Thursday, April 25, 2024

Religion & Politics Debate


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The debate over whether its right to use religion as a basis for political campaign has been troubling a section of voters who feel that religion is purely personal and should not be used to woo voters. Since 2014 religion has unabashedly been used to win votes. The BJP’s election plank has been to restore Hindu pride which ostensibly has been crushed by repeated Muslim invasions in the 16th century and thereafter resulting in the destruction of Hindu temples or of mosques being constructed atop the razed structures. The Indian Constitution which emerged after very robust debates did not, in the beginning, include the word secular in defining the country. The word ‘secular’ was added to the preamble only in 1975
On November 15, 1948, there were heated debates in the Constituent Assembly on the nature of the Constitution. Some members proposed that the word ‘secular’ be added to the preamble. But after a heated discourse, while the majority of members agreed on the Indian state adhering to secular principles, the word ‘secular’ was dropped from the preamble. It was only included about three decades later, when the Indira Gandhi led government passed the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution in 1975 perhaps to pander to the minority vote bank.While the connection between secularism and effective functioning of democracy is well established in Europe, it becomes problematic for a country like India with contesting religious ideologies. In fact, the Vice President of the Constitution Drafting Committee, HC Mookherjee had raised the point that if India is to establish a purely secular state then it follows that there can be no special recognition of minorities based on religion.
Articles 25-28 of the Indian Constitution allowing “Freedom of religion” or the freedom to promote and propagate the religion of one’s choice therefore appears to contradict the idea of secularism – the ideals of which were embedded in the constitutional philosophy. But doubts have remained about whether the spirit of secularism was possible in a country like India. Since 2014 when the BJP came to power the cry of “Hindu Khatre mein hain” (Hindus are in danger) has gained ground. It was a counter to the Congress’s Muslim appeasement policy. The restoration of the Ram mandir at Ayodhya where a mosque had earlier been built, was one step towards restoration of Hindu pride. Perhaps more is to follow to avenge a historical past including reliance on ancient Hindu texts as against modern scientific knowledge. In Meghalaya, the religious fervour has taken a new turn when the VPP candidate fighting the Lok Sabha election begins his election speech by proclaiming himself a Christian and referring to the Bible. Opponents argue that this action defies the secular nature of the Indian Constitution and that if people take umbrage at the BJP’s use of religion as a political ploy and its attempt at equating Hinduism with nationalism then the VPP is following exactly in those footsteps and endangering the idea of secularism which allows Christianity, a minority religion to flourish. This debate is likely to heighten as the Lok Sabha election campaign progresses.

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