Nehru’s secularism was non-European: Bilgrami

Special Correspondent – June 14, 2016

The Hindu

Renowned philosopher Akeel Bilgrami has called for a clear distinction between the idea of secularism as understood and practiced by Jawaharlal Nehru from what is understood by the term as derived from the European context.

Tracing the evolution of the idea of secularism in Europe and contrasting it with the idea as understood by many in contemporary times while delivering the Dr. M. Bhaskaran Nair Memorial Lecture here on Monday, Prof. Bilgrami pointed out that the doctrine of secularism emerged in Europe as a large and corrective measure, essentially, to be a counter to a process that starts with a nationalism founded on religious majoritarianism.

“If European nationalism was intended to gain its effects through a political psychology generated by excluding minorities within as ‘the other’ so as to produce a nation that is ‘ours’ for the majority, then Indian nationalism, for Nehru, by deliberate contrast, would seek to be an inclusive nationalism that would mobilise the minorities as well in a common cause of resisting their colonial masters. This strategy would be a re-presentation of the lived and unself-conscious pluralist traditions of India,” Prof. Bilgrami, professor at the University of Columbia, New York, said.

With the rise of the new sciences and their increasing elevation to centrality in European culture, starting with England, and then moving all across Europe, older forms of justification of state power that focused on the divine right of the State as it was personified in its monarch, came to be seen as unsustainable.

Social damage

Since India never did go through that form of nation building strategy, there was nothing in India’s traditions that created the kind of political and social damage that fell out of the European form of nationalism. In short, what secularism is there to correct did not have for either Nehru or Gandhi any echo in the socio-political life of India in the first place. There was nothing to be corrected.

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