'Cong must shed 'defensive' attitude on secularism'

'Cong must shed 'defensive' attitude on secularism'

'Cong must shed 'defensive' attitude on secularism'

Congress today faced criticism of pursuing "reluctant and apologetic secularism" from activists and academicians who asked it to shed its "defensive" approach towards communalism even as party vice president termed the charge "unfair" while vowing to decimate the politics of RSS.

At a panel discussion here ahead of the 125th birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the participants raised concerns over "rising intolerance" and stressed that it needed to be fought in the streets and villages much more than within the confines of a seminar room.

Referring to the recent controversy over beef, activist Shabnam Hashmi, the sister of slain activist Safdar Hashmi and founder of SAHMAT, said that if the Chief Minister of BJP- ruled Goa can say that beef cannot be banned there why can Congress chief ministers not take the same stand.

Further raising the charge of "Sangh terror", she said, "How many of us have challenged the Sangh terror... It has become a habit to play defensive politics. Why be defensive."

She also claimed that fascism was engulfing every inch of space and said that only civil society has been waging a categorical fight against it.

Recalling a statement by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after he assumed office in 2004 that the UPA government does not want to be vindictive, she said that while nobody is suggesting a vindictive approach, there is a need to fight such elements spread in all organisations.

She also said that only the late Arjun Singh, as HRD minister, had "weeded out" such elements from the ministry.

Professor Apoorvanand of Delhi University said, "The meaning of secularism is not reluctant secularism, nor it is apologetic secularism... India's default setting is Hindu. Therefore, secularism is a matter of very rigorous training. Nehru repeatedly said that it is a matter of rigorous training.

"He (Nehru) said there is a need to actively secularise society. Unfortunately, in 20 years after Nehru, Congress bowed to this Hindu pressure. Today, Congress says 'we are very frightened that we are being seen as pro-Muslim'."

Academician and political scientist Zoya Hassan said the social and political space that the the Hindu right "seized" was created by the "retreat of secularism during Congress rule" and added that it was compromise by Congress that had enabled BJP to "discredit" the entire secular process.

In strong remarks, she said that "secular parties, particularly Congress, have found the idea of scoring quick electoral gains by 'tampering' with secularism."In the quest for electoral advantage, Congress made a series of choices from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s that compromised irreversibly India's secular ethos," she said.

Most of the activists asked Congress and other secular political parties to "shed" their "defensive" approach on the issue of secularism and aggressively take on the RSS.

RSS and BJP were under repeated attack by the activists and academicians at the seminar, which projected a picture of "fascist take over" in the country and felt that the Congress was not countering them aggressively.

Responding to the criticism, Congress Vice President Gandhi, who was seated in the audience, asserted that the remark that Congress was not fighting the RSS was "slightly unfair".

"The biggest force that has fought the RSS for long long years is Congress. To say that we are not fighting (it) is unfair," he said even as he hastened to add that he completely agrees that "more can be done".

Gandhi also reminded the activists that Congress lost in the last Lok Sabha polls and its situation needs to be understood. "But to say that Congress is not openly fighting the RSS is not fair," he said.

Participating in the panel discussion on the topic of secularism, Ayesha Kidwai, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, emphasised the need for activation of citizens' rights to fight communalism while expressing outrage over the Dadri beef lynching incident.

Noting with concern that "today it is impossible for anybody to be a rationalist because that will bring the death sentence," Kidwai stressed that "devolution of rights is essential in the battle against RSS... To guarantee secularism, the struggle must be to give citizens rights."
She said that after Nehru's period, there was a "steady withdrawal of the state in guaranteeing secularism".

Badri Raina, a commentator on politics, culture and society, said that one can fight communal politics by practising "pragmatic communalism" and suggested that Congress and other parties should have a more categorical stance on the issue.

Raina also took a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not interacting directly with the media at press conferences. 

Academician Ram Puniyani said that there are elements that want to destroy the legacy of Nehru and rued that even a Union minister had made a remark that a person was a nationalist even though a Muslim. The apparent reference was to comments by Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma regarding late President APJ Abdul Kalam.

He cited examples from the life of Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad to define secularism and rued that the focus on scientific temper stressed by Nehru had not been carried forward.

"Nature abhors vacuum. What was required to implement the values of secularism did not happen. Instead of telling people about the idea of India as propounded in the 'Discovery of India' (written by Nehru), people were told that the country was, since time immemorial, a 'Hindu Rashtra' and Muslims and Christians came from outside," he said.

Puniyani said in this regard that an ideology to counter such a stand must be taken to the people.

Highlighting the need for the coming together of secular forces, he said, "Fascist forces are few, but they are together while those fighting them are totally divided."

During the session, Hashmi said that the situation is grave and needs to be fought with all might while senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and Raina insisted that the Hindu majority in the country was not communal as they noted that only 31 per cent of the voters had gone with BJP in the last Lok Sabha polls. 

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