The Modi consensus: Redefining secularism

The Pran Pratishtha ceremony at Ayodhya Ram Mandir on January 22 is a defining moment in the history of Bharat. It symbolises the restoration of its cultural identity and also marks a significant shift in how we have perceived, understood and practiced secularism in this country. The rise of Narendra Damodardas Modi, first in Gujarat […]

The Pran Pratishtha ceremony at Ayodhya Ram Mandir on January 22 is a defining moment in the history of Bharat. It symbolises the restoration of its cultural identity and also marks a significant shift in how we have perceived, understood and practiced secularism in this country. The rise of Narendra Damodardas Modi, first in Gujarat in early 2000 and later on at the national level since 2014, has transformed this nation in many ways. It can even be referred to as a new consensus, or the ‘Modi consensus’ as opposed to the erstwhile Nehruvian consensus that has not just changed our conventional understanding of almost everything, but it has also given us a new vision to see and perceive Bharat differently.

How this swift transition has taken place compels us to believe that perhaps there was something essentially wrong in how we have understood, managed and governed ourselves to date, or probably there were better unexplored ways that suffered neglect.

There have been numerous debates regarding the meaning, purpose and context under which the idea of secularism originated in the West and how it has been debated, initially rejected and later incorporated into the Constitution of Bharat through the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act. Secularism or, if we put it more aptly, Nehruvian secularism, was a product of the larger ‘Nehruvian consensus’ that was a Left and pro-Left Congressmen’s broader understanding of how Bharat should be governed in the post-independent time. It has several dimensions, such as historical, political, economic, social, cultural and religious, keeping in view that the people of this land were deeply religious and to the reality of an inherited legacy of a bloodied partition along religious lines. This Nehruvian consensus, at least in the historical and cultural sense, was devoid of truth and objectivity and largely neglected the cultural identity of this land and the sensitivities and dignity of its people. The fear of perceived ‘majoritarian’ Hindu rule forced them to deviate from the truth and deprive them of the very basic equal rights and dignity that they deserve. It became evident soon after India’s independence when Prime Minister Nehru advised then President Dr Rajendra Prasad not to participate in the inauguration ceremony of the Somnath temple. The fear of ‘Hindu revivalism’ forced them to bury the inconvenient historical truths and atrocities against Hindus. As far as the Congress party is concerned, this tendency has continued to date. This ‘consensus’ gets the strong backing of the media, academia, laws, government and even the judiciary and the Constitution. The manner and context of the inclusion of the term ‘secular’ in the preamble are still a matter of further research.

More than the theoretical explanations and justification, the way it has been practiced in India puts a serious question mark on Bharat’s ‘secular’ credentials. Ideally, it should be based on equal rights and dignity, but in reality, it has led to discrimination, deprivation, subjugation and deliberate misrepresentation of the majority. It becomes a tool to justify appeasement and promote minoritarianism, as rightly highlighted by our former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he exhorted that minorities should have the first right over the resources of this country. There have been deliberate attempts to project minorities, especially the second-largest majority group, as the benchmark for judging democracy and development in this country without ever addressing their real developmental concerns. They were merely used as a vote bank by exploiting their religious sentiments.

Interestingly, the secular credentials of Bharat were never questioned on the grounds of the rights or socio-economic condition of the extreme numerical minority population groups such as the Sikhs, Buddhists, Jain, , Jews, etc.

The cultural and religious identity of Hindus was always under attack on the pretext of being a majority, and any resentment has been projected as an orthodox majoritarian response. Numerous laws, acts, schemes and policies were introduced by the previous governments, both at the level of the Centre and the states, to create a ‘religiously segmental society’ whereby only the majority community can be legally and constitutionally discriminated against, and the only possible defence that they could have is their numerical majority. The ‘secular’ discourse of the country was essentially anti-majority whereby being proud of one’s Hindu religious identity tantamount to a deviation from secularism. Equal distance from religions was practiced in maintaining distance from Hindus; equal respect leads to policy discrimination, internal divisions, and distortion of their religious identity.

All this has witnessed a change in the recent past. The Modi era heralded a new beginning whereby the Prime Minister proudly embraced the cultural identity of this land and gave the majority community their due rights and dignity. He visited temples, performed religious ceremonies, built corridors, and renovated Hindu places of worship, along with his policy of ‘Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas, and Sabka Vishwas’. He boldly exported the Bhartiya identity to build strong relations with other states based on history, shared cultural ties, a common identity, and mutual respect.

Now the scriptures and ancient scholarship of the land are guiding its foreign policy. With his charismatic personality, trust, and meticulous efforts, he was able to build a new political consensus where being a proud Hindu doesn’t automatically translate into anti-secularism. He ensured genuine secularism where the minorities got the maximum benefit of mega-government flagship schemes and programmes. He awakens the cultural consciousness of Bharat without going against anyone because Bhartiya culture doesn’t believe in binaries.

None of the secular countries of the West neglect or disrespect their religious identity. Modi restored the essence of secularism, which is to give equal rights and dignity irrespective of the numeric strength of any community. Much more needs to be done to do away with the legal and Constitutional discrimination against the majority, to free their places of worship from state control, to address historical injustices, to give them all the constitutional rights to preserve, protect, and further their community interests, etc. though, there has been a visible change.

It is worth mentioning that in the so-called ‘Hindu Nationalist’,’majoritarian’ Bharat under Modi, a Ram Temple is under construction after a long-fought legal battle. Legal battles for other places of significant Hindu faith are still going on. A new secular consensus has been built that paves the way for a magnificent Ram temple. All the leaders of different political parties, despite their habitual reluctance, have to accept this change. To my understanding, this new Modi consensus regarding secularism is based on five pillars:

Firstly, secularism is not a one-way street; it needs genuine reciprocation and mutual respect. Secondly, it accorded equal constitutional and legal rights to all religious communities without any discrimination or special privileges. Thirdly, secularism as a political discourse can’t be anti-majority and against the cultural identity of Bharat. Fourthly, it can’t sustain itself if it’s not based on truthful reconciliation among the religious communities. And lastly, now it will be politically incorrect and imprudent to brazenly go against the majority.