With the partition of country on basis of religious lines in 1947, the idea of Jawaharlal Nehru and other Congressmen, that religion had no place in politics, suffered a serious defeat. Memories of the migrations and the communal massacres could not be easily forgotten. To start a new chapter in line with India’s heritage, setting aside the recent events, was not going to be easy. The crowning tragedy was the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a Hindu fanatic. If India was to turn away from a deep descent into savage barbarism, sound principles of national cohesion had to be asserted. Indian nationalism was obviously brittle and free India had to pick the broken pieces to put together the jigsaw of nation building in a fresh context.
But has the issue of religious differences been solved? Did the riots stop? Why was nothing done to stop the Babri Masjid demolition? Why was no enquiry made into the Muslim massacre in Gujarat? Well, religion has indeed become a part of politics, it’s merely a weapon used by the parties to gain votes.
Our leaders did have a solution to this problem. Secularism… Our First Prime Minister himself desired that the government practices or institutions should exist separately from religion. The logical attitude of getting rid of religion was altogether favoured by Jawaharlal Nehru in the early years, but later he realized that a more practical way was not opposition to religion but the removal of religion from public affairs, the separation of state from all faiths, the insistence of religion as a personal matter for the individual citizen and freedom for the profession of diverse forms of religious worship provided that there was no conflict among them. But even all his efforts were in vain as the 50 years of independence has not seen the establishment of the secular mood on our rock-like foundation. Many factors are responsible for that- the vacillation of Nehru, the proximity of Pakistan and its belligerent attitude especially towards Kashmir and the pusillanimity of various political parties.
The demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 by the BJP activists, then the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, added fuel to the fire and religious intolerance between Hindus and Muslims came to the forefront and it still is next to impossible to extinguish this fire.
Secularism in free India, therefore, may well be in its last throes. The efforts to promote it, on the bases of India’s past, has not been a success. The right vision and the correct approach have not proved adequate and vigorous enough in the face of entrenched communalism and the proximate and continuous belligerence of Pakistan. Communal rioting has become more pronounced since then. The Hindus have no use of modern ideologies and the Muslims, who have remained in India, oblivious to the fact that there were responsible foe the tragedy of Partition, claim more rights for themselves. Secularism the sole hope of the future, can survive in free India only if both the communities conduct themselves in a civilized manner. We all should understand that secularism is the only possible social element for a modern community with religious feelings and the only way of making certain that one’s religion does not lead automatically to one being treated as a second class citizen.