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Colloquium: Secularism and Nation Building

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As The Hindu Centre has emphasised in its mission statement, we see ourselves not just as a discourse enabler or a marketplace of ideas but do intend to make vigorous contributions to the public discourse that will examine political concepts, ethics and approaches that are seen as key elements of India’s democratic national vision. Some of these fundamental norms as understood in practice over decades of Indian political life have now come under severe challenge, as India’s growth trajectory has taken different turns and taken on varying ideological hues. Since the ‘90s, battles over secularism and indeed challenges to the composite and civic orientation of Indian nationalism have polarised the political landscape. The Hindu Centre recognises that it is imperative that if public faith in these basic national values is to be sustained, it is important that issues and approaches that are matters of contestation be explored and examined.

We launch our exploration of the concept of secularism, situating it in the context of nation-building. We are linking the two concepts because in the Indian political discourse, secularism has been viewed as critical to the nation-building project, given India’s diverse and heterogeneous base of communities and cultures. We offer here below two perspectives on this important issue from two high-profile representatives of the major parties that stand on different sides of this crucial debate. We have chosen Seshadri Chari, prominent thinker and ideologue of the BJP whose subtle and nuanced critique of secular Indian nationalism and Digvijaya Singh, senior Congress leader who has been an eloquent defender of the Congress view of secularism to launch our series of explorations of this critical question. These two high-profile interlocutors who respond to The Hindu Centre’s Chief Political Coordinator M.R. Venkatesh’s pointed questions, provide competing perspectives of Indian nationalism. We present below this Colloquium to the public as a starting point in our exploration of this critical issue and its complexities.

THC: Secularism in the western context – as separation of state from religion – and in the modern Indian context – as equal respect for all faiths – continues to be a problematic concept. Is a more inclusive notion of secularism, rather than a simple nationalist construct more relevant today in order to keep India’s pluralistic democracy intact?

Seshadri Chari

We commonly use certain terminology like secularism and democracy so it becomes difficult to discuss secularism unless we define it. Secularism began as a political discourse in the West during the British experiment with monarchy and democracy from the time of Oliver Cromwell. In British history, secularism is basically distancing the state dispensation from the church. The first separation between politics and religion began with the separation of the Church of England from the Vatican. Thus, the split in the Christian theological approach to politics generated a political debate resulting in a political order divorced from the Church of England. But in order to accommodate the views of the Church, they created a House of Lords and invited a section of the laity into it. That is how the British Parliament became a bicameral system – the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The Commons did not have entry into the affairs of the Church, showing this separation has its origin in Christian theology.

But India’s social, religious and political history is very different. While the nerve of society in the West is basically the state, in India, the state was never considered to be the supreme authority. Therefore, we never envisaged a situation where we would have to separate state and theology. Also when we talk of secularism, we mix up the meanings of ‘religion’ as understood in the West and East. What we call ‘ darshan’ in Sanskrit should not be confused with religion. So, when we separate state and religion, we are at best separating the state and certain methods of worship in different religions. Hinduism itself has immense methods of worship. But unfortunately, in public discussions, we are caught in the trap of certain irreversible connotations. For any meaningful discussion of secularism, unless we go to its etymological and historic roots, justice will not be done.

Digvijaya Singh

I would put it like this. In India, we respect all religions and every citizen has a right to adopt and follow a religion of his choice. The Government of India neither interferes in any religion, nor promotes any religion. But it protects every religious group to ensure that every citizen follows his/her religion without any hindrance or prejudice. This, what we believe is the Indian ethos, was practiced by Mahatma Gandhi in totality. Well, even in India, the state had no religion historically. Even under Hindu kingdoms, the people had the opportunity and the freedom to practice their own religion. You see, we as a nation have been highly accommodative to religions other than ‘ sanatana dharma’, to the extent we accepted people from the Christian religion who came as early as the year 60 AD to Kerala. Similarly, the Hindu kingdoms also never sort of stopped the Muslims from following their own religion. So, it is basically the Indian ethos and the ‘ sanatana dharma’ to accommodate people to have their religion, to practice their religion, without interfering in their religion as such. In India, we hardly have had any of the religious wars that Europe has seen. That is it.

There is no vagueness or ambiguity [despite semantic abuses in public discourse] on the basic conceptual issues [resulting from a conflation of meanings of words like religion, secularism and democracy as understood in the West and East]. You see the BJP’s agenda is quite clear. They want to use religion as an instrument to sort of persecute the ‘non- sanatana dharmis’. Even the ‘Sangh’ (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) if you see, most of the ‘Sangh’ people were ‘Arya Samajists’ who did not believe in ‘ moorthy pooja’. Therefore, again if you see, Mr. Veer Savarkar was an atheist who coined the word ‘Hindutva’, which the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) / the Sangh has as one of its major political agendas.

THC: The Nehruvian legacy of secularism has often been criticised as appeasing the minorities – your views?

Seshadri Chari

I don’t necessarily look at the Government of India’s views on secularism as a Nehruvian legacy, because the country as a whole adopted the Westminster System and almost everything that was in it – including multi-party democracy, first-past-the-post system and secularism. But if you carefully analyse the period 1947-50, we had a very tragic partition on the basis of religion, on the basis that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together, which was a very flawed basis. Notwithstanding that flaw and the partition, when we adopted the Constitution in 1950, it is very strange that its framers wrote a preamble that did not contain two words – secularism and socialism. Does it mean that in 1950, we were not a secular country? Does it also mean we became secular only in 1976 when the Constitution was amended to include the two words? Does it also mean that the economic policies, which we are pursuing today has anything to do with socialism? So, strangely, the words ‘secularism’ and ‘socialism’ have not been defined in the Constitution even today. We should think about why our Constitution’s framers did not think it necessary to include the word ‘secularism’.

