India’s great secular confusion – Michel Danino

Indian secularism

Prof Michel DaninoIndia’s brand of secularism denies equal rights to a perceived “majority”. It has no roots in the history of the land: the word “secularism” does not exist in any Indian language (except for recent coinages)…. – Prof Michel Danino

India seemingly has armies of self-appointed guardians of secularism, such as those who recently petitioned the Supreme Court to turn Ayodhya’s disputed site to a public purpose (The ‘secular’ solution for Ayodhya) But secularism in India is as enigmatic an animal as the proverbial elephant variously described by blind men: it has been all things to all people.

Indeed, although it frequently figured in the debates of the Constituent Assembly, the word “secularism” did not appear in the 1950 Constitution of India; Nehru was initially cold to it: “Another word is thrown up a good deal, this secular state business. May I beg with all humility those gentlemen who use this word often, to consult some dictionary before they use it? It is brought in at every conceivable step and at every conceivable stage. I just do not understand it.”

His influential minister for Agriculture, P.S. Deshmukh, is on record for questioning “the specious, oft-repeated and nauseating principle of secularity of the state. I think that we are going too far in this business of secularity.” Nauseating or not, the principle was parachuted into the Constitution by the 42nd amendment of 1976 (promulgated during the Emergency), which turned India from a “sovereign democratic republic” to a “sovereign, socialist secular democratic republic.” But there was a catch: “secularism” was left undefined, which is uncharacteristic of Constitutional amendments.

If so, we should expect it to have the conventional meaning. Let us therefore heed Nehru’s advice and turn to our dictionaries: “The principle of separation of the state from religious institutions,” says the Oxford Dictionary; “indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations,” adds the Webster.

The former definition reflects the expulsion of Christianity from state matters which European nations opted for (to varying degrees) from the eighteenth century onward; also of Islam by Turkey in 1923. Was such a concept ever relevant to the Indian context, where compulsion in matters of religion and belief is repulsive to the ethos of the land? No Jain, Buddhist or Hindu king or emperor, to my knowledge, ever imposed a “state religion”; nor was India the scene of “religious wars,” whatever doctrinal frictions there may have been. Even those Islamic rulers who declared their intention to draw India into Dar al-Islam failed in the end.

Besides, the same Constitution which declares all Indians equal irrespective of their religion, caste or gender, proceeds, in Articles 28 and 29, to give religious and linguistic minorities the right to manage their places of worship and educational institutions. The civil code, too, is religion-specific as regards marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc.

This is anti-secular on the face of it. How do we get out of this embarrassing situation? By what I call a “sleight of word”—by declaring that “secularism” actually means something else: for instance, equidistance from, or neutrality towards, all religions (which is not the case), tolerance (why not use this word, then?), or perhaps some combination of atheism, rationalism and agnosticism (why not those words?).

Strictly speaking, then, India’s brand of secularism denies equal rights to a perceived “majority”. It has no roots in the history of the land: the word “secularism” does not exist in any Indian language (except for recent coinages); more importantly, “India has all along been trying experiments in evolving a social unity within which all the different peoples could be held together, while fully enjoying the freedom of maintaining their own differences. … This has produced something like a United States of a social federation, whose common name is Hinduism,” wrote the impeccably secular Rabindranath Tagore in his 1917 essays on nationalism.

Already expressed in Ashoka’s Edicts and many classical texts, this mix of integration, mutual respect and “full freedom” could, or perhaps should, have produced an Indian alternative to the European concept by building on the land’s long experiments in religious coexistence.

Instead, secularism has been a source of endless controversy and bitter feelings. As Taslima Nasrin once declared, “Most secular people are pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu. They protest against the acts of Hindu fundamentalists and defend the heinous acts of Muslim fundamentalists.” Or to quote the respected advocate, statesman, educationist and litterateur K.M. Munshi: “The word ‘secularism’ in India has no bearing on the attitude and conduct of individuals nor of religious groups. However, it has been used as a slogan of varying significance. In its name, anti-religious forces, sponsored by secular humanism or Communism, condemn religious piety, particularly in the majority community. In its name, minorities are immune from such attention and have succeeded in getting their demands, however unreasonable, accepted. In its name, again, politicians in power adopt a strange attitude which, while it condones the susceptibilities, religious and social, of the minority communities, is too ready to brand similar susceptibilities in the majority community as communalistic and reactionary. How secularism sometimes become allergic to Hinduism will be apparent from certain episodes relating to the reconstruction of Somanath temple. These unfortunate postures have been creating a sense of frustration in the majority community.”

By another sleight of word, such a statement would be viewed as “communal” today. But whether this “majority” really exists or is a construct deserves our attention. So does the important application of secularism to the world of education. – The New Indian Express, 19 March 2018

» Michel Danino is a guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar and a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research.




