Babri Masjid: Why is Secularism Such a Dirty Word for India Now?


Babri Masjid: Why is Secularism Such a Dirty Word for India Now?

Illustration: Akshita Monga

On September 25, Waris Pathan, a lawmaker with Asaduddin Owaisi’s party, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, tendered a public apology for a video of him chanting “Ganpati Bappa Morya” that had been made public. Apparently, Pathan had faced dissent from within his party in response to which he had to apologise. That even a member of a minority party cannot avowedly wear the lightest shade of secularism today, is an indicator of the place we find ourselves at as a country.

Pathan’s retreat should be acutely scrutinised because he tried rubbing shoulders with a majority, but the underlying sentiment stands true for almost everyone under the sun. Almost three decades ago, with the demolition of the Babri Masjid what seemed like a gross violation of India’s core principles, an unstitching of its carefully sutured fabric of multi-culturalism, feels all too regular and natural. As the Ayodhya case goes into an endless loop of deferred hearings (the next date is an unspecified one in January), it is easy to blame the BJP and RSS for what happened 30 years ago. But their rise to power and prominence ever since, is as much a political dividend of the country’s inherent divide, as it once felt like the cause.

The demolition of the masjid in Ayodhya in 1992 is often underlined as a rupture in Indian politics, its heaviest dent in the social frame of this country. But the strengthening of right-wing factions in India ever since, is really a story of the people who have co-opted it on the ground. Despite the painful fracture, the onus to reclaim India’s secularism should have been on its people and not its political parties alone.

Instead, both the BJP and its allies have benefitted from the fallouts of the demolition, going on to clinch unprecedented mandates, empowering religious strongmen and enjoying the kind of clout that doesn’t even require them to condemn communal violence, to retain popularity with the masses. As a consequence, the level of debate and the scope of our aspirations have become incredibly narrow. So much so that secularism is beginning to feel radioactive in terms of electoral politics. Naturally, then, people who find affirmation in its bigotry must equally be held responsible for the decline of a once great ideal.

Gullibility is not a crime, but we have now entered a phase of wilful gullibility.

Nehru, the most berated doyen of that lost ideal – secularism – once said, “There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” The last two words of that sentence exemplify why India’s integrity and experiments with it have felt like a misadventure perpetuated by crude motivations; to the extent that holding up the secularist tag has become a burden for some, including Nehru’s successors in the Congress.

While Rahul Gandhi tries to rebrand himself as a Hindu, and others pick and choose their own factions, it is clear, more than anything else, that those who want to unite this country or even pretend to support the idea of a land free of sectarian divisions, stand to risk both their political stature and health. Most political parties are now content with reactively asserting that idea, instead of wholeheartedly adopting it till the end, regardless of the electoral costs. And to castigate them alone for this situation is to pretend to have been spoiled after years of holding firm and fair with decency.

It is obvious that Babri Masjid’s demolition and the crusade to replace it with a mandir has as much political motivation as spiritual. A case of such delicate investments would usually peacefully resolve itself in court. But those who seek to milk such impasses for gains have and will continue to do so in the future. The irony being that the benefits for those who add fuel far outweigh the benefits enjoyed by those willing to set themselves on fire for it.

Gullibility is not a crime, but we have now entered a phase of wilful gullibility. It is even worse, if it is self-motivated. Ever since the demolition, there have been equally ghastly symptoms of the widening chasm at the core of this country, only more personal and isolated. Murders and lynchings are the norm, sectarian violence an everyday story. Had the public, the people been bent on reconciling, or taking the middle-path, no amount of solicitation on part of the country’s abhorrent politics could have convinced them to turn on each other.

We must first accept that we are probably as bigoted, as complicit in the manipulations of our political ideas as we often accuse the netas of. Showering blame on the outsider is easy, but the crucial question one must ask to oneself is whether we are secular inside our homes and our families? If not, what have we done to change it?

A wound like Babri, won’t heal anytime soon because there are others being inflicted. The people who at one point of time, at least pretended to ascribe India to a secular parentage, now shy away from holding the hands of those who stand on the cusp of being orphaned by it.