That is because they had a vision and a view of the history of the country. In the 5,000-10,000 years of our history, we never had a theocratic state. Our statecraft had no place for theology. That is why, in 1950, nobody thought of introducing the word ‘secularism’ [when the Constitution was adopted]. The state as well as society was considered to be secular enough and it was taken for granted. Although Pakistan declared itself as an Islamic Republic, we never thought in terms of declaring ourselves as a Hindu Republic. Hinduism is not one religious practice. It is a conglomeration of various values/ways of life. The best definition of Hinduism was given by none other than Mahatma Gandhi, who called it a ‘relentless pursuit of truth’. If we expand his definition, anywhere in the world, whoever pursues the ‘truth’ is a Hindu. So, where is the question of differentiating between state and religion? If tolerance towards all religions is secularism, we have gone a step further to respect all religions and philosophies. The whole idea of secularism and democracy, and the state being separated from religion, will all have to be revisited with a fresh and clear outlook, not with the coloured vision of western ideas or some other colour.

Digvijaya Singh

It is an absolute propaganda of the Hindu fundamentalists. Hinduism cannot be a fundamentalist religion. We believe in the principle of ‘vasudeva kudumbhakam’, that the whole universe is one family. Therefore, this criticism comes only from the followers of the ‘Sangh’. In fact, to quote Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, majority fundamentalism or fanaticism is more dangerous than a minority fundamentalism or fanaticism, because the majority fundamentalism hides under the pretext of nationalism that creates doubt in the minds of the majority community that following fundamentalist, fanatic thought is indeed Indian nationalism. The Congress has always fought the ideology of fanatics, religious fanatics, whether they were from the Hindu Maha Sabha or the Sangh or the Muslim League. Even in recent years, the fanatics of the Sikh religion.

There is absolutely no substance in that allegation at all. In every developed society, special protection is always provided to the minorities. Aren’t African Americans given a minority status in the US? Aren’t minorities given a special status in Britain? It is absolutely misleading to say that the Congress party under Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru followed a policy of appeasement of Muslims. Second, secularism is properly defined (in the Indian context) even if our Constitution framers initially did not think of including the word ‘secularism’ in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution. It (secularism) is like ‘ sarva dharma samabhav’, every religion is equal. The state has no religion but it allows every religion to be practised without there being any interference and intervention by the state. So, this is the basic definition of ‘secularism’. As far as the Constitution goes, you are right. Initially, the word ‘secularism’ was not there. But later it was added (by a Constitutional amendment). There is no such thing as western colour (in taking a perceptual view). Secularism is engrained in the Indian ethos. It is not, I would say, a foreign ideology, and certainly not something seen through the prism of western culture. What does ‘ vasudeva kudumbakam’ mean? The world is one family. So, what does the ideal of ‘ sarva dharma samabhav’ mean? Therefore, this approach marked by equanimity to all religions is very much engrained in our Indian ethos, Indian culture and ‘ sanatana dharma’.

THC: With the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi elevated as the BJP’s Election Campaign Committee Chairman for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, how do you see the issue of secularism playing out among the voters in particular?

Seshadri Chari

Of course, it is a political issue. I don’t see any direct relationship between a discussion on secularism and Modi’s elevation. I see these things as very separate issues. Modi’s elevation is more or less a political strategy to say the least. So I don’t think the larger issue of secularism can be discussed in the context of what a political party in the country does. But it is very strange that when Rahul Gandhi is elevated as Congress Vice-President, nobody discusses it in terms of secularism and communalism. These are all part of pigeonhole thinking that inter-alia saying that the Congress is secular and the BJP is communal.

This entire discourse of secular versus communal has assumed political proportions. As long as you view it through the political prism, you will never arrive at a proper conclusion. So, I don’t look at Modi’s elevation as a debate between secularism and communalism. I look at it purely as the BJP's political strategy strictly with the 2014 polls in view.

Digvijaya Singh

First of all, the BJP has been sort of oscillating between extreme right-wing Hindu fundamentalism and the other extreme, Gandhian socialism. It is not for the first time. Ideologically, the BJP is one of the most confused parties, which cannot decide which way to go. And it is now reflected in the speech of Narendra Modi, when he calls Shyama Prasad Mukerji (founder of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh), as the first Indian martyr after Independence, forgetting the martyrdom of Mahatma Gandhi. And that too coming from a Chief Minister of Gujarat, it is absolutely shameful.

It is this ideology of hate that killed Mahatma Gandhi and it is this ideology of hate and violence that the Congress has been fighting from the very beginning and it has never compromised politically with this ideology. But other political parties, who can be grouped as secular parties, have at one time or the other aligned themselves to form a government with the erstwhile Jan Sangh or the BJP.

THC: Why do you think this perception has arisen? Just as the Ayodhya issue was seen as a polarising factor in the Indian polity in the recent past, now Narendra Modi’s emergence is being seen as ushering in another hard-line “Hindutva’’ phase.