The ‘secular’ solution for Ayodhya – Michel Danino

Ayodhya Graphic

Prof Michel DaninoTeesta Setalvad’s petition in the Supreme Court, which tries to dispute the massive archaeological, epigraphic and literary evidence supporting the existence of a Hindu temple beneath the Babri Masjid, makes no mention of repeated pleas by smaller Muslim groups to hand over the site to Hindus, since it has no particular religious value for Islam. – Prof Michel Danino

The long dispute between claimants to the site of Ram Janmabhumi and the erstwhile Babri Masjid in Ayodhya seems to be inching towards a conclusion in India’s Supreme Court. How far the litigants will be satisfied by a final judgment on the ownership of the crucial plot of land remains unclear. Meantime, did the Chief Justice of India on February 8 miss a golden opportunity to resolve the conflict innovatively, when he refused to hear a petition filed on behalf of the NGO “Citizens of Peace and Justice” by 32 “public-spirited citizens” such as Teesta Setalvad, Shyam Benegal, Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy and John Dayal?

What was the gist of the petition? Actually an old argument: the Ayodhya developments have posed such “a serious threat to the secular fabric of the country” that the dispute cannot be regarded as an ordinary land issue. To save the country from a communal conflagration, the Court is asked to “direct that the disputed site be used for a non-religious public use.” However, while brushing the petition aside for the moment, the Chief Justice said he wanted the dispute to be treated “as a land issue,” hinting that it would be solely decided on the merits of the title to the disputed plot.But what if the petition were to be taken seriously? Let us consider the implications.

There is enormous historical evidence—from Islamic chronicles, inscriptions and archaeological remains—that thousands of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples were destroyed by Islamic invaders from the 11th century onward. Delhi’s Qutub Complex, for instance, was built by Qutb-ud-din Aibak out of the remains of 27 destroyed Hindu and Jain temples. Varanasi’s Gyanvapi Mosque erected by Aurangzeb sits on the erstwhile Kashi Vishvanath Temple, remains of which are still visible (the 19th-century Orientalist James Prinsep left a fine lithograph of them).

Aurangzeb also had Mathura’s Krishna Janmabhumi Complex destroyed, with the Shahi-Eidgah Mosque built over parts of its remains. And so on. Let us assume that in the name of secular wisdom Ayodhya’s disputed site is indeed turned into a public space. Very likely, Hindutva organisations would go back to their list of potential hotspots (starting with Varanasi and Mathura) and launch fresh agitations. All would depend on whether those were sufficiently sustained and intense. If they pass the test, Ayodhya’s “secular solution” would serve as a very useful precedent: should not the newly disputed mosques be converted to hospitals, schools or such like? One after another, thousands of mosques across India could thus experience the delights of secularisation. Hindutva organisations would not recover the underlying temples, but the public would considerably benefit in terms of public health and education, a prospect every progressive Muslim should rejoice in.

But why stop at mosques? Ananda Ranga Pillai in his Diary recorded the destruction in 1748 of Pondicherry’s large Vedapuriswar Temple; at Goa, the historian A. K. Priolkar listed the destruction of 34 temples, some later overbuilt with churches; there have been persistent arguments that Chennai’s Santhome Cathedral stands over Mylapore’s original Kapaliswar Temple. Should some of the churches become candidates to secularisation too?

And why stop at India? Christendom is replete with churches built over destroyed Pagan sites. In the late first millennium, Muslims conquering Spain erected mosques over churches; Christians promptly reconverted them after their reconquest. (Although Spanish Muslims have asked the Roman Catholic Church to let them pray at Córdoba’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, earlier known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba, the Vatican seems in no mood to grant their request!) And what if orthodox Jews started agitating for the removal or reconversion of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock Mosque? Its location was that of the Jewish Second Temple, which the Romans destroyed to erect a temple of their own; later, one or several churches were built over it, before Islam swept by. Perhaps orthodox Jews should demand thorough excavations, and, were their claim to be established, could ask the building to be put to some “secular” use.

The potential unleashed by our 32 self-appointed guardians of secularism appears limitless. Should we rejoice at this formula? And if not, why reserve it for Ayodhya? All the above examples—not even the tip of a global iceberg—are inherent to the history of aggressive, conquering religions. Unsurprisingly, that history has more often than not been sanitized or swept under the carpet—a mistake in my view, as we stand to benefit hugely from an honest look at the unvarnished past and its darker chapters.

Strangely, the petition in the Supreme Court, which clumsily tries to dispute the massive archaeological, epigraphic and literary evidence supporting the existence of a large Hindu temple beneath the Babri Masjid, makes no mention of repeated pleas by smaller Muslim groups to hand over the site to Hindus, since it has no particular religious value for Islam. Or of last November’s proposal by Uttar Pradesh’s Shia Central Waqf Board chairman Waseem Rizvi to let a “grand Ram temple” be built at the disputed site, in exchange for a mosque at Lucknow. Such formulas, coupled with a goodwill agreement that there would be no future claims to other sites, would be a far more promising road to a final solution for this centuries-old conflict and to true reconciliation.

