NITISH STRATEGISING TO CROSS AN INVISIBLE BRIDGE
The JD(U) has recognized the right of BJP as the largest constituent of the NDA to have its prime ministerial candidate stressing that it would support him/her only if he possessed “secular credentials”.
But neither JD(U) nor any other political organization has so far ever been able to define what constitutes “secular credentials”. So how to determine who has these and who doesn’t?
By all counts, India is – and has been -- a secular country all through. India’s Constitution too has been secular in word and spirit. Yet, for reasons unexplained – and perhaps to appeal to the constituency of minority votes – the late Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, through a Constitutional amendment in 1976 got the words “secular” and “socialist” added to the Preamble to the Constitution.
That Mrs. Gandhi did not, deliberately, venture to define the word “secular” is a clear indication to the functioning of her mind at that time. She wanted to keep it vague to use it as a tool against her opponents.
In fact, secularism in India has less to do with society and more with politics. It is a tool to strike at one’s opponents. Here every political and organisation claims to be ‘secular’ and lashes ouy at its opponent as ‘communal’. An individual and political party remains ‘communal’ as long as they remain antagonistic to the other. The moment they change their stand and support the other, overnight they become secular. In 1996 the United Front of H. D. Deve Gowda tried its best to rope in Akali Dal into its fold. When it failed, like grapes are sour, Akali Dal too became ‘communal’.
Except perhaps for Congress (though some Congress leaders did join BJP), at one time or the other since 1967 when Congress was enemy No. 1 of communist and socialist parties, the latter entered into a marriage of convenience to share the bed of power with Jana Sangh and later avtar Bharatiya Jana Sangh. They had no qualms of conscience when in 1977 they invited the ‘communal’ Jana Sangh with declared RSS links to merge with their parties to form a new political outfit called Janata Party which dethroned the mighty Congress from power at the Centre and many States. Everything worked smoothly till Janata Party remained in power. It was only after losing power that the thorn of Jana Sangh ‘communalism’ started pricking them. The great ‘secularist’ late V. P. Singh had no hesitation to welcome Jana Sangh’s new avtar BJP’s outside support to get PM’s throne. The conscience of communist parties did not prick when they shared common blocks of UF supporters in Parliament. The Muslim outfits like the Indian Union Muslim League, the successors to Jinnah’s Muslim League, whose membership is restricted to Muslims only, are ‘secularists’ and Akali Dal and BJP who have every caste and religion in their fold are branded ‘communal’ when they do not see eye to eye with some self-proclaimed ‘secularists’.
‘Secularism’ is an alien concept which emerged in the West broadly meaning that the Church will have nothing to do with administration. Still it has no standard or legal definition. This puts a great flexibility in the hands of our politicians. A great hoax and hypocrisy, in instance, is the support and opposition to the Babri masjid and Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. For all intents and purposes, both are religious issues, though the Mandir has nationalist connotation too. Yet, those who support Masjid are ‘seculars’ and those who champion the cause of the Mandir ‘communalists’. Nobody can explain the logic and ‘secularists’ remain self-righteous.
At times, secularism comes in conflict with the spirit of nationalism and ‘secularists’ are too willing to sacrifice their nationalism at the altar of ‘secularism’. That explains the fact that when Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi defined secularism as “India first”, it raised our ‘secular-liberal’ intelligentsia’s eyebrows. “India first” means that country comes first; we are Indians first and our religion, caste, region and language come afterwards. But that does not humour the ‘secularists’.
Various scholars have tried to define ‘secular’ in their own way. The most appropriate working definition which could suit the Indian conditions seems to be that of Donald E. Smith, Professor of Political Science in Pennsylvania University who said a secular state is the one “which guarantees individual and corporate freedom of religion, deals with the individual as a citizen irrespective of his religion, is not constitutionally connected to a particular religion, nor does it seek to promote or interfere with religion".
Going by these definitions or by its own concept JD(U) needs to enumerate what it calls “secular credentials” and how does a person, like Mr. Narendra Modi, does not possess it.
If the 2002 riots stands in the way of “secular credentials” of a person like Mr. Modi, how could, in these circumstances, how does the blot of’84 riots does not in the way of Mr. Rajiv Gandhi and his Congress who continue to be the epitome of ‘secularism’? In that case, Nitish’s new found infatuation for Congress motivated by whatever reasons may put his own “secular credentials” in question.
There is something more than meets the eye in the design of JD(U)’s latest hostility towards Mr. Modi. Even for the 2009 Lok Sabha polls BJP had declared its prime ministerial candidate only in December 2008. But JD(U) has been raising the pitch for the last more than six months back for BJP coming out with its hopeful, about more than 18 months earlier. And mark the stark contrast. Nobody in the UPA is raising heckles for naming its prime ministerial candidate here and now. The common refrain with politicians when asked by media on such matters is that “they will cross the bridge when it comes”. But JD)U), for unexplained reasons, seems to be wanting to strategise how to cross the bridge that is, as yet, miles and miles away.