Gandhi, Nehru strove for inclusive polity: Bilgrami

December 30, 2015

The Hindu

Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru made genuine attempt to build a pluralistic and inclusive movement against imperial forces and the Khilafat Movement as well as the mass contact programme with the Muslims were proof of that, said Akeel Bilgrami, professor of philosophy at Columbia University. He was delivering a lecture on the topic “There is no distinct Indian secularism” organised by the Progressive Forum here on Tuesday.

He said secularism should be understood as a modern European concept and therefore there was very little mention of it in the writing of Gandhi and Nehru before Independence. Indian society was at that time unselfconsciously pluralistic and inclusive and therefore there was no need to bring in secularism into the discourse.

Secularism arose in the European context to mitigate the ill effects of European Nationalism which created civil strife by pitting the majority against the minority. Religious ‘majoritarianism’ resulted in a minority backlash in most European nations and out of it was born the concept of secularism, that is, keeping all religions out of the polity, he said.

In Indian context, however, there was no need for such European type of secularism till the 1980s. Certain historical developments have made the concept of secularism very significant and relevant for the past 35 years. He also mentioned that secularism was brought into the Indian Constitution through an Amendment only in the seventies.

He said even though both Gandhi and Nehru made earnest efforts to build at truly pluralistic movement they failed to prevent the partition of the country. The efforts of Savarkar of the Hindu Mahasabha and others to build the nation following the European path and also the stand taken by Jinnah led to partition. There were also economic reasons, as Nehru made it clear that there would be land reforms in Independent India. This prompted Sikander Hayat Khan to lend his support to Jinnah’s two nation theory. He said the present government is following the path of Savarkar and therefore the European concept of secularism was now very much relevant.

Akeel Bilgrami says secularism should be understood as a modern European concept and therefore there was very little mention of it in the writings of Gandhi and Nehru before Independence

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