Since, meanwhile, the petition is loud on India’s “secular and tolerant ethos,” which it sees under threat from Hindu activism (and no other), we need to cast a critical look at the concept and practice of secularism in India, both in the polity and in education. – The New Indian Express, 26 March 2018

» Michel Danino is a guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar and a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple

Why Ambedkar didn’t want the ‘S’ words in the Constitution – Aravindan Neelakandan

B. R. Ambedkar

Aravindan NeelakandanIn 1976 during that darkest hour of Indian democracy—the Emergency—when India was spiralling down into an abyss of fascism under a socialist Congress’s rule, the 42nd Amendment was made, which slipped “secular” and “socialist” into the Preamble. – Aravindan Neelakandan

On 15 November 1948 at the Constituent Assembly debate in Parliament, a member, Prof K. T. Shah from Bihar moved an Amendment to the original Preamble statement. He insisted that the words, “Secular, Federal, Socialist” be inserted into the statement. In a detailed reply, B. R. Ambedkar justified why he did not include the words “secular” and “socialist” in the Preamble:

Sir, I regret that I cannot accept the amendment of Prof. K. T. Shah. My objections, stated briefly are two. In the first place the Constitution, as I stated in my opening speech in support of the motion I made before the House, is merely a mechanism for the purpose of regulating the work of the various organs of the State. It is not a mechanism where by particular members or particular parties are installed in office. What should be the policy of the State, how the Society should be organised in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances. It cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself, because that is destroying democracy altogether. If you state in the Constitution that the social organisation of the State shall take a particular form, you are, in my judgment, taking away the liberty of the people to decide what should be the social organisation in which they wish to live. It is perfectly possible today, for the majority people to hold that the socialist organisation of society is better than the capitalist organisation of society. But it would be perfectly possible for thinking people to devise some other form of social organisation which might be better than the socialist organisation of today or of tomorrow. I do not see therefore why the Constitution should tie down the people to live in a particular form and not leave it to the people themselves to decide it for themselves. This is one reason why the amendment should be opposed.

Then Ambedkar remarked:

The second reason is that the amendment is purely superfluous.

However, in 1976 during that darkest hour of Indian democracy—the Emergency—when India was spiralling down into an abyss of fascism under a socialist Congress’s rule, the 42nd Amendment was made, which slipped “secular” and “socialist” into the Preamble. In other words, it was the addition of the words, the very words explicitly rejected by the main architect of the Constitution, which was sacrilegious; it was certainly against the spirit and sanctity of the Constitution. If anything, we need to undo this attack on the original draft of the Constitution and restore the original draft of Ambedkar. That would take into account the freedom of generations to come as well as the future of evolution of our social institutions, not caring for the frivolous fashion statements of political rhetoric shorn of substance. – Swarajya, Jan 28, 2015

» Aravindan Neelakandan is a contributing editor at Swarajya. This article is an abridgement of the original article in Swarajya.

Indira Gandhi, whose Indian National Congress government enacted the 42nd Amendment in 1976, during the Emergency.
Warning sign in New Delhi during Indira Gandhi's dictatorship (1975 to 1977)


What about our ‘socialist secular’ Constitution? – R. Jagannathan

Anant Kumar Hegde

R. JagannathanSecularism is a European import meaning separation of church and state. However, even this is stretching the truth. The reality is that church and state have never really been formally separated in some European states. The Queen of England is head of state and the Church of England, and the Pope is both head of state and religious head of the Vatican, with his own representation in the UN. – R. Jagannathan 

Union Minister of State for Skill Development, Anant Kumar Hegde’s injudicious remarks on secularism and the Constitution, sparked a feigned outrage in parliament, leading to an abject apology by the minister.

But one wonders whether there was much for him to apologise about, barring the use of language that was open to misinterpretation.

What Hegde said, according to a report in The Indian Express, was the following: “A few people say the Constitution mentions the word secular, so you have to agree. Because it’s there in the Constitution, we will respect it, but this will change in the near future. The Constitution has changed many times before. We are here and have come to change the Constitution. We will change it.”

Then he said: “There is a new culture now of secularists. If someone says I am a Muslim, or I am a Christian, or I am a Lingayat, or I am a Hindu, I feel very happy because he knows his roots. But these people who call themselves secularists, I don’t know what to call them.” He called secularists “people without parentage”.

While it is not my job to interpret what Hegde really meant when he said all this, some statements can hardly be called objectionable. To say that something is there in the Constitution and for that reason I will respect it, is hardly treason. You respect the law even if you don’t agree with it. To say that things in the Constitution can be changed, too, is hardly treasonous. In fact, the word “secular” itself was inserted into the Constitution after Indira Gandhi had jailed all opposition leaders in 1975-76. The word is an interloper, and was never there in the Constitution drafted by Team Ambedkar.

India is a plural country, and secularism is a European import meaning separation of church and state. However, even this is stretching the truth. The reality is that church and state have never really been formally separated in some European states. The Queen of England is head of state and the Church of England, and the Pope is both head of state and religious head of the Vatican, with his own representation in the UN. As recently as six years ago, the European Court of Human Rights said that crucifixes on school walls were not violative of the rights of non-Christian students to a religiously neutral classroom setting. The judgement said “a crucifix on a wall was an essentially passive symbol whose influence on pupils was not comparable to that of didactic speech or participation in religious activities.”

