January 4, 2001


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Arvind Lavakare

The absurd depths of 'secularism'

The Ayodhya acrimony in Parliament has made some shams of 'secularism' raise their ugly heads yet again. Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Imam of the Jama Masjid, Vincent Concessao, the Archbishop of Delhi, and Rajeev Dhavan have quickly denounced the 'communalism' of Vajpayee & Co while baying for the 'secular' word mentioned in our Constitution's Preamble.

Bukhari abhors the very idea of a temple being constructed on the site in Ayodhya where Mir Baqi built the mosque in 1528. Any attempt to build that temple, warns Bukhari, will compel him to appeal for hard sanctions against India from the Organisation of Islamic Conference, OIC. 'I will be forced to tell them (the OIC) that the foreign exchange they are handing over to the government is being used against the Muslims in the country,' he has threatened. (The Asian Age, December 23, 2000)

Don't you smell sedition in that warning? But the entire 'secular' clan of India is struck by the nasal atrophy that always overcomes them when a hard core Muslim or a Christian speaks the fundamentalist lingo.

Anyway, what is that foreign exchange which Bukhari miya says the OIC countries are 'handing over to the government' and 'is being used against the Muslims'?

The Government of India's 'Receipts Budget' for 2000-2001 (distributed at the time of the annual Budget) shows that the entire assistance from the Islamic sources to India till March 31, 1999 in US dollars was:

a. Kuwait fund -- 302.68 million;
b. Abu Dhabi fund -- 15.00 million;
c. OPEC fund -- 218. 00 million and;
d. Saudi fund -- 212.68 million.

The cumulative Islamic assistance from India's Independence till a year ago thus totals the "grand" sum of US $749.18 million. Compare that figure with US $ 7,125 million received from the US government in that same period, with US $ 1,500 million received from the European Community since 1976, and with US $ 25,614 million from the International Development Association since June 1961. What bull is then Bukhari blabbering about?

Further, is that Islamic assistance being "handed " to India? Not at all. While all the above assistance from the USA, the EC and the IDA has been totally as grants, the OPEC Fund's $ 114 million has been given at a service charge of 0.75 per cent per annum, while all other Islamic assistance has been in the form of interest-bearing loans -- not grants doled out.

Nor is that Islamic assistance being used against the Muslims in India. For Bukhari miya's information, excepting US $ 21 million given by the OPEC Fund for India's balance of payments support, all the other US $ 728.18 million of Islamic assistance has been for a wide spectrum of specific development projects --- power plans, hospitals, railways, port development, sewerage, agricultural bank, farming, fertilisers and fisheries.

While the above proves Bukhari miya as a fabricator of facts, none of our 'secular' fraternity has nailed him. English edit writers and television newsanchors have simply kept mum. The collective letter writers like 'Anand Patwardhan, Dr Asghar Ali, Ram Puniyani and 23 others' are similarly either scared of criticising any Muslim or are simply ignorant about the 'grand' Islamic assistance to India that the imam of Delhi has prattled about.

Then there's the archbishop of Delhi. Splashed next to Bukhari's threat in the Muslim-oriented The Asian Age was that reverend's 'big question' as to whether the 'secular' concept is practised in India at all. He was complaining in the context of what he dubbed as '400 cases of attack on Christians across the country since 1997.'

One doesn't know what the archbishop considers as an 'attack,' but if he is so sure of his data, there's one thing he should do straight away. He should ask for more financial grants from the Vatican's myriad arms and publish a multi-language booklet listing the essential details of each of those '400 cases.' Simultaneously, he should take the country's minorities commission to court for its failure to fulfil its statutory obligations. While he ponders over picking up this gauntlet thrown at him, he should also think of those 975 million or so non-Catholics in India whom the pope humiliated recently in just one attack when he asserted that the Vatican brand of Christianity alone is man's path to salvation. Is that indeed the rev archbishop's concept of "secularism"?

Next in the 'secular' queue is Rajeev Dhavan -- whom The Hindu of Chennai so often patronises to expand on its own blatantly anti-Hindutva propaganda. The latest Ayodhya episode made Dhavan write an edit-page article (December 15, 2000) in the paper. In it he gave a sermon to Vajpayee on secularism while interspersing it with the accusation that the efforts of Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao to bring about a negotiated settlement of the Ayodhya dispute 'failed due to the intransigence of the VHP.' Note how fake "secularism" so blinds an ex-judge as to make him forget that it was really then prime minister Chandra Shekhar's effort that was aborted by the obstinate obscurants of the All India Babri Masjid Committee (See Ayodhya's Original Sinners).

It's no use finding fault with ex-high court judges when Supreme Court judges are on record for their conflicting concept of secularism.

Conspicuously enough, that occurred in the Ayodhya context. It happened in 1994 when the apex court heard the bunch of four petitions challenging the Narasimha Rao government's Acquisition of Certain Areas at Ayodhya Act, 1993 and was also required to answer the reference made to it by the President of India on January 7, 1993 under Article 143 (1) of our Constitution as to 'Whether a Hindu temple or any Hindu religious structure existed prior to the construction of the Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid… in the area in which the structure stood?' (All India Reporter, 1995, Vol. 82, Supreme Court section, page 617).

While the Ayodhya Act above was meant to enable the Government of India to acquire 67.703 acres of land covering the structure site as well as certain areas around it, its Section 7(2) required the central government to ensure that the position existing in the area on which the structure stood should be maintained until later decided by a government notification as per Section 6 of the act following, obviously, the Supreme Court's answer to the Presidential reference.

The effect of Section 7(2) was that the a. worship by Hindus of the idols installed on the Ram chabutra (standing within the courtyard of the disputed structure) would continue as before (unopposed by Muslims) and b. the right of worship of the Muslim community would not be curtailed (although Muslims were not offering worship at any place in the disputed structure since December 1949).

The pronouncement of two Supreme Court judges was:

  • "Section 7(2) perpetuates the performance of puja on the disputed site… No account is taken that until the night of December 22-23, 1949, when the idols were placed in the disputed structure, it was used as a mosque and that the Muslim community has a claim to offer namaz thereon… The provision of section 7 supports the finding that the act is skewed to favour one religion against another. The state is bound to honour and to hold the scales even between all religions. It may not advance the cause of one religion to the detriment of another… the act itself cannot stand."(ibid-pp.654-655)

  • "The act and the reference… favour one religious community and disfavour another; the purpose of the reference is, therefore, opposed to secularism and is unconstitutional."(ibid pg. 657)

The three other judges on that bench did not concur with their two brother judges that the entire Acquisition Act was unconstitutional. In their majority view that prevailed, only section 4(3) that abated all pending suits and proceedings on the disputed site without providing for an alternative dispute resolving mechanism amounted to negation of rule of law and, therefore, was unconstitutional.

Since their judgment would revive the judicial remedy, they held that the Presidential reference was rendered superfluous and one that did not require to be answered. The majority view was of Justices M N Venkatachaliah, J S Verma and G N Ray. The minority comprised Justice A M Ahmadi, who went on to become the Chief Justice of India, and Justice S P Bharucha, who is tipped to be the next Chief Justice.

It is clear that we need a pucca definition of "secularism" so that we are not left to wonder why Nehru -- patron saint of India's-brand of "secularism" -- rode roughshod over all, including the President of India to get the Hindu Code Bill of 1954 put on the statute book but never cared to introduce a uniform civil code for all religions although the Constitution bound him to do that under Article 44.

Arvind Lavakare

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