MUMBAI: A lecture to be given by former Home Secretary Madhav Godbole on “Is India A Secular Country” was cancelled suddenly, three days before the event. This was after IIPA had pubished an advance version of his paper. No explanation was given.

As Godbole wrote to some friends in an email,”The Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra, who is the ex-officio Hon. Secretary of the Maharashtra Regional Branch of the Indian Institute of Public Administration, Delhi, (IIPA), had requested me to give B.G. Deshmukh memorial lecture for 2015-16 on any subject of my choice. I was reluctant to accept the request as I had already given two B. G. Deshmukh memorial lectures in the recent past--the first in the Symbiosis Law School in collaboration with Public Concern for Governance Trust, Pune, and the second in the Asiatic Society in Mumbai.

But, finally at his insistence, I had agreed to the proposal. Accordingly, the date 4 April, suggested by him, was agreed to by me. While suggesting the date, I am sure he must have taken into account the usual schedule of the budget session of the state legislature. He had also written that IIPA would like to have my speech in advance so that it could be circulated to the audience. Accordingly, I had sent him my speech titled 'Is India A Secular Nation?' by email on 11 March 2016. I was told that the IIPA had also got it printed. Against this background, I was surprised when I was informed by email on 1 April that the lecture had been cancelled. No reason was given for the cancellation.

Are we back to the Emergency days? “

The lecture, running into 70 odd pages, is an astounding essay on secularism, detailed, comprehensive, informative and castigating for those who are playing with this Constitutional tenet. The Citizen will be producing excerpts from the lecture that is a major contribution to the discourse on democracy and secularism, over the next few days. The excerpts are in themselves an explanation why the lecture was cancelled just three days before the event at the Mantralaya in Mumbai.

The former Home Secretary writes:

“I am going to speak today on whether India is a secular nation. I have deliberately framed the question so as not to restrict it to 'India as a secular state'. For, I believe, it is not enough if the Indian state is secular, which it is not. It is equally, if not more, important that we are a secular society, a secular nation. I believe this question needs to be asked, reflected upon and answered truthfully.”

At the outset it must be stated that I am a firm believer in the concept of secularism. It is my conviction that India's survival as a multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-racial, multi-cultural society will depend on how successful it is in working its secularism. Presently, religious minorities constitute about 20 per cent of India's population, with Muslims accounting for 14.2 per cent. According to some estimates, in a few years, this percentage is likely to stabilise at a little over 25, with Muslims accounting for 20 per cent. With extremist and radical external forces such as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan, to name just two, bent on disturbing the peace and tranquillity in the country, it will be foolhardy to neglect the welfare of minorities. No society can prosper or be at peace with itself if one-fourths of its population feels neglected, deprived and unwanted.

There is a great deal of talk in the country about the appeasement of minorities in general and Muslims in particular but socio-economic indicators of Muslims brought out by Justice Sachar Committee bring out convincingly how this so-called "vote-bank" of some political parties has remained at the margin all these years. It is shocking to see that Parliament did not have time to discuss the findings of this report as also the major recommendations of Justice Ranganath Misra Commission report. Both these high level expert groups were appointed by the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Many in this distinguished gathering are aware of the predecessor-successor complex which is so common in civil services. Unfortunately, studies of expert committees and commissions too have been afflicted by this virus. Secularism was expected to bring about the integration of the diverse elements of Indian society. But, it is a travesty that the majority community as well as the minorities are dissatisfied with it. In fact, the concept of secularism has lost all credibility.

It must be stated that India would not have been either a parliamentary democracy or a secular nation, to whatever degree it is, without the firm commitment of Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel to these precepts. The Indian Constitution is one of the most explicitly secular Constitutions in the world though the founding fathers of the Constitution could not agree on calling it 'secular' for fears that it would be perceived as anti-religious or irreligious in the Western sense of the term. It was felt that by calling it secular, the Constitution would be denuded of the ethical and moral underpinning of the religious precepts which are so necessary for the governance of the country. This deficiency was made good during the Emergency in 1976 by the Forty-second Amendment by the inclusion of the word 'secular' in the Preamble of the Constitution.

It is disconcerting to see that, in recent times, serious questions are being raised about India's secularism. It is for the first time since independence that the Hindu Rashtra ideology is being talked about so openly, defiantly and persistently. It is interesting to note that Jawaharlal Nehru had made his position clear on Hindu Rashtra way back on 6 September 1951:

“It may sound very nice to some people to hear it said that we will create a Hindu Rashtra etc...Hindus are in a majority in this country and whatever they wish will be done. But the moment you talk of Hindu Rashtra you speak in a language which no other country except one can comprehend and that country is Pakistan because they are familiar with this concept. They can immediately justify their creation of an Islamic nation by pointing out to the world that we are doing something similar.

Hindu Rashtra can only mean one thing and that is to leave the modern way and get into a narrow, old fashioned way of thinking, and fragment India into pieces. Those who are not Hindus will be reduced in status. You may say patronisingly that you will look after the Muslims or Christians or others as in Pakistan they say that they will look after the Hindus. Do you think any race or individual will accept for long the claim that they are looked after while we sit above them?”

If the Supreme Court had not categorically declared in S.R. Bommai v. Union of India ((1994) 3 SCC 1) that secularism is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution and Parliament has no powers to dilute it in any way, concerted efforts would have been made by some political parties to amend the Constitution to dilute its secular tenets. ...

…..The Supreme Court itself has expressed apprehensions in this regard: "India till now is a secular country…we do not know for how long it will remain a secular country."

(Part Two can be read here.)