America, again a supposedly secular state, demands the right to impose its version of “freedom of religion” on other nations, which means the right to proselytise. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom is headed by a Jesuit – which means the US government indirectly asks a Catholic to supervise its version of religious freedom. How secular is that?

Even leaving aside the reality of subtle non-separation of church and state in America and parts of Europe, the “secularism” preached and practised in India does not even conform to the European ideal. Our “secularism” is meant to be “equal respect” or equidistant from all religions. But has this been the reality? What then gives the state the right to run Hindu religious affairs and endowments (over 100,000 temples are run by state-appointed nominees in the south, including atheists), and impose legislation like the Right to Education only on majority-run schools? If this is what Indian “secularism” is all about, why should it not be changed or amended?

Then, Hegde talked about people describing themselves as Hindus, Christians or Muslims or even Lingayats, since it meant a person “knows his roots. But these people who call themselves secularists, I don’t know what to call them.”

One can fault Hegde on his choice of words, but isn’t he referring to deracinated Indians, cut off from their roots, rather than “secularists” as such?

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor uses Hegde’s choice of words to say the cat is out of the bag, since it exposes the Sangh Parivar’s move to make India an “Hindu rashtra”. He thus quotes from the late Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief M. S. Golwalkar and BJP icon Deendayal Upadhyaya, to suggest that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s real agenda is “Hindu rashtra”.

He quotes from Upadhyay’s critiques of the Constitution to show that it is all about Hindutva. In an article in ThePrint, Tharoor quotes Upadhyaya’s critique of the Indian Constitution: “We aped the foreigners to such an extent that we failed to see that our inherent national ideals and traditions should be reflected in our Constitution. We satisfied ourselves with making a patchwork of theories and principles enunciated by foreign countries…. The result was that our national culture and traditions were never reflected in these ideologies borrowed from elsewhere and so they utterly failed to touch the chords of our national being.”

“Having rejected its premise, Upadhyaya was scathing about the Constitution’s drafting and adoption: a nation, he argued, ‘is not like a club which can be started or dissolved. A nation is not created by some crores of people passing a resolution and defining a common code of behaviour binding on all its members. A certain mass of people emerges with an inherent motivation. It is,’ he added with a Hindu analogy, ‘like the soul adopting the medium of the body.’”

Tharoor also critiqued Golwalkar’s and Upadhyaya’s refusal to conflate nationalism with the territory of India. He is surely wrong here, for nationhood and territorial loyalties are not co-terminous: a sense of nation and community can transcend borders (as is the case with the Islamic Umma, or the loyalties of Catholics to the Pope, who rules another state). So, while Hindu nationalism is largely geographical in nature since all our holy places are in South Asia, this is not the global norm. So, if Golwalkar and Upadhyaya wanted to redefine Hinduism beyond geography, Tharoor should be critiquing the extra-national loyalties of the Abrahamic religions too.

As for our Constitution, it is more than obvious that its ideas are borrowed from all over. This is not wrong in itself, for good ideas must flow from everywhere, but when these ideas are not co-mingled with the culture of the country they are intended for, they will not find resonance. This was what Upadhyaya probably was referring to.

The Indian Constitution, as it now stands, is a sordid compromise between high ideals and cheap vote-bank politics. The preamble is sublime, but when every other high principle and key articles are contradicted by sub-clauses (the freedom of speech has umpteen exclusions), and when the Constitution has already been amended over a 100 times, and 40-plus more amendments have been numbered for passing at some time in the future, one wonders what is left of the original. Even a fundamental right called the right to property is gone, and inserted into the Constitution (or new meanings read into it) are clauses that were never there in the original: for example, “secular, socialist”, or the right of a collegium of the Supreme Court to appoint all upper judiciary judges without basic reference to the executive.

If anybody mangled the Constitution out of shape, it is largely the Congress. Why pretend that Anantkumar Hegde is trying to burn this book? – Swarajya, 30 December 2017

R. Jagannathan is Editorial Director of Swarajya.

Constitution of India
Preamble to the Indian Constitution


Why secularism in India lost its meaning – David Frawley

Congress Secularism

Vamadeva Shastri / David FrawleyIndia’s secularism became a form of communalism in disguise. … India’s secularism became synonymous with the idea that everything Hindu is bad and everything anti-Hindu is secular and good, extending even to Christian missionaries or Islamic jihad. India’s secularism can accommodate the Shari’ah or the Vatican, but not the Vedas or the Gita. – Dr David Frawley

The era during which the Nehruvian idea of secularism dominated India’s political discourse and dictated the country’s national narrative is definitely over. This opens the floodgates to real insight, vision and exploration about what India truly is, its great civilisation since ancient times, and its possible leading role in the knowledge-oriented world today.


The idea of secularism in India was not necessarily entirely bad to begin with. That a country of such religious and cultural diversity should not be driven by an exclusive theistic belief—such as motivated European secularists to counter Christian theocracy—did not at face value seem wrong, particularly to educated minds in India who aspired perhaps more than anything to be progressive.

