Adityanath and Hindutva torchbearers need to be taught the true meaning of ‘secular’

The word simply means religion will be kept out of politics.

 |  5-minute read |   15-11-2017
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Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath made a statement yesterday (November 14): "I believe that the word secular is the biggest lie since Independence. Those that have given birth to this lie and those that use it should apologise to the people and this country. No system can be secular. Political system can be sect-neutral."

The statement is vague and confusing because one doesn’t know what meaning has been ascribed to the word "secular". It has been claimed that no political system can be secular, but it can be sect-neutral.

Yet it is crystal clear that the word "secular" is something that needs to be despised.

I realised - "secular" is a bad word - in early 2016, when a Hindutva troll wrote a comment under one of my Facebook posts: "shut up u uneducate sickular idiet [sic]."

Due to the hate-fuelled right-wing propaganda, the word secular has become "sickular"; its real meaning maliciously distorted to suggest an array of "unreal" meanings: anti-Hindu, pro-Muslim and minority appeaser.

The phenomenon of "myth-making" for the sake of political ideology is not new; it happens everywhere in the world where the true meaning of words/ideas are changed in the minds of the people through clever manipulations and constant propaganda.

A new term has been coined to describe this phenomenon: "psy-ops" or psychological operations.

adityanath_body_111517022544.jpgImage: PTI photo

A similar operation is underway in India to malign and discredit the word "secular".

In this situation, I feel that the real meaning of secular needs to be reiterated once again and the right wing needs to understand it.

I have already written an essay in my effort to recover the origin, history and meaning of four crucial words: Hindu, Hindustan, Hinduism and Hindutva. In this piece, my effort is to recover the true meaning of the word secular.

So the question one has to raise is: what does the word secular mean?

Secular means "not connected with religious matters"; it means religious identity/discrimination won’t play any part in policy or in government. Secular doesn’t mean anti-religion, anti-majority-religion or pro-minority-religion; it simply means religion will be kept out of politics. It means India gives special status to no religion. There is no such thing as a state religion of India. India guarantees equal freedom to all religions. All religions enjoy equality of status and respect.

"We, the People of India having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic, Republic and to secure to all its citizens; Justice: social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and opportunity; and to promote among them all; Fraternity, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation;

In our Constituent Assembly this, twenty sixth day of November 1949 do hereby Adopt, Enact and Give to ourselves this Constitution."

The spirit of the Constitution is violated if any religious leader from a religious organisation or a religious institution becomes a political leader and holds an official governmental position of power. The breach of the Constitutional ideal has already happened in India. This was pointed out by eminent jurist Fali S Nariman when the mahant of Gorakhnath Math was chosen to become the chief minister of India's most-populated state.

Nariman said, "The Constitution is under threat. With the massive electoral victory in UP, a priest has been installed as the chief minister at the insistence of the prime minister… is a signal and if you cannot see then either you are spokespersons of political parties or you must have your head or eyes examined."

Several other ideals are being violated everyday in India; we are in period of "violation of constitutional ideals". 


It is well known that the proponents of the Hindutva ideology want to delete the words "socialist" and "secular" from the Preamble because they were added later through an amendment in 1976. But those two words only emphasise the spirit of the Preamble that was given to us by our founding fathers when they spoke about "justice: social, economic and political", "equality and liberty of faith, belief and worship".

This is further substantiated by the explanation given by the father of our Constitution, Dr BR Ambedkar:

"It was, indeed, a way of life, which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life and which cannot be divorced from each other: Liberty cannot be divorced from equality; equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Nor can liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity. Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many. Equality without liberty would kill individual initiative. Without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of things."


Politics ideally should be done on the basis of the socio-economic conditions and the needs/welfare of the various segments of the greater society, and not through religious, class, gender and caste discrimination of any kind. But this is not how politics happen in modern India; that’s why we have nepotism, bias, prejudice, cultural politics, caste and religious polarisation.

Meritocracy also suffers due to this; untalented, unsuitable and unqualified people are put forward to occupy vital public posts; governance suffers and the standards fall.

One may also argue that the word secular has been rendered somewhat hollow by the manner of tokenisms practised by the political parties, but this criticism cannot supplant the meaning of "secular" and the "secular spirit" imbibed in our Constitution.

The "secular spirit" is simple to understand: no unfair discrimination - either positive or negative - will happen on the basis of religion. No perceptions of religious "exceptionalism" -  superior or extra-ordinary in some way - will be sought to be indoctrinated within the citizens. No de-sensitisation of people on basis of religion will take place; no mistreatment will be meted out towards any religion or the people with any particular religious belief. All religions will enjoy equality of status and respect.

This is what "secular spirit" truly means; and this is what we need to uphold, as enshrined in our Constitution, in the 21st century India.

Also read: Why secularism in India lost its meaning


Devdan Chaudhuri Devdan Chaudhuri @devdanchaudhuri

The writer is the author of 'Anatomy of Life'. He is one of the contributing editors of The Punch Magazine and lives in Kolkata.

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