'What have we done about our secularism?'
Former Home Secretary Madhav Godbole’s new book, Secularism: India at a Crossroads, launched at the Uprashtrapati Bhavan with expressions of unease at religious trends in the country
Dhruba Basu Delhi
On August 19, amidst the exquisitely kept gardens and serene environs of his official residence at 6 Maulana Azad Road, Vice President Mohammed Hamid Ansari spoke, to a small but distinguished gathering, of a snake in paradise: the increasing evidence that ‘secularism has been enshrined by the Supreme Court in the basic structure of the Constitution of India, but ambiguity about it persists.’ It is not the first time the Vice President has chosen to speak out on this subject and the occasion could not have been more conducive to his views.
The occasion was the book launch of Secularism: India at a Crossroads by former Home Secretary Madhav Godbole. Also a member of the launch panel was HK Dua, nominated Rajya Sabha MP and former editor of The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express and The Tribune. Dua, who spoke before Dr Ansari, expressed himself even more strongly: ‘The intolerance that is widespread has lead to a lot of tension in the country… If you start exclusive politics and try to impose on those who are not with you, you are going against the fundamental character of this country… Is excellence to derided and mediocrity to be promoted in the name of uniformity and nationalism?’
Secularism is the first book published by Rupa after it celebrated its 80th anniversary on August 17, the 6th book of Godbole’s published by the publishing house and his 20th book in all. As the title and the Vice President’s concern suggests, the book is concerned with the fact that, ‘Religion, which is supposed to be a private and personal matter, is present everywhere in our public life’.
The words are from the book’s Preface. Godbole caused quite a stir in March 1993 when he responded to being caught in the political crossfire between Cabinet Minister SB Chavan and Minister of State Rajesh Pilot by taking voluntary retirement from the Home Ministry. What this reinforced for those who knew him was his integrity and proof of that can be found in his writings since. Titles like The Holocaust of Indian Partition, India’s Parliamentary Democracy on Trial, Good Governance: Never on India’s Radar and The God Who Failed: An Assessment of Jawaharlal Nehru’s Leadership leave no doubts that speaking truth to power is a habit for Godbole, and with the publication of Secularism, he is at it again.
While it is clear that the unleashing of ‘extremist forces’ under the BJP government served as the immediate cause for the writing of the book, he makes it clear at the very beginning that, ‘Intolerance has been a hallmark of India for several years’. His intention is not to simply castigate the present dispensation at the Centre, but to look at the failings of secularism as it has played out in the Indian polity and to suggest ways and means of correcting the errors and oversights of the past. It is ‘the first book devoted to operationalisation of secularism’, a reference to Godbole’s recommendations for thoroughgoing institutional reform in the enactment of secularism at the ground level.