Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam analyses the credentials of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, who has of late criticised Narendra Modi’s unsecular ways.
To begin with, let us first see what we mean by secularism. The traditional definition, well-known to all of us, stipulates that under secularism, the state will have no official religion. Within this larger framework, there are wide variations.
For instance, France insists on having no religious symbol on government office buildings or inside them, nor on or in any public institution. In India, too, there is no state religion, but PMs, CMs and DMs regularly visit temples, dargahs and gurudwaras as policemen pray at temples inside police stations and government servants pray at mosques and temples on court premises.
That brings us to the point that in India one can have one’s faith and practise it (even on government and public premises) and still remain secular on the condition that one believes in the secular Constitution that demands the state to have no official religion.
There are other marks of a secular person also: He or she may have a religion and devotedly practise it, but would bear no animosity towards people of other faiths as well as towards others who do not have faith in any religion.
Such a person, naturally, would not indulge in hate propaganda or incite violence against other religious groups. On these criteria, Nitish is a secular person as he meets all of these, while Narendrabhai Modi is not, because he does not meet these criteria.
There are grades and shades of secularism. One can be absolutely secular, while another secular person’s credentials can be compromised through bad politics, deep-rooted prejudice, or inaction at a crucial moment when the secular Constitution is being subverted and he or she chooses to be a silent spectator. So, from this set of criteria, how secular is Nitish? The answer is, he is secular, but not secular enough.
Now, let us go for some fine combing. How secular is secular enough? To be secular enough one has to be honest with oneself. A purely secular person would have no truck with BJP, on whose collective head lies the blood of thousands of Muslims. BJP candidates win elections by appealing to anti-minorities (anti-Muslim, anti-Christian, particularly) feelings and, often, by creating anti-Muslim hysteria.
Nitish has been ruling with the help of BJP, giving this anti-secular party the freedom to push its insidious agenda. The deputy chief minister, another Mod and BJPwallah, is not known for his secular views, nor is the BJP section of Bihar government any way different from other BJP governments.
Nitish is often photographed sharing a laughter (at whose cost, nobody knows) with his deputy chief minister as he used to get photographed (till some time ago) with Narendra Modi laughing together as if the blood of the innocent did not matter.
Interestingly, there are other similarities between the unsecular Narendrabhai Feku Modi and Nitish Kumar. Modi’s game of sadbhavana (goodwill) was given away when he refused the offer of a skull cap of a Muslim a few months ago. Not to be left behind, Nitish refused the kefayah of a Muslim supporter recently.
Where does Nitish really stand vis-à-vis secularism? He has opposed Modi’s claim for the country’s premiership on the ground that a Prime Minister must have a secular image which Modi does not. However, in the same breath, he praises as a secular man L K Advani, who is responsible for the most enduring hate wave. He also praises Atal Behari Vajpayee as another secular person even though he did not try to stop Gujarat-2002, nor had in the past opposed the Sangh’s anti-Muslim violence. Nitish sounds insincere and unconvincing when he tries to distinguish between tweedledee and tweedledom.
In the final analysis, Nitish is a personally secular man corrupted by the company of viciously communal people. By his socialist training and the secular ethos of his social background, Nitish still retains a secular core. The compulsions of coalition politics have given him a bad image. He should look for a less unsecular company to reclaim his secular soul.