Shashi Tharoor is a classic example of Indian liberal who fails to admit the deficiencies of ‘secularism’ as practised by political parties which are opposed to ‘communalism’. In an article titled ‘Secularism is just a word, but opposition will resist BJP bid to drop it from Constitution’, Shashi Tharoor explores constituent assembly debates about secularism. While admitting that the nature of the constitution doesn’t change without the word, he fears that its removal will adversely impact pluralism and religious freedom in India.
While arguing the matter, Tharoor inadvertently admits that the aspects of ‘secularism’ that irritate the Hindus of India. He writes (emphasis added) :
Under the Indian version of secularism, the government’s financial largesse is extended to the Muslim waqf boards, Buddhist monasteries, and certain Christian religious institutions; and under a 1951 religious and charitable endowment law, state governments are empowered to take over, own and operate Hindu temples, collect revenue from offerings, and redistribute that revenue towards such purposes as it deems fit, including any non-temple-related ones.
The Hindutva brigade does not like this, and it is determined to do away with it as a significant step towards its project of transforming India into a Hindu state, or at least a state with a distinctively Hindu identity. To hear their point of view is to take in a host of factors — the uncritical acceptance by the Indian establishment of regressive practices among the Muslim community while demanding progressive behaviour from Hindus, the support for minority education while denying such aid to Hindus, the promotion of ‘family planning’ among Hindus but not among Muslims, the cultivation of ‘vote banks’ led by conservative Muslim leaders but the disparagement of their Hindu equivalents, and so on.
If the state is truly secular why would it want to take away the revenues of Hindu temples and redistribute it for other purposes? In fact, the state should withdraw from controlling temple affairs entirely. Secondly, he indirectly highlights his party’s failure to weed out regressive practices in Islam which include triple talaq, nikah halala and polygamy. He also fails to admit that lack of family planning among Muslims is one of the key reasons for their poverty. Instead of highlighting the problems and solving them he goes on to say that Muslims are under-represented in police forces and over-represented in prisons. He writes (emphasis added)
The result is a widespread denunciation of the “appeasement” of Muslims, which seems bizarre when one looks at the statistical evidence of Muslim socio-economic backwardness and the prevalence of discrimination in such areas as housing and employment. Muslims are under-represented in the nation’s police forces and over-represented in its prisons. Yet Hindutva leaders have successfully stoked a perception that government benefits are skewed towards minorities, and thus justified their campaign for Hindu self-assertiveness.
The reason for this situation is again, highlighted by Tharoor in his own article. Instead of bringing Muslims to the mainstream by providing good schools which teach Math, Science, English and prepare them for jobs, secular politicians funded Madrassas.
The Indian system has created incentives for various religious denominations to start and operate ‘minority schools’ and colleges with substantial government funding, impart religious education, and be exempt from various regulations and stipulations the Indian government imposes on non-minority institutions. (Indeed, while government schools and colleges may not impart religious instruction, religious sects and charities affiliated to minority communities may open their own schools and receive state financial assistance even as they impart religious indoctrination).
Providing religious education does not lead the Muslim youth towards jobs in police forces or industry. If the secular politicians had the interests of the community in their mind they would have spent money on improving government schools. Now, when the fallacy has been pointed out ‘secular brigade’ hides behind intolerance and secularism.
Tharoor’s version of secularism not only discriminates between Hindus and Muslims but also between goats and bulls. Jallikattu is somehow cruel, Bakrid is not. Though unrelated to his article this example demonstrates the thought process of India’s secular bandwagon.
This kind of double standards is a part and parcel of ‘secular’ discourse. His article turns out to be an exercise in defending the worst aspects of secularism that has found root in Indian establishment. The need of the hour is to correct the mistakes of ‘secularists’ in Indian politics. The corrections required do not require any constitutional amendment but a change in the implementation of its provisions at the ground level.