The Viel of Secularism

taslima.jpgIt is not an unknown fact that Taslima Nasreen is not particularly popular among the Kolkata literati. Her writing is considered by them as not being of particular literary significance. So why is it that her presence or otherwise in Kolkata has become such a hotcake political and media issue? Is it because we as a nation are really so concerned about freedom of speech? Or is it just vote bank politics? Why is it that solutions are being offered to the tune of her being given the status of a political refugee? Has it really begun to affect our national identity so much or is it just plain opportunism?

The Congress clearly doesn’t know what to do with this political hot-potato. In his statement was taken on the morning of the parliamentary debate on the nuclear deal, Pranab Mukherjee has told the parliament, that she “can” stay on, but she should refrain from ‘hurting the sentiments’ of the people. Welcoming her like Modi, will antagonize the minority vote. The BJP is more than happy to exploit the Nasreen cause. They demand the status of a political refugee for her, claiming that “She is entitled to all rights which have been given to the Tibetan refugees,”. While Gujrat CM Narendra Modi tries to play God at his first election rally speech by offering to “protect her” and inviting her to Gujarat. If the BJP is comfortable in politically exploiting radical Islam to its advantage, the Congress is careful to not offend its practitioners for exactly the same motivated reason.

For outfits like the ALL INDIA MINORITY FORUM AND FURFURASHARIF MUZADEDDIA ANATH FOUNDATION-whose rally ignited the backlash in Kolkata leading to Nasreen’s deportation-the writer is an ideal cause, as in the absence of a larger social movement, the orthodox leadership’s hold on Muslim community only increases in its wake. The expansion of political space for the assertion of communal identity, only promotes such conservative elements.

For the CPI(M) which has already lost a huge chunk of Kolkata’s middle class and a section of the rural votes , its biggest strength, after Nandigram, Muslims are too important to be ignored. The progressive secular Marxists not just banned Nasreen’s book, their party leader declared plainly that if Nasreen was going to be “so much trouble” she should just pack her bags and leave. The Left has treated the protests by the Muslim Right as worthy of response, but shown only reflexive contempt for the same sort of complaints from the Hindu Right in the past.

In India‘s political culture— long since dominated by weak and infirm governments—the power to deny has fast become the currency of power. Degeneration of secularism to minority appeasement has become a new creed of the political parties. Taslima was already under pressure to shift from West Bengal, as the secular CPM was not willing to face a hostile Muslim vote bank. The funniest part is that a “secular” CPM catapulted Taslima to a “communal” BJP run state. Taslima is an unwanted guest and the mighty government of India is helpless in the face of vote bank compulsions.

Secularism is one of the main ideals of our Constitution and it implies equal respect for all religions and no discrimination against anyone on the grounds of religion alone. Nothing wrong with the principle of secularism but the selective application of it raises questions.

Yet, Taslima Nasreen presents India with an opportunity to exorcise the demons of intolerance and begin the process of laying them to rest. Giving her citizenship is a different matter, one of due process . Ensuring her physical protection, for the duration of her stay in India, is thus of utmost and immediate importance.

Isha Handa