I am not given to writing these open letters, and so this is one of those rare exceptions that I can assure you will not become the rule. And before I launch forth, I must let you know that I am one of those secularists that you love to decry during your visits abroad, almost as if ‘secularism’ is a dirty word. I also wish to emphasise that I think---despite the effort of even some of my colleagues and friends to search for an alternative term---that the word ‘secularism’ is a powerful expression of what is good, humane, just and correct in society.
Yes you got it, secularism is not just a political term but is imbued with the morality----and this has nothing to do with the morality that some of your Ministers insist represents their version of Indian culture---that defines progressive politics across the world. Politics without morality is rank fundamentalism, violent and regressive in all its forms.
I know there is no room for surprise in the politics that is unfolding today, but being a not very intelligent mortal excuse me when I jump with shock when I listen to some of what you say while visiting countries abroad. And here I am focusing on your varied comments against secularism and secularists, jibes really, that do not behove the elected Prime Minister of a country as diverse, as vibrant and as secular (yes it is a good term Sir!) as India. Of course, your intention is to tarnish the secularists as you say, with a brush that really fails to understand, or appreciate one of the most important tenets of the Constitution.
In Ireland you were greeted by local students reciting the shlokas at a function organised by the Indian diaspora. While thanking them you said, “I congratulate the teachers. Its a matter of happiness that we can do it in Ireland, But had it been done in India, then questions would have been raised on secularism.” Really? When has that happened? I as a journalist have attended any number of functions over the years that began with this Sanskrit recitation, attended with respect by all. Just as I have attended functions that begin with the recitation of the Quran, or a gospel from the Bible.
The problem Mr Modi is not with private organisations doing what they will, the problem is when the state uses any particular religion as its own.
Secularism in India is not against religion. It is for all religions. It stands for religious unity, not divisiveness. It stands for peace, not violence. It stands for the freedom of all, repeat all from the majority to the smallest minority, to practice their religion. By enshrining secularism in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution that all “nationalist” Indians believe and follow, ( except some who claim to be national but are actually anti-national in their opposition to this document on which the foundations of Indian democracy rest) the state was empowered to protect all religions and the right of all citizens to follow any religion (or no religion) of their choice.
So when shlokas are recited at organisations held by private organisations all present---be they of any religion--- participate allowing the words to bring a sense of peace into their lives. But when shlokas are recited at government functions secularists who are the majority in India still, feel uneasy, and certainly not at peace as this violates the law and the Constitution that wants the state to give itself a neutral identity. Necessary so that it can be the impartial custodian of all the diverse groups, cultural, religious, caste, that live in this amazing country called India.
Last year while visiting Japan you presented the Bhagavad Gita to the Japanese Emperor Akihito. And then again attacked the secularists when you said that this would kick up a storm and trigger television debates at home. If you really thought that, then perhaps you should have paused and thought why this had even crossed your mind. Perhaps because you knew that as the Prime Minister of secular, democratic India a religious book as a gift by the head of government was not necessarily the politically correct thing to do. And perhaps if you had enclosed a copy of the text of other religions you would have made a statement, that in itself would have been powerful in upholding the religious tolerance that India is identified with across the world. But you did not. But no, it did not kick up a storm at the time as it was not of great consequence one way or the other. In fact more important than the gesture, were your comments as these were interpreted at home as a clear attack on those who believed and followed the Constitution and the laws of India.
During a visit to Germany this year, you dear Mr Prime Minister kept up the tirade. Appreciating the Sanskrit bulletin on German radio you said that there was no such bulletin in India because “secularism would be endangered” according to some. Really? In the long years of my innings as a journalist I have never, repeat never. come across a single instance where secularists have opposed Sanskrit in any form. We learnt it in convent schools as a mandatory language till Class 8. And longer if any of us so wished. I know dozens of secularists who are experts in the Sanskrit language, having majored in the subject. And perhaps you might be surprised to learn that the list includes Muslims. And not necessarily of the APJ Kalam kind.
There is no opposition to Sanskrit sir. But definite opposition when the clout of the state that should go towards building languages, preserving heritage, nurturing diverse culture, goes into attacking and even destroying this as representative of the minorities of India. The people of Tamil Nadu burn vehicles when they feel that instead of respecting their language and their culture, the north is pushing Hindi down their throats. The minorities feel threatened and react when they see that in the name of culture, an Indian language and Indian heritage is being demolished systematically. Secularists unlike fundamentalists want all religions, all cultures, all languages, all castes, all dialects, all…. to flourish in India. Fundamentalists Sir, divide this unity into “ours” and “yours” and seek to destroy what is “theirs.”
So for the record secularists love Sanskrit Mr Modi as they appreciate and love all languages and dialects, respect the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, the Bible, the Quran, all scriptures, atheism, science, reason and rationality. The sholaks recited by the students in Dublin must have sounded so peaceful to the ears, strange that these evoked rancour in you Sir, when I am sure their intention was to unite and not divide.
In conclusion a quote that might help. One from Gandhi who is not exactly a favourite right? But even so here goes, “If I were a dictator, religion and state would be separate. I swear by my religion. I will die for it. But it is my personal affair. The state has nothing to do with it. The state would look after your secular welfare, health, communications, foreign relations, currency and so on, but not your or my religion. That is everybody's personal concern!”
So don’t upset yourself Prime Minister Sir. We secularists love Sanskrit. But do you love Urdu, Tamil, Telugu...and all the languages and dialects of India? Excuse me for asking, but it is only because we have never heard you speak of any of these that make the culture of India unique in the world.