ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Religious Minorities and Indian Secularism

Sandwiched Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru’s tryst with secularism and communal politics may be enumerated through a critical rereading of the religious apprehensions expressed by the Christian community over the question of their right to propagation. Was Indian secularism an effective ideological substitute to communal politics or merely a tactical tool for achieving political gains during Nehru’s times? Nehru’s vision of secularism, in having to negotiate the politics of Hindu fundamentalism as well as Congress majoritarianism, was forced to accommodate the flavours of a majoritarian cultural climate with some preferential treatment to Hindu rights.

The politics of communalism and secularism has gone through a turbulent and tumultuous history in postcolonial India (Chatterjee 2007: 143). While some scholars attempted to understand secularism as a sociopolitical oddity in the religion-oriented Indian society, others interpret it as a “political trick” to attract the attention of minorities, facilitating vote bank politics (Suroor 2014). The conditions for a democratic politics of secularism cannot be created unless historians grapple with these contradictions (Chatterjee 2007: 143). This article explores the complex connections between two related but distinct discourses—Indian secularism and communalism.

Despite the fact that there has been substantial historical research on nationalism and communalism in India, scholarly research on secularism is inadequate. Shabnum Tejani (2008: 1–24) maintains that the debate on secularism has been dominated by sociologists and political theorists who attempt to locate it largely in the postcolonial context. She argues that secularism within a liberal democracy played a key role when India became independent. This, according to her, had been designed for a specific reason—to create a democratic majority through the appropriation of “untouchables” (Dalits) into a caste Hindu identity. She appends that secularism was made one of the pillars of the Indian nationalist thought, predominantly by upper-caste Hindu men. Therefore, Indian secularism was not about the separation of politics from religion or creating a particular “Indian” ethics of tolerance. Rather, it was and is a nexus between caste, community, nationalism, communalism, liberalism, and democracy.

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Updated On : 27th May, 2021
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