The problem begins with the fact that such an idea of secularism is out of context in India, in which the dominant culture has been pluralistic and never theocratic, hegemonic or conquest-oriented. Theocratic-driven and supported armies invaded India but never represented its indigenous culture or dominant civilisation. They were the basis of colonialism and foreign rule that came to an end with the Independence of the country.

India’s adoption of secularism began with this dissonant note of a secular agenda from Europe that only created confusion in the Indian discourse. India needed a full national awakening from foreign rule, freeing both the land and the minds of its people, and casting off the centuries long denigration of its civilisation that attempted to destroy its heritage.

Unfortunately, this new idea of secularism in India worked to continue the oppression of the Indic mind and heart that had spread from such foreign rulers as Mahmud of Ghazni to Queen Victoria. Secularism, as it developed in India, represented another form of Eurocentric thinking that perpetrated the Western cultural assault on India.

In India, secularism became opposed to an opposite idea of communalism, identified with everything bad, with secularism as the highest good. Again, the idea of rejecting communalism does not at surface value sound bad. It suggests standing against divisive forces driven by theocratic-based compulsions of conversion and conquest. But such a threat of communalism as in Europe and West Asia was not relevant to India’s dharmic civilisation either, with its syncretic trends and unbroken continuity of culture.

Also, unfortunately, Europe’s new secular states, like Britain, were happy to support conversion agendas as a matter of foreign policy as much as they might question religious authority in their own countries, a policy that has continued even from the US. Conversion was justified in promoting the “civilising” forces of the West.


The result was that India’s secularism became a form of communalism in disguise. It continued colonial agendas of keeping Hindu, Buddhist and dharmic traditions divided, discredited and suppressed. India’s secularism became synonymous with the idea that everything Hindu is bad and everything anti-Hindu is secular and good, extending even to Christian missionaries or Islamic jihad. India’s secularism can accommodate the Shari’ah or the Vatican, but not the Vedas or the Gita.

India’s secularism was further recast in a Leftist format that had also its origins and more appropriate place in Europe, invented for countering imperialism of which India was a victim, not a representative. India’s secularism quickly became a subterfuge for a larger Leftist agenda, allied with communism, the erstwhile Soviet Union and Communist China as role models for proper secular nations.

Secular views of India’s history became a mask for far-Left distortions and an attempt to cut Indians off from their own greater civilisational ethos, to which was added the new defamation of India’s culture as being anti-secular, on top of the old charges of heathen, kafir, idolatrous and superstitious.

In India, it became a sin not to be secular, an idea that journalists and academics were particularly infected with. And being secular could also provide forgiveness for all other sins and shortcomings, something that corrupt politicians could use to redeem themselves and justify their scams.


This means that a post-secular India is the same as India in the post-Marxist, post-Nehruvian era. Post-secular India is India in the time during which the hegemony of the Congress in the country is over.

How do we define this post-secular era? It is not a new communal era, but the end of the secular promotion of communal divisions as electoral vote-banks. It is India completing its Independence movement by reaffirming its own civilisational identity. Post-secular India is the era of a New India, which is a renewed India or awakened Bharat. Such an India is beyond the right-left, secular-communal dualities of Western politics and reaffirms its own dharmic values and yogic culture.

Certainly there was a great effort to create such an awakened India during the Independence era itself by such inspired thinkers as Vivekananda and Aurobindo, but it fell short and became obscured by the Nehruvian secular socialist agenda that aimed to shut it down as an electoral threat to the new Congress dynastic rule.

As the darkness of this contrived and manipulative view of secularism gets removed, there is now space for India to emerge once more as a nation, culture, and civilisation in its own right, not a shadow of the very foreign ideologies and theocracies that have long been trying to subvert it. This is not only of tremendous value to the country but of inestimable value to the world that needs a different model of country, religion, and civilisation than current conflicting forms. The wisdom of India’s rishis and yogis remains relevant for India and for all humanity. – Daily-O, 8 September 2017

Secularism of Congress


Nehru, not progeny, is the problem, Mr Guha! – Punarvasu Parekh

Jawaharlal Nehru was the archetypical Indian brown sahib

IconA society divided and unsure of itself, an economy grossly performing far below its potential for decades, a large but powerless nation in the world, a country at odds with its own roots—that is the legacy Nehru left, for which we are now expected to feel suitably indebted. – Punarvasu Parekh

President Ram Nath Kovind’s pointed omission of Jawaharlal Nehru and his progeny in his first presidential speech to parliamentarians has not gone down well with Congressmen and other secularists. Congressmen have availed of this opportunity to exhibit once again their loyalty to their first family, while some secularists have sought to remind us of Nehru’s greatness, such as it was. Court historian Ramachandra Guha  (“Rescue Nehru from his descendants”, The Hindustan Times, 30 July 2017) argues that Nehru’s legacy should be separated from mistakes and misdeeds of his progeny and respected properly with due gratefulness.

Essentially, the argument is that “Nehru contributed enormously to the making of modern India, by promoting universal adult franchise, linguistic and religious pluralism, and modern science. However, the actions of his descendants have deeply damaged his reputation.”

