We need to reassess the ideas of secularism: Javed Akhtar

Big ideas: Javed Akhtar at the programme held at Y.B. Chavan Centre on Sunday.

Big ideas: Javed Akhtar at the programme held at Y.B. Chavan Centre on Sunday.   | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

The poet, writer and lyricist speaks about the pressing need of the hour – fighting communal forces — at the third edition of the Mumbai Collective

Poet, writer, lyricist and an active commentator on current affairs both on and off Twitter, Javed Akhtar held forth on secularism and its meaning in Indian politics, to a rapt audience of over 600 today. Taking on right wing organisations, like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Muslim League (ML) – Mr. Akhtar made the repeated point that the word ‘secular’ needs to be redefined.

Going back in time, to the first general election held in India in 1952, Mr. Akhtar cited examples of deserving Muslim candidates, among whom was the freedom fighter, Saifuddin Kitchlew – whose arrest was the trigger for the Jallianwallah Bagh meeting (in 1919) – who weren’t given tickets to contest, thereby setting the trend towards appeasement. “The word secular has come to mean the appeasement of the fundamentalist elements of minority communities. When the foundation of a concept is weak – then the building’s structure will be crooked, won’t it?,” he asked.

Mr. Akhtar was part of a line-up of speakers at the third edition of the Mumbai Collective, a day-long festival celebrating secularism, pluralism, democracy and freedom. For a little over 40 minutes, Mr. Akhtar, talked about politics, current affairs, the importance of the Indian armed forces as a peerless institution, above regionalism and casteism and the pressing need to reassess our ideas about secularism – in order to defeat communal forces.

Citing the example of ‘triple talaq’, the poet-lyricist said that India needs a uniform civil code that treats all its citizens alike. He said, “If we are indeed secular then how can we differentiate between the Hindu Code Bill (which has been an evolving document) and Muslim Personal Law? It should be the same for all.”

Calling the RSS, an unadulterated fascist organisation who have never approved of the Indian constitution or the Indian flag until recently, Mr. Akhtar dubbed the organisation, collaborators of the British along with the ML.

With his characteristic wit in place, Mr. Akhtar frequently brought the house down with applause and laughter. His lines exhorting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to supplement the armed forces with a Gujarat regiment were a particular crowd-pleaser. He said, “The entire country should be represented in the army. I request our Prime Minister – who is very obliged to our armed forces – to ensure that we have a regiment from Gujarat with recruitments from Ahmedabad, Surat, Baroda.”

His response to the recent Balakot strike was, “We have established that we will react.” He said that the conflict was with the state of Pakistan and its army and its support of terror, not with ordinary people.

Conceding to audience requests, Mr. Akhtar ended his session with two poems, ‘Naya Hukunama’ and ‘Saazish,’ which highlight the idea of individual expressions and freedom essential to the flourishing of a democracy.

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 10:42:26 AM |

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