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Constitutional secularism Vs Party politics secularism

Constitutional secularism Vs Party politics secularism

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-2-    Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.

Constitutional secularism Vs Party politics secularism

With the Forty-second Amendment of the Constitution of India enacted in 1976, the Preamble to the Constitution asserted that India is a secular nation. Officially, secularism has always inspired modern India. In practice, unlike Western notions of secularism, India’s secularism does not separate religion and state.

Constitutional secularism is marked by two features.

First, critical respect for all religions.

  •  Unlike some secularisms, ours is not blindly anti-religious but respects religion.
  •  Unlike the secularisms of pre-dominantly single religious societies, it respects not one but all religions.
  •  However, given the virtual impossibility of distinguishing the religious from the social, as R. Ambedkar famously observed, every aspect of religious doctrine or practice cannot be respected.
  •  Respect for religion must be accompanied by critique.
    Principled distance:
  •  State must respectfully leave religion alone but also intervene whenever religious groups promote communal disharmony and discrimination on grounds of religion (an inter-religious matter) or are unable to protect their own members from the oppressions they perpetuate (an intra-religious issue).
  •  Therefore, and this is its second feature, the Indian state abandons strict separation but keeps a principled distance from all religions.
  •  For instance, it cannot tolerate untouchability or leave all personal laws as they are.
  •  Equally, it may non-preferentially subsidise schools run by religious communities.
  •  Thus, it has to constantly decide when to engage or disengage.
  •  It could help or hinder religion depending entirely on which of these enhances our constitutional commitment to freedom, equality and fraternity.
  •  This constitutional secularism cannot be sustained by governments alone but requires collective commitment from an impartial judiciary, a scrupulous media, civil society activists, and an alert citizenry.
    Party-political secularism:
  •  Party-political secularism, born around 40 years ago, is a nefarious doctrine practised by all political parties, including by so-called ‘secular forces’.
  •  This secularism has dispelled all values from the core idea and replaced them with
  •  Opportunistic distance (engagement or disengagement), but mainly opportunistic alliance with religious communities, particularly for the sake of immediate electoral benefit.
  •  Indifferent to freedom and equality-based religious reform, it has removed critical from the term ‘critical respect’ and bizarrely interpreted ‘respect’ to mean cutting deals with aggressive or orthodox sections of religious groups (eg: Babri Masjid/Ram temple for puja, and forsaking women’s rights in the Shah Bano case (Don’t mention these examples in exam))
  •  It has even been complicit in igniting communal violence.
  •  Today, Indian constitutional secularism is swallowed up by this party-political secularism.
    Majority-minority syndrome:
  •  A shift of focus from a politically-led project to a socially-driven movement for justice.
  •  Second, a shift of emphasis from inter-religious to intra-religious issues.
  •  R. Ambedkar dispassionately observed that when two roughly equal communities view each other as enemies, they get trapped in a majority-minority syndrome, a vicious cycle of spiralling political conflict and social alienation. This was true in the 1930s and the 1940s.
  •  R. Ambedkar also claimed that when communities view each other as a menace, they tend to close ranks.
  •  This has another debilitating impact: all dissent within the community is muzzled and much needed internal reforms are stalled.
  •  If so, the collapse of the syndrome unintentionally throws up an opportunity.
  •  As the focus shifts from the other to oneself, it may allow deeper introspection within, multiple dissenting voices to resurface, create conditions to root out intra-religious injustices, and make its members free and equal.
  •  After all, the Indian project of secularism has been thwarted as much by party-politics as by religious orthodoxy and dogma.
  • European story:
  •  The fight against the oppression of the church was as much a popular struggle as it was driven by the state.
  •  Europe’s secularism provided a principle to fight intra-religious oppressions.
  •  For Nehru, secularism was not only a project of civic friendship among religious communities but also of opposition to religion-based caste and gender oppressions.
  •  For the moment, the state-driven political project of secularism and its legal constitutional form appear to have taken a hit.
  •  But precisely this ‘setback’ can be turned into an opportunity to revitalise the social project of secularism.
  •  A peaceful and democratic secularism from below provides a vantage point from which to carry out a much-needed internal critique and reform of our own respective religions, to enable their compatibility with constitutional values of equality, liberty and justice.

It is premature to pronounce the end of constitutional secularism; it has only suffered a setback and can be revived. Needed today are new forms of socio-religious reciprocity, crucial for the business of everyday life and novel ways of reducing the political alienation of citizens, a democratic deficit whose ramifications go beyond the ambit of secularism.

Source:”The Hindu”.


It is said that constitutional secularism has faced a setback and party political secularism is disrupting India’s secularist nature. Comment. What are the ways in which constitutional secularism be revived?