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Iftar Party and Indian Polity: Secular Confusion ?

Paper No. 378                                               20/12/2001

by R.Upadhyay 

Even after over fifty years of Independence, political leaders of India have not learnt any lesson from their secular confusion and have failed to integrate the two major communities emotionally.  The political Iftar parties hosted by 'non-believers' during the just concluded holy month of Ramzan is a unique phenomenon in secular India.  It has reminded the people of this country as to how our politicians are exploiting the religious functions for their vote bank politics.  

I do not know the exact stand of Islamic scriptures about acceptance of Iftar invitations extended by 'non-believers' to the 'believers' but Mufti Mukkarram Ahmed, Shahi Imam of Fatehpuri Masjid, Delhi, who is a well respected Muslim cleric ridiculed such behaviour of the political leaders.   His guidance on Iftar may be an eye opener for Indian Muslims as well as the 'secularists'.  He was quoted in Times of India in its issue dated December 9, 2001 that such Iftars are political 'nautankis' (drama).  He said, "I avoid going for these political 'nautankis', but if I must, I carry my khazoor (dates) to break my fast because you can never be sure of the source of income of these lavish parties that politicians throw and Islam says that what you eat for Iftar must be from halal kamai (honest income)".  

The way Iftar is celebrated by the political leaders justifies the thesis that secularism in India has no relevance beyond its use as a part of vote bank politics.  The Iftar parties hosted by politicians demonstrate more to play politics than to strengthen any emotional unity between Hindus and Muslims in the country.  Symbolic presence of Muslims in political Iftars without religious fervor has become a platform for political hobnobbing. The lavish feasts in the name of religious functions at the cost of public money, which are attended by prominent political leaders and distinguished personalities from a cross section of society cannot create any secular environment.   

By and large, major political players in the country have made it a practice to organise Iftar party during the month of Ramzan and extend invitations to a cross section of political leaders including those belonging to communal parties as well as media men. The non-Muslim hosts even wear the special cap generally put on by the Muslims on this occasion.  It is ridiculous that the occasion is utilised by the political leaders to prove their secular credentials and also for political maneuverings.  However, the 'secular' intellectuals look the other way on such political gimmickry even though such lavish parties at the expense of public money is contrary to the spirit of secularism and democracy.  The rationale behind organising such religious celebrations may be a debatable issue, but one fails to understand as to how such religious programmes fit in the 'secular' frame of Indian politicians.  

For over half a century, the country is witnessing the political gimmickry of the 'secularists'.  A large number of  Indian Muslims  supported the creation of theocratic Pakistan.  They had accepted the two-nation theory during freedom movement and agreed to the division of the country on communal lines.  Even after independence of the country the Communists, Casteists and Congress have been carrying the legacy of Muslim leaders responsible for dividing the country and keeping the people divided between  'secular Islam' and 'communal Hinduism' for their electoral politics.  With their eyes on Muslim votes they do not want the community to develop an independent and a scientific approach towards the democratic polity.  So long as secularism is a political slogan, Indian polity will remain vulnerable.

Secularism, a familiar concept in India is a misnomer.  The term secularism did not find specific mention in the original constitution of the country.   It was incorporated in the Constitution through the 42nd amendment during emergency.  The constitutional spirit of secularism was to infuse secular nationalism in every Indian and provide full safeguards to religious minorities.  

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India saw a danger to his throne from the Hindu nationalists after partition and made secularism a political slogan to contain the growth of the Hindu nationalism.  Known as 'father of secularism in India', he imported this concept from the West but did not follow its western interpretation, which separates state politics from religion.  

Contrary to the spirit of thousands of years of  old Indian scripture - the Rig Veda, which says, "Aa No Bhadrah Kratavo Santu Vishvatah" (Let noble thoughts come to us from every side), Nehru adopted the slogan of 'Sarva Dharma Sambhav' (Equal respect for all the religions) propounded by Mahatma Gandhi.   Welcoming both the followers of monotheistic Islam and Christianity and the polytheistic Hinduism but ensuring special privilege to the religious minorities under article 29 and 30 of the constitution was not rational interpretation of secularism.  It is a contradiction that the Government has a right to manage the Hindu temples but having no such right to manage mosques and churches.  Besides, the Sarva Dharma Sambhav thesis also teaches to tolerate even the intolerants.  In due course of time, tolerance and respect for religious pluralism as interpretation of secularism has undergone an excessive politicisation and as a result this term has become a confusing concept in Indian politics.  

The political slogan of secularism, which gradually made the religion relevant to state affairs encouraged all the political parties to have multi-dimensional interpretation of this term for their political gains.  Though, the Bhartiya Jana Sangh did not incorporate this term in its constitution and was branded as communalists by the Nehruvian secularists, its subsequent incarnation, the Bhartiya Janata Party incorporated the word 'positive secularism' in its party constitution.  This attempt of the BJP was a part of its political strategy to confuse the people.  But since its political rivals did not issue a secular certificate to the party as secularist, their fellow travelers in media continue to treat it as a 'communal' party.  

Opposition to Hindu nationalism and support to Muslim nationalism may not be viewed as rational interpretation of secularism.  Similarly, for 'secularists' telecasting of 'Ramayana', 'Mahabharata' and 'Chanakya' serials were against the secular ethos of the constitution but Iftar parties hosted by political leaders at the cost of public money and Government subsidy for Haj pligrimage are a reflection of secular sentiments.  The 'secularists' amended the Indian constitution to overturn the Supreme Court judgement in Shah Bano case, even though they remained indifferent towards the protests against reform in Hindu Personal Law during the time of Pandit Nehru.  Article 25 of Indian Constitution is very specific that all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.  However, it has not given right to the Government for any preferential treatment to any religion.  Such double standards on the part of the Government and the 'secularists' has been keeping the Indian polity vulnerable for over last fifty years.  

The need of the hour is to instill secular nationalism in the mind of every Indian, which could be possible only through uniform secular education.  Such education however, cannot allow the people to remain divided between minority and majority.  Scientific and modern education without any religious bent of mind except spirituality and emotional attachment with the cultural and glorious traditions of the past could instill secular nationalism among the people.  In fact the concept of nationalism is to generate emotional attachment with the institution of state, which is possible only through the teaching of the glorious history of the country.   

The on going controversy of saffronisation and Talibanisation of education in India could be resolved only through a uniform education code.  Unfortunately, for our 'secular' politicians secularism is the hot issue but secular nationalism hardly finds a place in their political agenda.  Any educational institution, which is a breeding ground for religious fundamentalism and preaches hatred against other religion, cannot instill secular nationalism among its students.  The uniform education code should be binding on educational institutions all over the country.  

(The analysis is based on the personal perception of the writer. E-mail ramashray60@