Seshadri Chari

Neither the BJP nor Narendra Modi are talking about ‘Hindutva’. If you very closely look at the issues, in 2004 (Lok Sabha polls), the BJP raised the issue of economic development. The issue at that time was ‘India Shining’, not ‘Hindutva’. In 2009 again, it was not ‘Hindutva’. The NDA (National Democratic Alliance), especially the BJP, spoke about mis-governance and also the holiday the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government gave for the economic programmes of the NDA under Left parties’ pressure. So, these issues were mainly in focus. So, I mean the issue of Ayodhya, of the Ram Temple, the issue of ‘Hindutva’, has never been used in the same, similar political fashion, as they were used before.

Again, it is very ironical if you look at it in hindsight. The Ram Temple issue was drummed up, the BJP got attached to that issue and the result was that a person who did not have a so-called communal tag and who had a very large secular tag, became the Prime Minister of that entire movement, a moderate [reference to A. B. Vajpayee] gaining the most from the ‘Ram Janmabhoomi Movement’, not the ‘Hindutva’ hardliners. So, it is not necessary that another ‘Hindutva Movement’ or a ‘Hindutva Agenda’ will give you the same result. Because, the political agenda which is set by a political party and the understanding of the political situation (at a particular juncture) by the people, the voters, are totally different in this country. So, if people will vote for the BJP, especially under the leadership of Narendra Modi, I think it will be for governance, rather than ‘Hindutva’. I think the BJP is smart enough to realise this. That is why neither the BJP, nor Narendra Modi is mentioning ‘Hindutva’, Ayodhya, these issues anywhere. They are talking only about the economic development of Gujarat, governance and a corruption-free administration. And if you see that, to a very large extent, Modi is attached to these three issues.

Digvijaya Singh

We have seen how the BJP has used Hindu sentiments towards Bhagawan Ram for their own political ends and, therefore, the Indian people now know the machinations or the efforts of the BJP to use religious sentiments of the people of this country for their own political ends, without delivering what they have promised. We never gave a holiday to economic reforms. But yes, people may differ on the pace of the economic reforms. The Congress party is a political party that is extremely sensitive to the issue of what is good for the nation and what is not good for the nation. We adopted economic liberalisation since Mr. Rajiv Gandhi began the process of economic reforms. And it was later pursued by Mr. Narasimha Rao and Dr. Manmohan Singh. In the earlier phase (the path of socialism as a developmental strategy), when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru brought in heavy industry, big infrastructure projects in the public sector, and also the land reform and land ceiling he brought in by the ‘Zamindari Abolition Act’, all these steps were opposed by the BJP, the then Jan Sangh.

Therefore, we have been following policies that are good for the nation, like the development of the public sector when it was most needed. Later, when Mr. Rajiv Gandhi brought in the super computer, it is the BJP and this sort of thinking that again opposed saying that the use of computer would make a number of people jobless. Now what has happened? The IT industry has flourished and provided millions of jobs. Therefore the BJP is basically trained to oppose everything that the Congress does. And it is not yet very clear as to what the BJP means by economic liberalisation because the ‘Sangh’ talks of the ‘swadeshi movement’. We do believe in the Gandhian philosophy of the khadi and village industry, the small and medium units, but at the same time, we have to change with the times. How can you leave alone the use of machines, the use of computers as part of a different development strategy?

THC: After the BJP’s recent Goa meeting, with the JD(U)’s (Janata Dal-United) unequivocal rejection of a ‘new authoritarian cult’ that Narendra Modi might come to symbolise in the run-up to the 2014 elections and L. K. Advani’s own reflections in his blog, do you think it has set the stage for another polarisation of forces on the secularism plank?

Seshadri Chari

As far as the issue of decisions taken in Goa [at the BJP's national executive committee meeting] are concerned, I don’t think the JD(U) [under Nitish Kumar’s leadership] and Mr. Advani can be brought into one single bracket. They are not on the same page on this. The JD(U)'s decision is a political one. The JD (U)’s decision to distance itself from the NDA is a calculated, political decision. Whether it was right or wrong, only time will tell.

Whereas, Advaniji’s stand is more or less like a warning to us. it is more or less like raising, so to say, certain apprehensions. So what Advaniji has done is he has just cautioned us, it is like a red signal to a train, to say that 'look, there is danger ahead, go slow'. So, I think Advaniji’s suggestions [in his blogs], should be taken in that light. All that Advaniji is asking is, why put all eggs in one basket? So his remarks suggesting that we exercise caution [in his thoughts on collective leadership] should therefore be seen in this light. So, I would rather differentiate between the JD(U)’s position and Advaniji’s views. They are two very different things.

Digvijaya Singh

The ‘Sangh’ has modelled its structure, its ideology, on the basis of the Nazi party and Mussolini’s party. In fact, Dr. B. S. Moonje, [who quit the Congress to join Hindu Maha Sabha and was its all-India President from 1927-37], had gone to Europe in the early 1930s to meet Hitler and Mussolini, and the ‘Sangh’ has been structured as an organisation based on an authoritarian cult. That is why they don’t have elections in the ‘Sangh’. They have contempt towards democracy. They don’t believe in democracy.

Mr. Narendra Modi is a trained ‘pracharak’ of the ‘Sangh’, who makes no bones about it. He is a symbol of the authoritarian behaviour of the ‘Sangh’. The way he has steamrolled the opposition in Gujarat, even the BJP leaders and VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) is an example. He has allegedly used the Gujarat Police to do fake encounters of innocent people, on the basis of false intelligence inputs that they had come to kill Narendra Modi. This was to create an aura of heroism around Mr. Modi. This is how Hitler became the dictator in Germany. If you see the parallel, the way the ‘Sangh’ and the Nazi party functioned, you will see a remarkable similarity between the two.