Guha is wrong on both the counts. Nehru’s contribution to the modern India is largely negative, and his descendants have only followed the lead given by him, though in a more crass and cynical manner.

Nehru’s biggest failure was his inability to appreciate the role played by Hinduism in defining and unifying India. He borrowed, through Marx, the colonial view of Indian society, Indian history and Indian civilisation. According to this view, Indian society is a loose conglomeration of disparate groups divided along every conceivable line (caste, community, ethnicity, language, religion, wealth and income, to mention a few) which is struggling to evolve some principle of unity. For him, this ancient land with a glorious civilisation running through millennia was a “nation in the making”. India’s history, according to this view, is a record of its conquest by successive groups of marauding invaders. To Nehru, Indian civilisation, at least at practical level, was a hotchpotch of irrational superstitions, empty rituals and meaningless metaphysics.

This view of India (now glibly flaunted as Idea of India) is not unexpected in a man who said that “by education I am an Englishman, by views an internationalist, by culture a Muslim and I am a Hindu only by accident of birth.” Nehru failed to see the cultural and spiritual unity reigning supreme over social divisions, a unity which makes it imperative to read Indian history as a vast and variegated narrative of a single people through the ages, and Indian civilisation as an elastic but unbreakable bond that held its people together despite their mind-boggling social diversity. No wonder he came to the conclusion that “to talk of Hindu culture would injure India’s interest. The ideology of Hindu Dharma is completely out of tune with present times and if it took roots in India it would smash the country to pieces.”

This suspicion of and disdain for everything that was Hindu propelled him to strenuously oppose India’s return to her roots after independence, saying that he did not want India to become a “Hindu Pakistan”, whereas, in fact, it was he who behaved like a Muslim monarch ruling over a Hindu kingdom.

Nehru is said to have promoted pluralism through secularism. However, Nehru’s secularism was an alien concept borrowed from the West, divorced from Indian tradition of respect for other viewpoints. Owing to his defective view of Indian society, history and civilisation (not to mention vote bank politics), secularism turned into a united front of anti-Hindu ideologies (Islam, Christianity, Communism) and became a powerful tool to suppress Hindu aspirations.

Nehru’s admirers project him as a world class visionary. They should explain why his foreign policy was such a disaster. His handling of the challenges posed by Pakistan and China was inept, to put it mildly. His quest for glory on the global stage led him to set up a talking shop of beggars better known as the Non-Aligned Movement and isolated India from countries that could and would have helped her in areas that mattered. It was no surprise that after four decades of that foreign policy, India stood friendless, voiceless and insignificant in the comity of nations.

As the late Girilal Jain observed so perceptively in his The Hindu Phenomenon, under Nehru’s influence we mis-defined the nature of the Indian state on several fronts. “Nehru saw himself as an arbiter between rival camps in the Cold War in disregard of the horror that was communism, just as he saw himself as an arbiter between Hindus and Muslims in the country. Obviously, the cost on both counts has been quite heavy. If non-alignment has meant isolation of India from true centres of power in our era, secularism has meant the moral disarmament of Hindus. Pakistan and China could not have posed the threat they have to our security if we had made common cause with the West and the Muslim problem would not have remained wholly unresolved if we had not mis-defined the nature of the Indian state”. (p.13)

Modi’s India is struggling to correct that mistake, however clumsily and ineptly, and that has rattled the secularist class.

Guha suggests that universal adult suffrage was Nehru’s gift to India. That is like suggesting that the sun rises because the cock crows. Nehruvians have long flaunted their democratic credentials. But their record is one of nepotism and lust for power. Their stranglehold on Congress has vitiated our polity.

The manner in which Nehru managed to sideline Sardar Patel to become Congress president in 1930 and prime minister in 1946 should put paid to his love for democracy. No doubt as prime minister he showed respect to his party colleagues, but then they were stalwarts in their own right, having risen from the ranks and passed through the crucible of the freedom struggle. They did not owe their rise and survival in politics to Nehru’s sufferance. Also, Nehru never missed an opportunity to cut his potential rivals to size. Witness the Kamraj Plan.

Nehru’s social policies have proved divisive and disruptive. Even at the height of his popularity, this votary of modernity did not oppose caste-based reservations. Nor did he dare touch the Muslim personal law while driving the Hindu code bill. Like an ordinary politician, he chose the line of least resistance. That is the not the mark of a visionary.

Nehru nurtured a deep hostility to private enterprise. In an effort to control this “evil”, he handed over the economy to control-minded planners and corrupt bureaucrats. The planned economy stifled innovation, discouraged enterprise and punished initiative.

Many people credit him with promoting science and scientific temper, but the bureaucratic state and restrictive policies suffocated growth and prompted migration of people of talent, either in industry or science. Indians prospered everywhere except in India, and Nobel Prize in Science was won by Indians who had left the country for good years ago to pursue research.

Nehru’s economic policies inspired by half-baked Fabian socialism kept the country poor, backward and underdeveloped in spite of a large, young and highly talented population, vast territory, rich mineral resources and willingness of other countries to help and cooperate. Followed faithfully for four decades, they drove the country to the brink of default on international loans.

