India’s Secularism: From Nehru to Modi

As India has inched towards the Ram Janam Bhoomi Pujan and Prime Minister has become the face of the alleged Ayodhya restoration, the entire world has taken a dig on India’s secularism. The word ‘secular’ was added in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution in the 42nd Amendment by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, given the colourful religious and cultural diversity of the country.

The word ‘secularism’ means that the country doesn’t follow or propagate a particular religion and grants the right of religious propagation to all its citizen. In a secular country, religion is subjective and the state doesn’t have much to do with one’s religion. The state in turn respects the freedom of its citizen to follow any religion.

However, each of the country’s leader has interpreted and implemented secularism in their way. Where on one side, the religion didn’t hold as much importance as the country’s independence and welfare. On the other side, communities are pinpointing to belittle each other, the welfare of the nation is a little far-sighted.

In 1933, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in a letter to Mahatma Gandhi, “As I get older my closeness to religion has diminished”.

In his autobiography in 1936, Nehru wrote, “I have always felt terrorized against organized religion. For me, it has always meant superstition, antiquity, conservatism and exploitation where there is no room for logic and justification”.

Nehru’s first test of religion in democracy was tested in 1950 when President Rajendra Prasad decided to go against the wishes of Nehru for the renovation ceremony of Somnath temple in Gujarat. This was the very same temple that was looted by Mahmud Ghaznavi in ​​the 10th century.

Nehru opposed Rajendra Prasad’s visit to Somnath because the head of a secular nation should not associate himself with such religious revivalism. The opposite is happening today when the Prime Minister of a secular state is inaugurating a religious institution inclined towards a particular religion. Prasad did not agree with Nehru’s advice back then.

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Famous journalist Durga Das writes in his book ‘India from Curzon to Nehru and After’, “Rajendra Prasad, while replying to Nehru’s objection, said,” I believe in my religion and do not separate myself from it can. I have seen the function of Somnath temple in the presence of Sardar Patel and Jam Saheb of Nawanagar”.

Nehru and Rajendra Prasad’s conflicting views about religion were once again glimpsed when in 1952 Prasad went to Kashi and washed the feet of some pundits. Nehru expressed his opposition to Prasad by writing angry letters to his act. To this, Prasad wrote, “The person of the largest post in the country also comes down very much in the presence of a scholar”.

It was only after this controversy that Nehru started bowing towards the then Vice President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. CP Srivastava, who was secretary of Lal Bahadur Shastri, writes in his biography that ‘Once Shastriji requested Nehru to bathe in the Kumbh Mela. Nehru rejected Shastri’s request, saying that by the way, I love the river Ganges very much. I have dipped in it many times but will not do it on the occasion of Kumbh “.

Unlike Nehru, Shastri was not averse to showing his Hindu identity, but he never had any doubt about India’s religious unity.
During the India-Pakistan war of 1965, he did not hesitate to go beyond the party line and take advice from the then RSS chief Golwalkar.

Not only this, on the initiative of Shastri, but the responsibility of running Delhi’s traffic system was also given to the RSS.

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LK Advani also wrote in his autobiography ‘My Country My Life’, ‘Unlike Nehru, Shastri did not harbour any animosity about the Jana Sangh and the RSS.’

When Indira Gandhi came to power, she was the biggest flag bearer of socialism and secularism. It was under her tenure that the terms Socialist and Secular was added to the Indian Constitution.  

Even in Gandhi’s first term, she took the oath of Prime Minister not in the name of God, but the name of integrity. The biggest test of her leadership took place in 1967 when several thousand sadhus who were carrying out the Gauraksha movement surrounded the Parliament House.

She used this opportunity to get rid of the minister Gulzari Lal Nanda, who was supporting the Gau Raksha Andolan. Indira Gandhi removed Nanda from the cabinet.

By 1980, Indira Gandhi’s inclination was towards God and temples. The electoral defeat in 1977 and the death of her younger son Sanjay Gandhi in 1980 played a big role in this.

It is said that his railway minister Kamalapati Tripathi was given great credit for changing his thinking. Famous journalist Kumkum Chadha writes in his book ‘The Mary Gold Story – Indira Gandhi and Others’,’ Kamalapati became his guru in the matter of religion. Once she asked Indira to wash the feet of virgin girls after Navratri and drink her water, Indira hesitated a little. She also asked if I will get sick? But after this, Indira Gandhi, who studied abroad and spoke French, completed that ritual.

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During this time, Indira Gandhi went to Baglamukhi Shaktipeeth of Datia. Inside the temple premises was the temple of Dhumavati Devi where only widows were allowed to worship. When Indira Gandhi went there for the first time, the priests of Dhumavati Shaktipeeth met her.

The electoral victory of the Bharatiya Janta Party in 2014 marked, the hard lines on which Hinduism is based today in India. The basic ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party is based on reviving and propagating Hindutva and welfare of the indigenous Hindu practices. Prime Minister Modi is infamous for the Godhra Incident when he was the Chief Minister of Gujrat which, too were based on the same lines. The BJP has also gained an Islamophobic image, especially in front of the Islamic nations. Some secular scholars are afraid that the very diverse spirit of the nation might not be the causing factor to fragment it. 

Throughout the Indian Political history, it has been duly noted that each leader has interpreted secularism in their own way and has shaped the Indian Subcontinent according to their subjective assertions.  


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