THC: In recent years, there is a definitive minority focus in several of the Central Government’s welfare programmes, both under targets and outlays. Will it strengthen secularism by reducing distrust among various communities?

Seshadri Chari

No, I believe that the recent actions of the UPA-II, especially in bending over backwards to appease minorities, will only create a greater distance between the so-called minority community and the so-called majority community. I see a definite change in the attitude of the minorities also. It would be very wrong to think that by announcing some meagre programmes for minorities, it is going to consolidate the votes of the minorities for the Congress. Had it been so, the Congress should have swept the polls in Uttar Pradesh and drawn the Muslim votes towards itself. Similarly, on an earlier occasion, even an overwhelming majority of the Hindu community voted for the BSP [Bahujan Samaj Party headed by Ms. Mayawati] in order to throw out the SP [Samajwadi Party led by Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav]. So, people, especially when it comes to voting, are looking at a very different aspect, rather than falling for sloganeering or these small-time mercies being doled out by the political parties.

Mr. Seshadri Chari, member of the BJP's national executive committee and a member of its foreign affairs committee, was interviewed recently by The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy in New Delhi. Mr. Digvijaya Singh, former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and a general secretary of the All India Congress Committee was interviewed in New Delhi and Bangalore.

Digvijaya Singh

In the findings of the Sachar Committee, the socio-educational and economic structure of Muslims among the minorities is unfortunately quite low, compared to other social groups among different religious groups. So, there is a need to look into the socio-educational and economic backwardness of the Muslims to enable them come to a level-playing field. The UPA government, which has been extremely sensitive to their cause, has made provision for higher allocation of funds to provide them education and skill development. As for its fallout, we are not worried about it. We are more concerned about the well-being of the people than political results. To us, what is most important is to give a fair deal to every citizen of this country.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru abolished ‘zamindari’, brought in land ceiling, incurred the wrath of the big landlords and distributed land to the poor. It was opposed by these very same ‘Jan Sanghis’. When Nehru built Bhakra Nangal dam, it was opposed by them. When Nehru built the public sector undertakings like BHEL, SAIL, it was opposed by them. When Mrs. Indira Gandhi brought in bank nationalisation, it was opposed by them, but it later saved us from a collapse when the global recession took place in 2008. When Rajiv Gandhi brought in computers, it was opposed by them. When Mr. Narasimha Rao took forward economic liberalisation, it was opposed by them. When Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, at her initiative, brought the ‘Right to Information Act’, it was opposed by them. When we [UPA] brought in the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) for the poor, it was opposed by these very ‘Sanghis’. So we don’t mind about that.

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Digvijay Singh is a true Indian. He has spoken frankly and he has spoken the truth.

from:  Raju
Posted on: Oct 11, 2013 at 20:58 IST

It is interesting to see the some of the comments saying Mr. Chari is talking more intelligently than Mr. Singh. I can understand their bias. I think that one's answers become more meaty when one cites valid examples. Digvijay has got examples to offer,and he is referring to them.

from:  abid
Posted on: Sep 5, 2013 at 18:19 IST

Please bring in equals for the debate. As most of them in the comments section have said, Mr.Singh's answers were in the way to glorifying the Congress,whilst Mr.Chari's stance on all questions were like an intellectual who has some knowledge about the questions being asked to him.

from:  Naveen
Posted on: Aug 24, 2013 at 15:47 IST

I think for these types of discussion The Hindu Centre should invite two persons of the same intellect and broader ideologies. While Chari is talking from a broad national context his counterpart is merely counting on the achievements of Congress governance instead of reflecting on the character of the policies of the Congress and justifying its relevance in the present scenario.

from:  Siddharth Mishra
Posted on: Jul 29, 2013 at 14:23 IST

assuming the inevitability of such organisations as the RSS, I think it has done a better job than we can expect. There must have been some undemocratic spillages by some of its followers but they should be considered as such. Although Mr. Singh's fear about fanaticism in nation is justified, it will be better to adopt a strategy which does not hurt a religion when appeasing another. Hurting religious sentiments is very dangerous in the long-run. It was for good that our Constitution deliberately missed including secularism in the first place and forget to define secularism while amending it in 1976. It was left to the people of India to realise it themselves because this idea cannot be taught in words. The history of the Sangh, the Hindu Mahasabha, the Muslim League or any organisation cannot be put within dates but only in the history of time. Religion is a faith, an idea, a philosophy. People with similar ideas and ethos come together and groups, then organisations and societies are made. In the interests of our nation, we have to address them keeping in mind the costs. Coercive repression of beliefs of some people comes with a much higher cost than transition carved out by education, information, awareness or other peaceful means. Maoism, Naxalism and terrorism are a few of the many examples of badly-handled ideological problems still prevailing in the nation.

from:  Vivek Tyagi
Posted on: Jul 27, 2013 at 21:18 IST

Mr. Chari talked like an intellectual and gave an in-depth reasoning and logic for his answers. On the other hand, Mr. Singh was purely political and was just trying to appease some sections, and only criticised the Sangh. I thought that there would be some healthy discussion on this topic. As far as secularism is concerned, the state should prefer no religion, appease no religion, not give reservations in public policy to any religion, not use religious groups as a vote bank. The government should interfere where religious institutions and groups interfere and cause problems in practicing other religions, and the government should also interfere where people, in the name of freedom, try to propagate their religion by force and money.