It is not an accident that the country embarked on a high-growth path only after Nehruvian policies were dumped. And, that course correction is still hobbled by two pillars of Nehru’s approach to economic problems: state control and populism (mai-bap sarkar).

Nehru created an interventionist state which claimed to know better than the people what was good for them and sought to mould society, economy and polity in a pre-determined structure. The project was bound to fail since the conceived structure was anti-growth and alien.

The Babri mosque of Nehruvian edifice had three domes: secularism, socialism and non-alignment. Socialism kept us poor and backward in the name of growth with social justice. Secularism kept us divided and distrustful of each other in the name of communal amity. Non-alignment rendered us ineffective and friendless in the comity of nations. A society divided and unsure of itself, an economy grossly performing far below its potential for decades, a large but powerless nation in the world, a country at odds with its own roots—that is the legacy Nehru left, for which we are now expected to feel suitably indebted.

India cannot regain its rightful place in the world until Nehru’s legacy is undone and forgotten. That process has been on for some time now. President Kovind deserves to be complimented for according formal recognition to it.

» Punarvasu Parekh is an independent senior journalist in Mumbai.

Jawaharlal Nehru and Hindi Chini Bai Bai

Is BJP bringing back Macaulay? – Bharat Gupt

Thomas Babington Macaulay
Dr Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan

Dr Bharat GuptA concerted effort needs to be made to reinstate the arts as a creative, therapeutic and moral force in our educational system and print and electronic media. – Prof Bharat Gupt

The government has appointed a nine-member committee under space scientist Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan’s leadership to prepare the final draft for the New Education Policy (NEP). The panel, which has been asked to begin work immediately, includes members from across the country, but does not contain a single Sanskrit expert, artist, musician or philosopher. The exclusion of the not only arts but also humanities is complete.

What could be the reason for this exclusion? It is difficult to believe that the omission is by oversight. Most likely it is part of the thinking of the policy makers who have a fascination for modern gadgetry and scientificity, which is just another garb for the “scientific temperament” touted for too long by the Nehruvians. Information technology is a mere tool, a skill, not a knowledge system. It can keep transparent accounts and data but not make honest accountants. For honesty, you need no laptops, but a sense of dharma.

Where is then the consideration for traditional systems of knowledge and the indigenous ways of thought that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has always upheld as its banner? How does this reconcile with its vision of “cultural nationalism”?

Education without arts was Macaulay’s master stroke

To uproot the modern Indians from their heritage, Macaulay adopted the simplest way. He devised a system in which vidyaa-vihiina-pashus were elevated to govern the “jewel in the crown”. Nehru retained the system to look after and serve the jewels of crowd.

In contrast to Macaulay-Nehru dispensation, the first line of the Indian book of statecraft, Arthashastra, defines vidya as four fold: Aaviikshiki trayii vartaa dandaniitishca iti vidyaa. Philosophy, vedas, commerce and law are called vidyas or education.

The biggest prejudice against arts in India has been generated by its modern educational system that inculcates a diametrically opposite attitude to their worth as posited in the traditional Indian psyche. So-called makers of modern India, assiduously preserved the schooling system left behind by the British and only allowed the American educational jargon (propagated mostly by PL480 money-financed professors) to modify the shape and size of textbooks, leaving the content untouched. They have also maintained the hegemony of the printed word, the paper exercise book and the written examination over all other means of instruction and evaluation.

Reading print and reproducing it in examinations remain the hallmark of our educational methodology. Our modernists have been so enamoured with it that they are scared to consider another method, such as vocal expression, capacity to conduct reliable work projects, teaching of junior students by senior students and so forth. As a consequence, in this culture, where the spoken word, intonation and gesture, signs, symbols and rituals had been developed as superb media of communication for thousands of years, now mere reading, cramming and reproducing prevails as the only method of passing examinations from nursery classes to the Indian Administrative Service. If the arts, except for music that still rests upon traditional training and Hindu ethos, have not touched great heights in free India, the sin lies at the doors of our education ministers.

Ancient respect for creativity

The prime purpose of education is to ensure creativity in individuals. It is the best way to subdue their destructive instincts. When the ancient poet Bhartrihari said that a person without education is an animal (vidyaa-viheenah pashuh), he was not disparaging the animals, but showing the difference between the mentally innovative homo sapiens and the instinctively driven animals.

Societies with their immense variety are products of man’s mental creativity, not just of the gregarious instinct also found in lions and fish. Hence it was said by Aristotle, “man is a cultured creature” (O anthropos politikon zoon) wrongly translated under the impact of materialistic behaviourist theories, as “man is a social animal”. Man the cultured creature continuously creates using his past for his future. Education is the methodology that ensures this creativity. Societies, which are less emphatic about creativity, or are scared of it, such as ours at the present moment, tend to define learning in terms of short-term objectives. They value education systems by the materially productive work its students are likely to accomplish. They project role models of glamorised achievers and preach competitiveness and survival of the toughest. Its jingles are: jo jeetaa so sikander or “whosoever wins is Alexander” and “nothing succeeds like success” and so on. The skepsis about means and end is already considered futile.

