting voice in the pretext of national security, national identity and nation building.

While India was celebrating the 10th anniversary of its independence in 1957, famous American journalist-scholar Selig S Harrison had raised doubts about the survival of the Indian state. The Indian project, thanks to its secular democratic character, has proved these prophecies wrong for long.

However, the powerful attempts of Hindutva forces to turn India into a "Hindu Rashtra" has revived the danger once again.

India is not shinning anymore. The push for "Hindu Rashtra" is sinking the idea of India. In the absence of secularism, democracy will disappear and without secularism and democracy, the idea of India will cease to exist.

On the 71st Independence Day, what is there to celebrate?

Also read: Why India will never be a successful Hindu Rashtra

Writer

Ashok Swain Ashok Swain @ashoswai

The writer is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden.

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