from:  Vaibhav
Posted on: Jul 27, 2013 at 13:51 IST

Mr. Singh, not surprisingly, centered his arguments as a loyalist of the Congress party. Mr. Chari displayed some panache and defined secularism in the context of the nation rather than as a political agenda

from:  Rao Koganty
Posted on: Jul 26, 2013 at 22:09 IST

As rightly pointed out by @Srinivas, this was a poor choice of opponents. Singh would be a good counterfoil to Uma Bharathi or Shanawaz Hussain. While the BJP continue to promise to bring about a change(they bungled it up previously in the Center and recently a massive flop in Karnataka), the Congress continues to claim that they have been doing it for many years. But for the common man, every passing day, the situation on the ground keeps worsening and each day is a further push into the abyss.

from:  Summant Nayak
Posted on: Jul 26, 2013 at 14:51 IST

The Congress party's motive and intent is more than clear since 1947. They have always confused the people of this country. Recently two of their MPs unequivocally said that anybody can get wholesome food for Rs.5 in Delhi. The other day they said poverty has drastically come down to 21%. If all this is correct, then why are they giving Rs.2/kg rice to 67% population of the country? Even after 60 plus years of Independence, out of which the Congress ruled for almost 50 years, why is there a necessity of giving subsidised food to 67% of the masses? At one end they are trying to convince the country that it is uneconomical and foolish to talk about subsidies and on the other hand they are giving free food to more than half of the country. They have removed subsidies on petrol, diesel and LPG. Are they not contradicting themselves every day? What message are they giving to the people? Unless voters of this country become wise and sensitive to their rights, the political class will keep on misusing the people.

from:  U. K. Choudhary
Posted on: Jul 26, 2013 at 11:52 IST

Please bring discussion between man of equal stature .......this time The Hindu bring ..a iconic broad
thinker (Seshadri Chari) and well known Dwarf man..together............

One man speaking about policies and ideology while dwarf man only about history of congress.......stupid
reply....

from:  Saurav
Posted on: Jul 25, 2013 at 17:43 IST

I think these types of debates from The Hindu Centre will promote conceptual clarity about the current political issues prevailing in India and will help citizens of India to differentiate between what is right and what is wrong.

from:  Piyush Tiwari
Posted on: Jul 25, 2013 at 14:39 IST

I agree with other comments regarding the level of discourse between the two. But that probably reflects a poor choice of opponents. A theoretician might have been a better choice than Digivijaya Singh. Also, the questions are partly to blame as they brought the political parties into the discussion rather than stick to conceptual constructs. I would have liked to see a deeper discussion of the thought process behind the ideologies. Fascinating insights into historical events though - I for one, did not know that the Constitution does not mention the word 'secularism'!

from:  Srinivas
Posted on: Jul 25, 2013 at 06:46 IST

Mr. Chari's comments are a slap on Congress politicians. Hope to see the BJP win the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

from:  Indian Patriot
Posted on: Jul 24, 2013 at 00:28 IST

I appreciate the efforts of The Hindu Centre to throw light on some important issues. Mr. Chari explained clearly about the problem and its solutions, whereas Mr. Singh only brought the Congress and the BJP into the conversation. If you read his statements, you would think that whatever India has achieved till today is due to the Congress only, and wherever India is lacking, it is due to the opposition i.e., the BJP. After more than 60 years of Independence, we can see how much India has progressed and where we are lacking.

from:  J. P. Nanda
Posted on: Jul 23, 2013 at 15:35 IST

Mr. Singh's statement that Rajiv Gandhi brought the computer to India is absolutely absurd and the Congress party has gotten into the habit of this new strategy of hiding under the veil of secularism. Secularism doesn't mean bringing up religious sentiments every time a question on governance is posted. Secularism is a spirit that must stay away from politics.

from:  Smruti Mohanty
Posted on: Jul 23, 2013 at 10:14 IST

Brilliant thoughts from Mr. Chari. Mr. Singh showed his narrowness of thought. Unfortunately, this is the malaise deeply eating the INC of today. What was once the breeding ground of leaders is nothing but a huge propaganda machinery acting on behalf of the central command. Overall, a great debate setup by The Hindu Centre!

from:  Satish Kumar
Posted on: Jul 23, 2013 at 08:52 IST

First, I would like to thank The Hindu Centre for creating such a useful platform to brings intellectuals together. Mr. Chari's arguments seems to be more convincing and logical than Mr.Singh's. At this platform of intellectual debate, we expect rational and logical arguments which help to understand the discourses and come to the solution of the problem. But Mr. Singh's argument seems to be much more critical rather than problem-posing.

from:  Abu Huzaifa
Posted on: Jul 23, 2013 at 02:50 IST

What India basically lacks is a strong liberal wing, even though the Congress claims this mantle. Practically, the party is not liberal nor centralist. In this political scenario, right wing parties with some good administrators seem to be the alternative, which is a further danger to society.

from:  Rajashekar Badalgama
Posted on: Jul 22, 2013 at 22:55 IST

The discussion is very enlightening. Mr. Chari has discussed the issues with clarity and without bias. On the other hand, Mr. Singh started with some clarity but thereafter only made biased and unsubstantiated political criticism. Computerisation was stalled by the Government of India under the pressures of the trade unions and not by the BJP/Sangh. It would have been magnanimous on the part of Mr. Singh had he not made the remarks in the last question, which are merely political. The word secularism has been used without any specific definition by political parties and used to brand some parties as religious. Socialism is another catchy word misused for political purposes. Compare the present state of affairs to the objectives of nationalisation of banks, heavy industry and the slogan of self reliance, and the present policy of FDI in all sectors.