In the Indian, or rather in the Asian tradition, the trained (samskrita) or the educated individual has been the cornerstone of creativity, and hence of action and leadership. The notion of rustic simplicity, or lack of training as a mark of purity and naturalness, of the “mute inglorious Milton” is a Euro-Romantic concoction. In India, “graamya” (crude) or “praakrta” (natural) was regarded as impure, being untrained.

Art, no more sacred

All this thinking has gone out of the modern Indian educational system. Art has come to be looked upon as nothing more than entertainment, whether refined or popular, highbrow or mass-mediotic. It is no longer sacred or liberating, shubhamor mokshadaa. We have lost a major cultural faith and the fountainhead of our sustenance. The ancient Greeks too, regarded the non-utilitarian arts such as music, painting, poetry, dance, and theatre as builders of ethos (moral fibre). For this reason they made these an essential part of their educational system even for soldiers. But the modern West chose to discard this attitude. This idea was not considered worthwhile when Europe drew upon the intellectual inheritance of classical Greece. The arts though not dispensable, were only ornamental in the post Enlightenment education.

This thinking was imposed on India by the colonial educationists. What was worse, it was reinforced by the so-called Indian Renaissance by its fabricated picture of ancient Indian educational values. Puritanism, abnegation, and aggression were valorised in opposition to satisfaction (tushti), abundance (samriddhi), aesthetic softness (laalitya) and joy (harsha), which are described as a citizen’s hallmark in our classical literature.

During the Independence struggle, and soon after, art was in effect, set aside by the puritanism of Gandhi, as much by the staunchness of Hedgewar, and the economic myopia of Jaiprakash Narayan, Lohia and other socialists. The Marxists with their anti-religious bias and their propagandist approach to art further damaged the traditional concept of sacredness and creative individualism in Indian art. Almost everybody presumed that India was too enslaved, poor and illiterate to think of art. Now that we are independent, the affluent among us are the crudest, even though the poor retain some traditional aesthetic sense.

Under the impact of Nehruvian scientific rationalism, the government agencies responsible for making policy, curriculum as well as textbooks, like the National Council of Education Research and Training have been promoting a wooden version of science.

There is an excessive emphasis on mugging “objective facts” about the physical world instead of imparting the skill of inductive logic. The quiz wiz-kids that every uppish school tries to produce are information-parrots only good for TV shows. Worst of all, in the name of modernity, contempt is planted in young minds for all the sciences and arts that prevailed before the Euro-Renaissance.

Consequently, our allopathic doctors have generally no dialogue with ayurvedic or unani practitioners; very few legal luminaries have acquaintance with ancient codified or customary laws; and not many physicists have studied ancient astronomy or music; hardly any modern psychologist has delved deep into theatre. The dichotomy between art and science, ancient and modern is made complete. Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Aurobindo, who presented healthy and exploratory methods to bridge this chasm, were systematically marginalised and denigrated as too aesthetic or too spiritual by Nehruvian iron-jacket modernity.

Pop art and performance

Since the nineties, a vast expansion of television, films, advertisement and fabrics has created a new performance industry. This performance business is largely conducted through electronic and digital media which could have wonderfully harnessed the new technology to spread education and emotional health to every nook and corner of India at astonishingly low costs. But the result has been the opposite. The films have descended to sensationalism, the television channels to misinformation, advertisement to sweet lies, and fashion shows to flesh mongering.

The Indian elite that manages this new media has no other interest than commerce. Education is furthest removed from the aspirations of this class. The whole enterprise apes the Western media and has failed to posit any values other than those of consumerism. It is like selling McBurgers with coriander chutney as the only Indian content. This failure is not of means, but of mind. Indians have come to accept the Western dictum that mass media can only have popular content, that is, it must descend to the lowest demands of taste. Any attempt to elevate and educate taste is considered anti-democratic.

A concerted effort needs to be made to reinstate the arts as a creative, therapeutic and moral force in our educational system, print and electronic media. In schools, arts should be among the main subjects of study and not a mere extracurricular activity. Five to six years of regular theatre classes in native languages can develop clear speech, healthy and graceful carriage, and a direct familiarity with literature, myth and poetry in an easy way. It is more gracious and delightful than the present system of cramming through print. It has been demonstrated that theatre, dance, painting, and music are the best instruments of personality development for children. Why can there be no marking, promotion and academic recognition for them? Why have they been relegated to the lower category of “vocational subjects” meant to be taken by duller kids?

When will we stop thinking of art as a handmaid of business, diplomacy, or infotainment and recognise it as an elevating experience that distinguishes humans from animals?

I sincerely hope that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will intervene and include in the NEP panel some experts with proven record from the fields of arts and humanities, especially those who are steeped in Indian systems of knowledge. – Swarajya, 4 July 2017

» Prof Bharat Gupt taught at the College of Vocational Studies of the University of Delhi. He is an Indian classicist, theatre theorist, sitar and surbahar player, musicologist, cultural analyst, and newspaper columnist.