Should religion be mixed with politics? Or is faith an entirely personal matter which should not be imposed through political or state power? In a landmark judgement the Supreme Court recently held that seeking votes on the basis of religion, caste and creed is illegal. Although a dissenting opinion argued that such a law could mean that any questions, for example on injustices on religious minorities can’t be raised, the court has held up an ideal: in India, governance must at all times be secular.
Yes, there are challenges of implementation. There are no practical guidelines on how this law is to be implemented. The judgement could have implications for the Asaduddin Owaisi- led MIM or the Muslim League in Kerala, or even caste based outfits, and even for the ruling BJP. Indeed a Pandora’s box of confusing litigation may have been opened at the level of the lower courts.
Yet the apex court has rightly and courageously stated a philosophical position and boldly censured politicians who have freely used religious platforms and slogans through the years. At a time when the Supreme Court judgement on the national anthem has been criticised as judicial overreach, this judgement from the apex court has reiterated a moral principle: that democracy in India must for all time to come, be secular- in the true sense of the word.
On the eve of UP polls, controversial BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj recently said the population rise is not because of Hindus but “those who support the concept of four wives and 40 children.” Mayawati has called on Muslims not to divide their votes. At a meeting chaired by a TMC MP Maulana Barkati issued a fatwa offering 25 lakhs for violence against the PM. Modi celebrated his win in 2014 by a ganga aarti in Varanasi and a puja at Kashi Vishwanath temple, and Modi Sarkar proudly calls itself a Hindu nationalist government. Rahul Gandhi recently spotted the Congress symbol in photos of Lord Shiva and Guru Nanak. Should political leaders publicly invoke religion and publicly participate in religious functions? No they should not.
The Mahatma himself was criticised for bringing religious metaphors into politics, for adopting the dress of a Hindu fakir, for using bhajans like Vaishnava jana to for his satyagraha campaigns. Yet Gandhi’s moral mission was more spiritual than religious even though Indira Gandhi once said she “quarrelled with Gandhi for bringing mysticism into politics”. Nehru, as historian Sunil Khilnani writes, was a politician without a religious faith but a highly developed moral sense. For Nehru, religion was always about bigotry and superstition. The first time Indira Gandhi was sworn in as prime minister in 1966, she........