from:  Krishnajee
Posted on: Jul 21, 2013 at 22:43 IST

Thanks to The Hindu Centre for having the views of both parties published. While Mr. Chari has taken the effort to explain things and show the real meaning, Singh's views are muddled, with him criticizing those who oppose the Congress leadership.

from:  Indian
Posted on: Jul 21, 2013 at 13:12 IST

The practice of secularism is more important than preaching, as the Congress is doing it. There are several times the ruling Congress has transgressed the limit. Governance and integrity of the country should take primacy. Yesterday Savarkar, today Modi, tomorrow somebody else who has to take the negative discrimination of the majority head-on by some political parties who want only minority votes but not the welfare.

from:  Vinay Kumar
Posted on: Jul 21, 2013 at 11:31 IST

The idea of secularism as propagated by the Congress since the British period died the day the Congress, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, accepted the partition of India on the basis of religion and the creation of Pakistan. Whosoever talks of secularism in India, talks about a dead ideology, which has no basis and no meaning. Nations and people can continue to believe in baseless things and ideologies like capitalism, communism, secularism and religious States, but it will lead them nowhere and they are simply wasting time.

from:  R. Pandya
Posted on: Jul 21, 2013 at 10:40 IST

I don't understand why 'religion' is trotted out during or in and around elections. The BJP and the Congress both got the opportunity to govern, but have not delivered anything but scams.

from:  Timus
Posted on: Jul 20, 2013 at 01:35 IST

This a comprehensive platform for knowing the thoughts of politicians and eminent personalities. What I observed from the opinions of Mr. Chari and Mr. Singh and from this discussion is that Mr. Chari was quite succinct and his responses were aligned with the questions. However, Mr.Singh seemed to be very critical, especially about the Sangh and the BJP and his responses were focused on a smaller spectrum. However, it was a good debate.

from:  Rahul Mishra
Posted on: Jul 19, 2013 at 17:41 IST

When the elite of parties come on a platform for a debate, as a youth i would love to see profoundness, vision and clarity echoed in their views. This was reflected in Mr. Chari's but not in Mr. Singh's views.

from:  Avi
Posted on: Jul 19, 2013 at 10:09 IST

Great effort from The Hindu Centre. The comments of both Singh and Chari, and the tone used, shows that the BJP is on the backfoot and the INC is dictating terms.

from:  Imran
Posted on: Jul 19, 2013 at 07:50 IST

It seems that Mr. Digvijaya Singh's agenda starts only with criticism. I don't have any interest in religion or politics but people like Mr. Singh become a divisive factorstop . They should commenting and tweeting unnecessarily. Makeover of personality is required but not at the cost of criticism of others.

from:  Manoj Singh
Posted on: Jul 19, 2013 at 07:35 IST

i think there are a couple of points being missed by both the interviewees.First, is the autonomy given to the minorities. The reason to give autonomy is to let them practice their religion without the interference of any other religion. However, this does not mean that the government can't interfere. If at any point in time the government feels that any group, minority or majority, is posing a threat to national integrity, it can and should intervene. So no religious group should be secluded from government purview.

from:  Pratyush
Posted on: Jul 18, 2013 at 23:15 IST

The article is thought provoking and contains solid argument in favour of secularism. Mr. Digvijaya Singh narrated the background of communal forces. By publishing these kinds of debates, you are doing a yeoman service. Mr. M.R.Venkatesh conducted the interview in a non-partisan manner. He deserves appreciation. A.Gopanna, Edtior, Desiyamurasu

from:  A. Gopanna
Posted on: Jul 18, 2013 at 17:53 IST

Kudos to THC for initiating such a mind-blowing debate. I agree with Mr. Chari on defining the term 'secular'. Politician use it very carelessly which creates confusion among the masses. Indeed, India and Indians are secular, but lack of clarity and understanding of the political class over the definition leads to loggerheads between followers of two different religions.

from:  Rohit
Posted on: Jul 18, 2013 at 12:59 IST

The idea put forwad by the two leaders are very good, but how can secularism be implemented? There is no clear answer given in the discussion. In all countries there are issues like this, distinctions made acording to the majority,minority, sectorwise, castewise etc. Only good governance can overcome this.

from:  S. N. Pillai
Posted on: Jul 18, 2013 at 10:16 IST

This is a great effort on the part of THC. If India is a secular country now, was it a communal/theocratic country before Partition? Was not India partitioned on communal lines? Gandhi did oppose it but ultimately gave in. Noble goals need to be backed up by the society at large. Why does a secular India need to have separate civil laws for Muslims? Who re-opened the Ayodhya mandir issue? Who amended the laws after the Shah Bano case? Was it not a "secular" Rajiv Gandhi? India is secular. not because of Gandhi/Nehru/the Congress, but because of the secular Hindu ethos. Whosoever is at the top of the ruling party cannot change this.

from:  Jay
Posted on: Jul 18, 2013 at 00:31 IST

Though Chari's comments quite obviously supports the BJP, he also talks some sense. Digvijaya, on the other hand, has said nothing but talk against the BJP.

from:  Krishnaraj
Posted on: Jul 17, 2013 at 19:35 IST

Mr. Singh has answered everything in terms of the BJP and the Sangh, whereas the title was only "Secularism and Nation Building". Even this interview has been polluted with politics. At least Mr. Chari is clear in his replies.

