Bangalore International Centre had organised the Bangalore Book Launch and Discussion of the book “Secularism : India At a Crossroads” authored by Dr. Madhav Godbole, former Home Secretary, GOI on Friday, 23rd December, 2016 at 6.30 PM at its auditorium. The event was chaired and moderated by Prof. Sandeep Shastri, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Jain University.
In an extensively researched talk, Dr. Godble took the audience back to the circumstances which led to the Partition of the country in 1947, with the establishment of Pakistan as a Muslim theocratic state when India had the option of anointing itself as a Hindu nation but it consciously chose to be secular. In the process of partition, several compromises had to be made to accommodate even unreasonable demands of both the majority and the minority communities. Dr. Godbole argued that perhaps this was unavoidable, at the time, due to the over-riding concern of adopting the Constitution. The Founding Fathers of the Constitution could not agree on calling the Constitution ‘secular’. The word ‘secular’ was included in the Preamble of the Constitution only in 1976 during the “Emergency”, without much discussion, when most leaders of the opposition parties were in jail. Thus there is no definition of the word ‘secular’ in the Constitution. Another anachronism is that though the concept of minorities is central to secularism, the Constitution has not defined the word and has merely relied on how the British used the term it to promote religious identities to sub-serve their policy of ‘divide and rule’.
Now that India is at a crossroad of secularism and Hindu Rashtra ideologies, Dr. Godble wondered whether one can unhesitatingly assert that our country is totally secular. He referred to the fact that separation of religion from politics has eluded the country though the Constituent Assembly (Legislative) had passed a resolution mandating it, 70 years ago, in 1947! Also, for any country to be truly secular, it is not enough that its Constitution is states it to be secular. It is equally, if not more important, that its society and its citizens are secular.
It was way back in 1994 that the Supreme Court declared secularism as a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. But now the Supreme Court itself seems to be having doubts about India’s continuing commitment to secularism.
Dr. Godble noted that secularism as a fundamental right is entrenched in the Constitution, but is not easily enforceable. Therefore, he suggested setting up a constitutional commission on secularism to provide a credible and transparent mechanism for enforcement of secularism.
Prof. Sandeep Shastri chaired and moderated the discussion with his vast experience and wit. While sharing most of the views of Dr. Godbole, he raised his concern about the frequent shifts in the stance of the Supreme Court on several facets of secularism-related issues which come up before the Supreme Court from time to time.
The audience participated in the Q & A session with much enthusiasm.