The article by Shiv Visvanathan, “How Modi defeated liberals like me” (May 22) was scholarly. This is one of the few occasions where a writer has examined the subterranean fears of the vast majority of the population for whom life, values and religion are a single indivisible entity. When their psychological existence became perilous on account of tyrannical attacks by westernised scholars and vote-hungry governments, they force themselves into mental exile.
Kadambattur, Tamil Nadu
The message is clear. The bogey of secularism is no more a saleable commodity in Indian politics.
I have always felt that the so-called secularists of India had started mocking the beliefs of the Hindu majority in India while empathising with the beliefs of the minorities. From time immemorial, Hindus have always welcomed outsiders and foreigners to reside with them in complete harmony. In fact, it was Pearl S. Buck, the novelist, who once said that the Jewish people could only reside in India without fear.
Shiv Visvanathan bizarrely pits the ethic of secularism against religious practice, as if only one can exist in the public sphere. If the liberals have been assertive about the secular values of a candidate or party, it is simply because elections and political power share a scientific equation. There are no redeemers in political outfits and the contention was to make people look beyond the robes of religion and charisma. If secularism has been proved to be a hypocrisy, as the article seems to assert, then it is time we made due changes to our Constitution.
Shiv Visvanathan is right about secularism being a project, but he is wrong in limiting its scope. Secularism was adopted by the BJP to push for a Uniform Civil Code, an excellent but alarming way to banish all kinds of differences among communities. It is also secularism that has been able to bring the radical contestation of different regional Bhakti saints into NCERT textbooks. Rather than think of secularism’s productive and contradictory capacity, his apologies are short-sighted because he embraces a middle class populism that comfortably ignores histories of difference in India.
Professor Visvanathan has missed some important arguments in his critique of secularism. Secularism is a mark of a fair state. People and even parties may be non-secular, but not a state. Second, secularism guarantees freedom of conscience, a basic value of a just polity. Thus, in a secular dispensation, no person may be forced to participate in an event against one’s conscience. The enforcing of particular prayers, rituals and observances in our government schools distorts their neutral character, harms freedom of conscience and spreads anxiety and fear among dissenters. Third, state resources and institutions must not be used to advance a particular religious belief.
Manoj K. Chahil,
Shiv Visvanathan’s article is a clever portrayal of a reformed liberal intellectual. This new wisdom could not have dawned on him all on a sudden, but has befittingly visited him after Mr. Modi’s triumph at the polls, which shows an amazing sense of timing.