End the ambivalence

Updated - November 26, 2021 10:26 pm IST

Published - February 03, 2015 12:30 am IST

Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah did well to try and quell the controversy over the demands for dropping the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ from the Preamble of the Constitution. In his interview to The Hindu , he could not have been more unequivocal: “The BJP believes that the Preamble, as it stands today, should remain. There is no need to change it.” What is now needed is for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to endorse his political aide, Mr. Shah, and give a public assurance on retaining the two words, to remove any doubt about the stance of the government on this issue. The point of concern is not whether India needed the word in the Preamble to be secular, but as noted in The Hindu ’s editorial, “A needless controversy” (February 2, 2015), the disconcerting signal that the dropping of the word would send to the minorities of the country. While there is little doubt that Mr. Shah’s thoughts on the subject are aligned with those of Mr. Modi, the Prime Minister can make a big difference by distancing his government from the controversy fanned by the BJP’s far right ally, the Shiv Sena. Otherwise, Ministers and party functionaries would feel free to stoke fresh controversies of this nature every now and then.

While Mr. Shah seemed keen to end the controversy over any change to the Preamble, he did not think the political storm over the ghar vapsi programme undertaken by Hindutva outfits would derail the development agenda of the government. Indeed, the BJP president was intent on using the heat generated by the programme of reconversion to Hinduism as an excuse to push for a specific law on banning forcible religious conversion. Mr. Shah, while defending U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech on religious freedom in India, stuck to the Hindutva line that conversion is a problem, and sought support for an anti-conversion legislation without seeing a need for any further debate on the subject. Actually, the divergence within the BJP on these crucial issues is becoming increasingly evident with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh saying that ghar vapsi had no place in India, even while describing Mr. Obama’s remarks on religious divides in the country as “unfortunate”. This is another reason why Mr. Modi must step in with an assurance that his government has no plans to bring in changes to the Preamble, or to encourage communally divisive politics. Without his intervention, the government and the party will appear to be speaking in different voices on issues of national importance. Development cannot bloom miraculously on a separate track insulated from the subversive political challenges of the day.

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