from:  Hitesh Jain
Posted on: Jul 17, 2013 at 16:48 IST

I do not understand why "Hindutva" is being raised when there is a discussion on Secularism and not any other religious forms. We have seen many parties indulging themselves in "minority - tatva"; since their inception to appease the voters and get to power. The need of the hour is a clear government and a leader who can give us an unbiased form of rule.

from:  Vinay S.
Posted on: Jul 17, 2013 at 16:22 IST

This is an excellent idea. Serious subjects are not done justice to in TV studios, where the BJP and the Congress spokesmen start yelling at each other. The issue of secularism and nationalism is looked at very differently and this stems from the evolution of the two parties and their differing ideologies. The response from Mr. Chari and Mr. Singh show how each approaches the subject. The underpinnings of the Congress stem from an Oxford educated Nehru, who used the British model. On the other hand, the BJP draws from its RSS and Hindu base that religion and State do not have to be separated. This debate will be hot throughout the 2014 elections and beyond. The Hindu Centre has made an excellent beginning.

from:  Sridhar
Posted on: Jul 16, 2013 at 22:52 IST

Very interesting debate. The very idea of secularism is not a fight between the Congress and the BJP. The question is also not who will lead the 2014 elections, the major question is who has a vision. The BJP may be communal and the Congress may be secular, but now India wants a leader who can stand apart from the politics of religion and caste and vote and deliver.

from:  Amit Shrivastava
Posted on: Jul 16, 2013 at 15:43 IST

It is a very good debate on secularism and nation building. Mr. Chari seems to be quite clear in his thinking.

from:  Prafull
Posted on: Jul 15, 2013 at 23:08 IST

First time I saw [The Hindu Centre] THC. Very glad. Read the words of Mr.Chari and Mr.Singh. Mr.Chari is the right person to be invited by THC.

from:  Chandrakanth Pandith
Posted on: Jul 14, 2013 at 21:17 IST

Hinduism as defined by the Supreme Court is a way of life. This has nothing to do with religion. It is because of broadminded Hindus that even the so-called minorities in India are safe and free to follow their religion. The Congress has always been appeasing based on religion.

from:  Manish
Posted on: Jul 13, 2013 at 18:47 IST

Religion plays no role in India's quest for development. Our Constitution embodies the idea of "working for all" and this should be respected by the political parties as well as the people of India.

from:  Ashwin Srivastava
Posted on: Jul 12, 2013 at 11:21 IST

I congratulate The Hindu Centre for initiating a debate on secularism and nation building. Both leaders dwelt on the issue well and I found their set of arguments interesting. Though Mr. Digvijaya Singh was not off track in his arguments, Mr. Seshadri Chari was the clearer and intellectually stronger of the two.

from:  Dr. Akshat Mehta
Posted on: Jul 11, 2013 at 12:24 IST

I am impressed by both the authors. I would like to take facts from both the authors. I feel there is no need to introduce secularism in our constitution. I feel Hinduism is a way of life and not a religion. Yes there has been religious riots in our country which is indeed very sad. If you carefully analyzed all the reasons behind you will see economic factors are the reasons for it. I think by selecting Modi BJP has made a huge mistake. It's risk alienating the entire south of the country who are mostly secular. I want an India which accommodates people from all walks of life. The basic criteria for anybody to be a citizen of India is someone who is law abiding , pays his taxes , looks after his family and cares for his environment. These two viewpoints are from two different parties so it is a quite and interesting article.

from:  Venkat
Posted on: Jul 9, 2013 at 19:56 IST

Mr Chari has really opened my eyes and it looks so true when he defines the secularism term and its history. All in all a very healthy tradition started here.

from:  Nishant
Posted on: Jul 9, 2013 at 19:26 IST

Nice interview. We all must understand that secularism is just a trump card used by political parties to appease their vote banks be it Congress or the BJP. They have forgotten the recent trends in the elections the people have given a clear message to all the parties " Perform or Perish".so political parties can no longer hoodwink the voter by claiming to be secular or right wing. As far the state of minorities are concerned the blame must squarely go to the Congress because it is the party that has been in power for most of the period after Independence so what they couldn't do in nearly 40 years how can we expect them to do in the coming years.
The minority can only be alleviated by inclusive development.

from:  Thejo krishna
Posted on: Jul 9, 2013 at 15:49 IST

Let us all come out of votebank divisions and say clearly "India First",thats all about secularism

from:  GLNMurthy
Posted on: Jul 8, 2013 at 17:06 IST

It is informative to hold such interviews and debates. I congratulate you for that. I have some suggestions. 1. Get an expert in the field - say an academic - to tell his views on such core issues. 2. Reintroduce the works of our founding fathers like Ambedkar, on core issues like Secularism, Democracy, Socialism etc. which in fact would be much more clearer. Reintroduce the arguments of our founding fathers on issues like reservation, communalism etc. 3. Interviews need to be flexible. That is, an answer might need more questions to get the idea in a clearer way. For example BJP says about dharma and all, the readers would be interested to know about it clearly. 4. Give space to everyone. Dalits, Adivasis, Minorities, Left, etc.

from:  Roopesh P Raj
Posted on: Jul 8, 2013 at 16:57 IST

A secular state is the only space that offers equality for all its inhabitants. India must strengthen and radiate its secular vision to the region to defeat fundamentalism.

