Should India now learn secularism from Pakistan?

Posted by Zulfikar Manto
March 30, 2017

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As Yogi Adityanath becomes the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh after a landslide victory of BJP in the state, the secularism of the Indian state has definitely come into question. Yogi is known to have given enough provocative statements against Muslims publicly to tag him a bigot and his first priority as a Chief Minister of banning cow slaughter says a lot about which way the state is headed. However this is only a symptom of a much larger disease of intolerance that has gripped the masses more than ever. Religious bigotry is at an all time high and the privileged majority can no longer tolerate any affirmative action to bring the underprivileged to the same footing. The BJP manifesto was a clear reflection of the same where there focus was Ram Mandir, Love Jihad, alleged migration from Kairana and the building of Shamshaans.

At this unfortunate phase of Indian history, a lesson into secularism comes from a country where one would least expect it. While the Sangh parivar is hard at work in converting India into a theocracy run by Hindu principles, oft named Hindu Pakistan, Pakistan is now on the lines of becoming a Muslim-majority secular state. This year, Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, attended the Holi celebration in Sindh and wished the entire Hindu fraternity a happy Holi. He talked about how mere mortals have no say in deciding who goes to heaven or to hell (and he used the Hindu terms, swarg and narak for the same!) and that we all must try to make this world heaven for everyone. For a country that is constitutionally an Islamic state, this is definitely a major step. He talked about the symbolism of the change of season and emphasised the need of secularism stating that religion without love has no meaning. He said this while maintaining his faith in Islam; the speech started with Bismillah-ir-rehman-ir-rahim, and made references to Allah regularly.

In India, on the other hand, we have a Prime Minister who refuses to wear a white cap on stage because it is associated with Muslims. We have a Prime Minister who attends Dussehra functions by far-right-wing Hindu groups and chants Jai Shri Ram proudly but declares ‘Good Governance Day’ on Christmas. We have a Prime Minister who goes about campaigning for state elections, with promises to build a shamshan ghat for every qabristan (Uttar Pradesh) and never to include minorities in the reserved categories (Bihar). Hinduism has now been institutionalised by banning beef and introducing Sanskrit education in colleges.

At this stage, it is important to reiterate that Pakistan still remains an Islamic State constitutionally and intolerance runs wide there too. For this brave step by the Prime Minister, a fatwa for kufr has been issued against him. Yet, it is important to recognize the ambition of their leadership to make their state a more equal one while here we are led by those who play on populist measures for power. Last year too the province of Sindh (the one with majority of Hindu population) had declared a holiday on Holi. Will it be too much to expect that as our leadership takes the initiative to wish the leaders on the other side of the fence on their birthdays, they will also learn a thing or two about leadership from them?

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