Political Rhetoric: Secularism vs Communalism

Strangely, there is no denying that rival national parties are indirectly helping each other by indulging in the blame game focused on issues such as secularism and communalism. Were parliamentary elections not round the corner, most probably the leaders, apparently concerned about these issues, would not have spared much time as well as political energy for the same. Their blame game cannot be held as symbolic of their concern for secularism, communalism or for both but is simply a strong reflection of the nature of politicking they are indulging in. Seriously speaking, if they devoted the same energy towards issues related to the national development, they would not have to fall back on indulging in politics of this nature. At present, the difference in their actual political motive for deliberately picking on these issues and their concern for the same cannot be ignored.

Simply speaking, had Narendra Modi not blamed Congress for its veil (burkha) of secularism, the latter would not have found such an easy reason to counter-attack the former and other BJP leaders for their naked communalism. And this battle of accusations is likely to gain greater steam during these parties’ electoral campaign. Considering the coverage that their blame game is receiving in the media, they are not likely to backtrack from this battle till elections are over. Isn’t this a strange political irony? By attacking each other on highly controversial issues, the two parties have also assured each other substantial media coverage. Of course, they are not operating on the basis of any political understanding. But this is an unwritten rule of Indian politics, which is being almost totally exploited.

Would it be fair to assume that ordinary Indian voters, including Muslims, Hindus and of other religious communities, accord the same importance to the political frenzy over secularism and communalism that the media is? Or would the politicians’ loud claims, concern and charges remain confined to their own political circle, that of rival parties and the media? Howsoever, extensive media coverage is received by parties in fray, politically the same would have practically no value till the Indian voter is influenced by the same. Perhaps, some importance should be accorded to the secular orientation of an ordinary Indian citizen.

If even fifty percent of this country’s population could be labelled as extremely communal, the minority communities would not have probably survived here. The fact that these minorities, including Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, have asserted their respective religious identities here stands out. Equally significant is the fact that a considerable number of individuals from these communities are rated as highly successful celebrities, without their religious identity serving as a barrier. Similarly, during the medieval period, though considerable part of India has been ruled by Muslim kings, they also practiced “secularism.” If they had not, Muslims would not have remained a minority community here. Muslims constitute less than 14 percent of India’s population. History and statistics are a strong proof of deep-rooted foundations of secularism in India.

Yet, it cannot be missed that there still are certain extremely communally prejudiced elements that hold the belief that they can sway the mentality of their entire community against minorities and secular groups. There is no denying the fact that India did witness nation-wide, anti-Muslim riots when a Hindu group’s communal frenzy was at its peak, which led to the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on 6 December, 1992. The period did reflect the degree to which ordinary citizens’ religious passion could be aroused to the stage of violence. Yet, the communal activists did not succeed totally. The anti-Muslim communal phase carried little appeal for the entire Hindu population and did not last for too long.

Similarly, the fact that anti-Muslim Gujarat-carnage did not spread into other parts of the country cannot be missed. If the Gujarat-carnage stands out as a dark chapter in India’s secular history, the Indian secular credentials stand highlighted by the fact that they did not allow their secular spirit to be tarnished by what was happening in Gujarat. Secularism gained greater height when Indian voters decided to push BJP out of power during the 2004 parliamentary polls held after the Gujarat-carnage.

Today, even Modi gives the impression of being desperate to gain Muslim votes to help his party gain power at the Centre. At the same time, attempts are also being made to “unite” the Hindu community by entrusting Modi with the primary responsibility of electoral campaigning. Against this backdrop, how much significance can ordinary voters really give to charges of communalism and secularism being levied by rival parties against each other? Seriously speaking, practically none. The majority are least likely to even deliberate on such campaign strategies till the voting day is close. However loudly Modi may attack Congress for its secular veil and whatever be nature of latter’s response about the former’s naked communalism, the political echo of their respective charges may be expected to remain confined to their parties and of course to the media world, at least for now!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 August 2013 on page no. 11

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