Will Nehru’s Secular India Survive post- 2019 Elections?

independence day nehru

 The secular minded academics and civil society have reminded us once again that Nehru’s secular legacy needs to be remembered in a given political context, on the occasion of his 55th death anniversary on 27 May, 2019. It is not wrong to say that Nehru’s ‘National Philosophy’- which broadly emphasis on values and principles like secularism, socialism, scientific educations, inclusive development, and defense of minority etc. – is currently under the serious threat. While  reflecting on the Nehru’s legacy on the occasions of his death anniversary, the crucial questions must be put forward for a critical thinking; Will Nehru’s Secular India survive, after post- 2019 elections amidst the height of the Hindu majoritarian nationalism?

It is to be noted that after the election result has been declared, in the post-elections survey data conducted by Loknity, Centre for the Study of Developing Society observed that 2019 parliamentary poll verdict has further sharpened and deepened the ‘religious divide’ in our already polarized Indian society (See, The Hindu, ‘the verdict is manifestations of deepening religious divide in India’, dated May30, 2019). On this question, noted social scientists have wrote several articles and expressed the opinion that concept like ‘secularism’ in India has now become one of  the worst abused word and became untouchable for the mainstream political parties who were in the fray of 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Even the old grand Congress Party which has been considered as the inheritor of the both Nehruian and Gandhian legacies and claim to be alone representing the ‘Idea of India’ based on secular democracy and inclusive nationalism hardly uttered and emphasized the word ‘secular nationalism’ during the Lok Sabha elections campaign. Contrary to the Nehru’s secular and inclusive nationalism, the Congress Party and their senior leaders had adopted the soft- Hinduvta approach to counter the narrative of Hindutva cultural nationalism.

When the 2019 election result was declared, immediately PM Narendra Modi addressed the newly elected parliamentarians and said that the so-called pseudo-secular brigade (who reside in Khan Market and seen as the Lutyens pseudo-liberals civil society, emphasis mine) have had created unnecessary fear and insecurities among the minorities. However, while addressing the gathering on said occasion, PM Modi said that minorities should not feel fear and insecure because, our party believes in the idea of Sabka Sath, Sabka vikas. After the elections result over, a new phrase has been further added by PM Modi like Sabka Vishwas, (trust of all) which includes minorities also. In short, he stressed that unlike the so-called secular and liberal parties, we are committed to development of all and appeasement of none.

The PM Modi’s statements about minorities have been warmly welcomed by the community leaders and even liberal intelligentsia who also seen this imitative with positive hope. However, it is ironical that immediately after election results 2019, the incidence of mob-lynching took place in different parts of country where Dalits and more generally Muslims are being openly targeted off hate crime and mob-violence.

Let me now turn to discuss the Nehru’s legacy; while analyzing the role of Nehruvian state with respect to minority rights, in this piece the attempt has been made to analyze his views critically. Let me take grand narrative of Nehru’s secular legacy into consideration. He took uncompromising stand against the onslaught of majority communalism and committed to protect the minorities and their rights as an equal citizen of India. It was Nehru’s commitment of secularism and minority rights which gave some rights to minorities in the Indian Constitution.

Despite the prevalence of tragedies like fear, simmering tensions and violence caused by partition, Nehru’s influence in taking minorities into the confidence cannot be denied and underestimated. To put it differently, Nehru’s unflinching commitment to secularism and ethos of India’s pluralism, religious minorities have not felt so insecure and humiliated the manner in which today Indian Muslims are experiencing fear, insecurity, and everyday communalism in form of mob-violence, ghar wapsi, the bogy of love-jihad, terrorism including Islamophobia etc. in the social sphere.  In short, religious minorities especially Indian Muslims are now being perceived as suspected citizens [National Register Citizen (NRC) can be taken as a case in point].

It is indefensible to say that under the Nehru regime, minorities especially Indian Muslims were being appeased and made prosperous in comparison to the majority community especially Hindus. Nehru has been accused so far by the Hindutva forces for his stance on Muslim community and his defense of minority rights as an appeasement policy.

Noted historian, S. Gopal explained Nehru’s position as “the minorities should be given the fullest assurance, not of jobs and seats in assemblies, but that their culture and traditions would be safe. Provision to foster the language and education would help to nourish the rich, varied, larger, common culture of India”. (See, S. Gopal, ‘Nehru and Minorities’, in  Economic and Political Weekly, Nov, 1988, p.2463).

However, during Nehru tenure the SC status of Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians had been unfortunately taken away through the presidential order of 1950. It is a fact that both oppressed social groups had enjoyed the fruits of SCs status during the colonial regime. Truly speaking, it is surprising to note that Nehru himself had not taken any concrete step to reverse the presidential order and consider SCs status of the Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians.

By excluding from the fold of reservations of both communities till now despite their worst socio-economic conditions as also revealed in the Sachar committee report (2006), are the clear violations of the principle of secularism and right to equality enshrined in our Constitution. It is to be noted that during Nehru regime, in 1956 the Sikh who belong to SCs community had got the legal entitlement and included in the fold of SC reservations. In short, not considering the Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians under the category of SCs, actually contradicts the Nehru’s commitment to secularism itself.

Moreover, Nehru did not considered seriously and addressed the issues of caste discrimination among the Muslims, thereby did not accept recommendations of Kaka-kaelkar commission (1955) regarding inclusion of certain caste among the Muslims into OBCs category.

We can conclude that Nehru’s Secularism, though, ensured the formal citizenship rights to minorities, yet, it miserably failed in addressing the socio-economic rights of subaltern Muslim masses, and hence giving a setback to the very sprit of social justice and secularism mentioned in Indian Constitution.

Therefore, the accusation of the Hindu Right and corporate-owned media that Nehruvian State and later left-liberal political dispensations have had favored Muslims more than the Hindus and followed the policy of appeasement is far from truth as above arguments also aptly indicated. Contrary to Hindutva forces, it can be safely argued that  the fact cannot denied, the Nehrivian  secularism had ensured to some extent the formal citizenship rights but not implemented the agenda of social justice as could be noticed in case of Dalit Christians, Dalit and OBCs Muslims.

Despite above mentioned limitations, if one could deeply reflect and revisit the Nehru’s ‘National philosophy’ based on progressive values like secularism, socialism, inclusive development and scientific temperament including his tireless defense of minority is needs to be remembered seriously (mainly after the rise of the Hindu majoritarianism in 2019 Lok Sabha verdict), on the occasions of his 55 death anniversary and in years to come.

The author is a research scholar at University of Delhi.


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