Secularism in Winter

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), January 9, 2014 | Go to article overview

Secularism in Winter


New Delhi, Jan. 9 -- I came back from the relief camps of Muzaffarnagar's riot victims, not just numbed by the deaths of sixyear-olds from the freezing cold, but bewildered at the manner in which the "secular" Samajwadi Party government had left for dead, those in whose name it apparently rules. Why, in a dispensation avowedly committed to minority rights, were thousands of Muslim families (the UP government has now forcibly cleared 43 camps) living in those filthy relief camps, without water, medicines or blankets? Why the mostly deafening silence of the Left - once the vigilant guardians of minorities - on the death of over 30 toddlers due to cold?

Homeless, their children dying, with only local madrasas providing shelter, Muzaffarnagar riot victims still cling to hopes of justice. They hope that FIRs will be registered against those who have been accused of rape. They hope that perpetrators will be arrested. They hope justice will be done to those who burnt their homes. Yet there is no one to provide justice to the Muzaffarnagar riot victims; their plight is a shocking stain, a highly revealing indictment of secularism as practised today by the so-called secular establishment.

So what does secularism mean today? Simply an idea for drawing rooms and seminars? Suitably grimy raw material for academic perorations on India's post-modern condition? Is secularism simply a Facebook post or a righteous lament between the like-minded, every time Narendra Modi speaks? Is secularism a totally weakened force, entirely stupefied by television discourse, incapable of any agency of its own, any systematic volunteerism or grassroot campaigns?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says it would be "disastrous" for India if Modi became PM because he is responsible for a massacre. By this logic, is secularism simply a weapon to blackmail voters into voting for the Congress? Rahul Gandhi claims the ISI is recruiting riot victims. What then is the Congress doing? Are secular forces so helpless, too weak to prevent this kind of recruitment? Is Mulayam Singh Yadav so content that the Jat population in western UP has been thoroughly Hindu-ised, wrenched away from the age-old Jat-Muslim alliance that Charan Singh capitalised on, so pleased that the Jats have deserted Ajit Singh and gone to the BJP, that he is happy to keep the Muslims in fear and trembling so they rally to messiah Mulayam on voting day?

Yet I saw secularism in action by the Mayawati government when I went to cover the Ayodhya title suit judgment four years ago. Passions boiled on both sides as the judgment was awaited. But Mayawati clamped down hard. Ayodhya and Faizabad were turned into fortress towns. As a result, even after that judgment which could have torn apart communities, there was not a whisper of communal protest and UP remained calm. When governments want to control communal incidents, they can.

Triumphant Hindu majoritarianism is gaining cultural ground and being popularised by many who believe in Narendra Modi's articulation of it. Hindu outfits are working on the ground in UP to spread their beliefs and win people over. But, where by contrast, are the similarly energetic and committed secular forces to combat, provide an argument and a challenge on the ground to those whose ideology is opposed to secularism? …

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