Freedom in 1947 for India was blooded by the violence of Partion which killed lakhs of people and displaced crores. The country’s founding fathers responding by writing a secular constitution for the fledgling democracy. Unlike countries in the West, faith would not be absent from the public sphere but India’s religions would all be treated equally by the state. This secularism-with-Indian-characteristics was well suited for a deeply religious nation and for a couple of decades, belying the violence of Partition, India saw a remarkable spell of communal peace.
However, it seems, in 2018, India’s compact with secularism has unraveled. On Wednesday, the Bharatiya Janata Party chief minister of Uttar Pradesh announced that the state would construct a statue of the Hindu god Ram in the town of Ayodhya. This came a day after the state administration had held a celebration of the festival Diwali.
Wednesday’s developments did not come about suddenly. Since the 1980s, Indian secularism has been becoming weaker. First came a series of horrific riots in which the state played a part in killing minorities, both Muslim and Sikh. Then in 1986, a district judge – driven in his own words by a “Divine Power” which manifested itself as a black monkey sitting on the roof of the court – opened the locks to the Babri Masjid with both the Union and state government supporting the decision. Within five years, the mosque had been demolished by BJP supporters, who claimed that it had been built on the exact birthplace of the god Ram.
The violence that broke out across India in its wake fuelled the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has made it clear that it opposes the idea of secularism that lies at the core of the Indian Union. Since then, a number of Indian states have passed beef laws based on theological norms and restricted conversions from Hinduism. In 2017, Haryana celebrated a Gita festival while in Uttar Pradesh, the state administration has pulled out all stops to promote the kanwar religious pilgrimage.
This sort of politics has been so successful that it has forced even non Hindutva parties to adapt. The Congress now regularly send its president Rahul Gandhi on well-publicised temple tours and on Tuesday the worship at West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s for the festival of Kali Pujo was broadcast live. So widespread is this that the announcement by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath that his state would build a religious monument in the form of a Ram statue hardly engenders any outrage.
Against this backdrop, it is well worth asking the grim question: Is India still a secular state?