Q: Was India a secular country ever in history?
Answer: Secularism is a dynamic concept. Like all dynamic concepts, secularism evolves. Secularism was opted as Indian value in the nascent Indian state after independence in the backdrop of Pakistan and its advocators included Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, B R Ambedkar, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Abul Kalam Azad, etc. They opted for secularism for a country which was highly divided on caste and religion. They took it as cherish goal, a favoured destination and it was an evolving concept.
India’s version of secularism is different from that of the western version which argued for complete separation of state from religion. And our state opted a version of secularism which gives equal respect to all religion and equal distance distanced from all religions in the matters of the state. But what has happened over the years, this destination has not seen a smooth journey in recent times. We all know the factors which has gone on to denigrate the very goal of secularism.
Q: Why is Modi’s communal politics winning over secular politics by rest of the progressive political parties?
Answer: When Pandit Nehru or Babasaheb Ambedkar were drafting Indian constitution, secularism, freedom, equality and justice were parts of the same window. Over the years, justice was hyphenated from secularism, so were the ideas of equality and freedom. This should not have happened. Somewhere Congress and other parties are also to blame. Secularism and justice were the need of more than 80% of Hindus. They had to battle caste division, caste-based discrimination as also a kind of response for multiple faces of Hinduism. In the backdrop of hyphenation, right wings got an opportunity to prepare its recipe for social and political disaster. Modi’s politics is simply the wounding outgrowth of what happened over the years.
Q: It apparently seems that BJP has been able to narrow the caste issue and mitigate its impact. Do you think that the progressive parties will have to reinvent credibility of secularism?
Answer: When you operate in the 24*7 Media which is dominated by Brahminic model (I don’t mean Brahmins), there is no space for alternative voice. For instance, people are termed as caste-based politicians. Casteism in politics is one thing and making arguments on the basis of discrimination or oppressive structures coming out of the caste hierarchy are different things. What Mr. Modi and his politics have done is that they have blurred the difference between these two. Having said so, caste issue is not over yet. ‘Beauty’ of caste is that it survives even in neo-liberal times. It has simply changed the nuances of discrimination but it is going on. Otherwise what makes Mr. Modi chose yogi adityanath in Uttar Pradesh and Trivendra Singh Rawat in Uttarakhand. Doesn’t it amount to denying the idea of democracy as representation what Ambedkar made an argument about. Democracy is all about representation and participation. BJP has disenfranchised certain communities. And when it happens, mind it that your immediate success might give you thrilling moments but it is the dangerous trend for the very idea of vibrant and representative democracy.
Q: What is the message Modi tried to convey by choosing Yogi as Chief Minister of UP?
Answer: Take the example of Bill Gates and Microsoft as Microsoft keeps updating its operating system. Yogi ji is a new version of operating system for BJP and RSS. Consumers will know that this version of window have additional benefits and things like that, nothing else. It also gives us a sense that the idea of Hindustan shaped by Gandhi and Nehru is being a not-so-silent burial.
Q: You are a Brahmin and Hindu. Why do you see a secular India is more desirable over a Hindu India for peace and prosperity?
Answer: I am a Brahmin and a Hindu. I cannot deny because I didn’t choose. Having said so, secularism is not only for Muslims. Secularism is ingrained in the very idea of India. Secularism is through our map and through our trajectory. What we have done is that we have de-migrated secularism. In the locality where I come from, girls are not married in the month when Sita was married because people feel that she didn’t have a happy married life. Hinduism has diversity of faith and belief systems and I would want that kind of diversity in Hinduism. I shall not allow anyone to impose their parochial and constricted version of Hinduism to be imposed on others. As a nation if we fail to respect that kind that diversity we shall fail to keep the spirit of India.
Q: Is Modi the real face of Modern-day Hinduism or Hindutva?
Answer: I still feel that elections results do bizarre kind of things. When Modi ji lost in Bihar, nobody said that doomsday has arrived. But he has just won in UP, people started saying that doomsday has arrived for oppositions. Let’s come out of this. And yes please do not make Hindutva and Hinduism appear synonymous with each other; they are not. Hindutva is a political doctrine of dividing people and contesting elections. Hindutva in fact is antithetical to what Hinduism stands for.
Modi ji doesn’t have anything in him which should take him as modern Hindu. A modern Hindu has to be liberal, has to be open and has to be all embracing. A modern Hindu has to believe in like Gandhi, ‘ Sarva Dharm Sam Bhav’. Can Modiji even appear for this test? I would consider Gandhiji as the most modern Hindu. Can Mr Modi match up to him? He has to have a delete button and only when he deletes his politics of demonizing ‘others’, his politics of denigrating people and communities, we can expect something. But that is too big a call for him and his politics.
Q: What is your take on the recent EVM controversy?
Answer: The very idea of democracy is based on free and fair elections. ‘Free and fair elections’ has to be felt, experienced and perceived by the people. Now it isn’t something that is in written in a statute book. Democracy cannot survive under the darkest clouds of doubts. If there are doubts about functioning of EVMs, it is important that the doubts have to be cleared. What is the harm in going back to Ballot paper? I don’t see any harm. Developed nations of the world have gone back to Ballots. Ballots gives you a sense that here I cast my vote and has a direct relationship. In EVMs, there is a digital relationship. What has happened yesterday and for the interest of free and fair elections, it is all the more important to remove the doubt and restore faith for common people.
Q: It is possible to go back to ballot as Election Commission does seem to be keen?
Answer: In democracy, ultimately people’s voice and concern matter. This is not the first time that doubt has been raised. GVL Narasimha Rao wrote a book “Democracy at Risk” which exposed Election Commission’s failure to assure the integrity of India’s electronic voting system. And Shri L K Advani wrote forward for that book. People across the political spectrum have raised this issue time and again.
Important thing is if there are doubts and that too serious ones, I simply argue that what people want in democracy that should matter. If you have brute majority in Lok Sabha with just 31% votes, you cannot deny what is going on in the minds of 69%. Remember that whenever the legislative opposition is weak, the opposition on the street gets stronger. And if the opposition on the street feel that ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark’, we must address that concern urgently.