from:  Sohail Zahid
Posted on: Jul 8, 2013 at 13:52 IST

Though the article was thought provoking, it is clear that representatives of the political parties will toe the party line. However, the BJP rakes up the issue of minority appeasement even after the Sachar Committee report, whenever any measure to uplifts Muslims is taken. The very foundation of the BJP is laid on the basis of hatred towards minorities as is evident from the numerous statements from the Sangh, the BJP's mentor. The recent example of the BJP's policy towards minorities, specially Muslims, lies in the cases emerging out of Gujarat.

from:  Kamath Kumar
Posted on: Jul 8, 2013 at 13:01 IST

Good thoughts, but I think in our nation the debate is taken now only in one direction. There is a lot of debate on Narendra Modi and secularism. But why is the media not asking other questions, like how much good development Narendra Modi has done in Gujarat. What are the Congress party's plans for the future? Will it also choose development? The debate is only on secularism. Why not talk about development also?

from:  Kamal
Posted on: Jul 8, 2013 at 11:58 IST

Great initiative. Thought provoking. What a difference between Seshadri Chari and Digvijaya Singh. Seems like Singh cannot answer any question without starting with the BJP and ending with the BJP. Chari seems to have real knowledge on such crucial questions. His answers are professional without offending anybody. As usual Singh's answers are political and with the single motive of offending the BJP at every opportunity. Thank you very much THC.

from:  Santhosh
Posted on: Jul 7, 2013 at 22:04 IST

Digvijaya Singh accuses the BJP of not having elections in that party. What is the score of the Congress in this regard? Seshadri Chari claims that the BJP is upholding the development card. Then why this Ayodhya card by Amit Shah and its endorsement by Rajnath Singh? As to the political style of Modi, it has the resonance of Hitler's style. He exploited the hatred between two communities to his advantage. The police officers in Modi's government, in order to please the Chief Minister, cooked up stories and fabricated fake encounters. Before that, in 2002, the entire law and order machinery stood mute witness to the savagery of communal forces. The Chief Minister found that it suits his expansion of vote banks. The same technique was used by Hitler.

from:  Babu T.
Posted on: Jul 7, 2013 at 20:05 IST

Appreciate the efforts by The Hindu Centre to enable this discussion. However, reading the answers, I believe a more open-minded person from the Congress would have been great. Seshadri Chari's response is very relevant to the question posed and seems intellectually motivated. On the other hand, although Digvijaya Singh starts with a short response to the question, the rest of his answer resorts to political and ideological bashing, which I, for one, have grown tired of listening to again and again. The questions seem to have intellectual and, to some extent, ideological components to them. Would have been great if the Congress candidate had taken that into account.

from:  Rohan Shinde
Posted on: Jul 7, 2013 at 15:43 IST

One of the fundamentals of a political party in a country as vast as India is to have a steady membership base, a strong and active, disciplined cadre. I see this as one of the biggest shortcomings of the Congress party. This can be observed from a careful reading of the views of Digivjaya Singh. They emanate from a person who has experience ruling from the top. I am not sure if I should add this but there seems to be a strange bite in his opinion towards the Sangh. This is belittling the larger and more apt issue of secularism and its meaning. I think Seshadri Chari is right in articulating the political consciousness of the BJP though he has been a little hesitant to acknowledge the influence of the teachings of the Sangh on the BJP. It is easier to understand and accept that people trained in the culture of the Sangh are bound to be shaped to a certain extent by its ideology even in the current political mix. But is that the only reality? Is it all about the success of the Sangh? No.

from:  Prashant Anand
Posted on: Jul 7, 2013 at 14:00 IST

I liked the stance taken on the questions and the reasons given by Mr. Chari more that what Mr. Digvijay Singh was trying to say. I think we can't define secularism in perspective to the politics especially in the context of a country like India. Anybody who follows any religion can't be secular because the influence of that religion on him will compel him to follow that religion, unless he has some space for the other religion and has same respect as he has for his own religion.

from:  Amardeep Kumar
Posted on: Jul 7, 2013 at 13:26 IST

I am not surprised that on the whole Mr. Chari scores over Mr. Singh. When you bring in the topic of Ayodhya, I am reminded that it was Rajiv Gandhi who rejuvenated the issue. Once that was done, what followed was inevitable.

from:  Hilary Pais
Posted on: Jul 7, 2013 at 10:47 IST

It is wrong to trace secularism to England in the 16th and 17th centuries; what happened then was the Protestantism and that laid the ground for industrial capitalism. Don't forget the fate that met with the Ranters in general and James Nayler in particular. Oliver Cromwell had an agenda and it was anything but secularism. Secularism in India is clearly laid out in the Constitution and Chari is wrong to say that it is undefined. Justice Ahmadi traces this in the S. R. Bommai case and a majority in the bench agreed with that. It was not a mere insertion in 1976. Mahatma Gandhi is invoked by both Chari and Singh: the irony is not lost. One belongs to a legacy that assassinated Bapu and another to a legacy that claimed Bapu's legacy after having deserted him while he was alive. I think we need to see secularism as integral to democracy and see democracy as rooted in the Republican Constitution whose core is in Articles 14, 19 and 21.

from:  V. Krishna Ananth
Posted on: Jul 7, 2013 at 10:26 IST

From the debate, it's clear whose statements are of relevance. Mr. Singh, please let us know what sort of "elections" the Congress party had to elevate Rahul Gandhi in the party. The Congress only knows how to badmouth others.

from:  Nitya
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 13:40 IST
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