There is absolutely no alternative to a Secular India
In a hard-hitting article in the Shillong Times, Salesian priest, Albert Thyrniang, protested the attempts to “Christianize” the swearing-in ceremonies of Meghalaya and Nagaland governments. Such ceremonies, he points out, leaves us with ‘no more right to protest against saffronization and majoritarianism’.
“Do not pray to be seen by people… But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen…” (Adapted from the Bible).
This writer does not usually take refuge in any scripture because you will never win an argument by quoting holy books. There will be others who will use other verses to disprove you. An argument can go on endlessly. However, this time is an exception. On March 7 before the swearing in ceremony the cabinet ministers were seen praying in the chamber of the chief minister officiated by the Archbishop of Shillong. Later in the day, purportedly after the inaugural function, the MLAs too were prayed over by a pastor before they assumed office.
This is a repeat of 2018 when religious leaders were also invited to bless the newly elected legislators. The intention of this exercise is to make a show before the media and the public. They were widely circulated on social media soon after the display.
If the ministers and MLAs are so devout and religious why didn’t they go to any church in the city to implore God’s guidance prior to occupying their chair of responsibility? There are enough places of worship in the capital city and in the whole state. Let public offices remain completely secular. The hosts (ministers and MLAs) and invitees (religious leaders) do not understand the serious implications of such an act.
The state has a mixed population. It is true Christians are the majority. But there are also followers of Niamtre, adherents of Niam Khasi and other indigenous religions, Muslims, Hindus and others. They are also equally important. Why invite only Christian leaders? What about non-Christians? They also have just voted for the same representatives in the just concluded elections on February 27. Religion was not a consideration when they cast their vote. Their votes were also tallied along with all others on March 2. Then why were their votes ‘Christianised’ on February 7? This is completely insensitive to their sentiments. That Christians are a majority in this hill state is precisely the point.
As we will see below majoritarianism is wrong and exhibition of it is very dangerous. Just because we are a majority does not mean we have to disregard other faiths. Tomorrow other forms of prayers may be performed in the CM’s residence, Raj Bhavan, Secretariat, Assembly House, etc. What will we say then? We have to accept it gracefully.
‘Concerned with charges of corruption against the MDA government, in May last year the church initiated the assembly of political leaders (the first of its kind) to ensure that a corruption-free government is installed post elections. The NPP that led the ‘corrupt’ government did not even care to attend the meeting. But soon after the elections the church hurried to showers its blessings on exactly the same government. It has now purified all of its previous wrong doings. I don’t think, proceeding or subsequent to the ritual, the ministers were chided for their ‘guilt’ while in the previous government.
We are falling into the trap of the BJP, RSS and cohorts who are ‘saffronising’ the country’s institutions and the whole landscape of this nation. Since 2014 the brand of politics has been towards the direction of establishing a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation). Hindutva politics is on the rise from the date the BJP gained power. Violence against and hostility to minorities, equating nationalism to Hindu nationalism, bringing in pro-Hindutva laws and policies like stringent anti-cow slaughter acts, ant-conversion laws, CAA and now the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), has been the narrative. Granted state support, right wing groups have been taking the law into their own hands against the so-called violators in the name of gau raksha (cow protection) and prevention of Hindus from conversion. The objective is to compel everyone in this diverse nation into accepting the Hindutva ideology.
We have heard RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat multiple times asserting that all Indians living in the country are Hindus by DNA. He even made the claim in Shillong declaring, quite explicitly that Niam Khasi and Niamtre are within Hinduism and hence Christians, converts from the two indigenous religions, are Hindus by default. No one made a hue and cry.
Education is the first target of saffronisation. Textbooks are saffronised. The New Education Policy has the stamp of saffronisation. The lengthy NEP will be used as a tool to spread the Hindu nationalistic agenda. Higher education is the main target remodelling it to restore India’s (Hindu) glorious past. Saffronisation is fast happening. Scholars and intellectuals linked with the RSS and its ideology are appointed in educational and cultural institutions at the Centre and in BJP-ruled states. Cultural heads and vice-chancellors with RSS background are appointed in the Central and the state- run universities. Through education saffronisation will permeate to other democratic institutions and to every walk of life.
Today political institutions like those of the President of India, that of the Prime Minister and Governors are occupied by former RSS pracharaks or those subscribing to its philosophy. Even the Judiciary, including the highest, is feared to be saffronised. A commentator writes, “…every unilateral act passed by parliament which was against any community had the backing of Supreme Court of India which has become highly saffronised.”
The RSS militant desire is to spread Hindu-first ideology all over India. To it minority Muslims and Christians should accept that India is a nation of Hindus. It even pushes them to ‘re-convert’ to Hinduism. Even if they don’t they should live in subservience to the majority. The dogma expounded by MS Golwalkar in branding Muslims, Christians and Communists (in ‘Bunch of Thoughts’) as internal threats is continuing today as well. Though the Indian constitution is secular in theory Hindu majoritarianism and BJP’s authoritarianism is triumphing over the democratic values. To many, Muslims, Christians and Dalits will be further marginalized in the current environment.
We have no more right to protest against saffronisation and majoritarianism. We can’t counter the Hindutva agenda any longer because we ourselves are guilty of a different kind of fundamentalist attitude. The state government which is supposed to be secular invites only leaders of the majority faith to pray over its ministers and lawmakers without consideration for other minorities. We are doing exactly what the RSS and BJP expounds. Our tongues are now tied and our mouths are shut. Tomorrow the chief minister may well invite traditional priests, gurus or Muslim preachers to perform the rites.
Where will it end? Secularism is the best. It is not anti-religion. It is impartial to any religion. It treats everyone equally. It does not offend anyone. We have to preserve it especially in Meghalaya. Let no public prayer of any form take place in the CM’s residence or the secretariat or in any public office!
The swearing in ceremony of the chief minister and his cabinet was graced by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and Home Minister, Amit Shah. The BJP president, Jagat Prakash Nadda was also on the dais. Why was he given such importance though he does not hold any high public office? It is crystal clear now that the attendance of the PM and HM was an absolution to the ‘crime’ of the MDA government in being the ‘most corrupt government in India.’ It was a cleansing ceremony presided over by the chief executive of the country. The BJP later confirms that the allegations of corruption are only a tactic to fool voters. Let no one believe the BJP henceforth.
The U-turn of the UDP and other regional parties too is not difficult to read. It needs courage, conviction and capability to be in the Opposition. The ‘Hynniewtrep’ parties have no guts to be in the opposition because they were in government for the last five years. If they were to join the opposition what will they attack the government on? They were a party to the alleged irregularities. Probably only Paul Lyngdoh is capable of taking on the government. But he was in favour of being in government at the outset. So the easiest way out was to be in power again.
The current Assembly will miss the services of some losers. Had the likes of Angela Rangad, Avner Pariat and Mayborn Lyngdoh won, the House would have benefitted much more. Purely as legislators these losers are much better than the winners in their respective constituencies.
Our democracy is imperfect. We still have a long way to go. Capability is not the upper most consideration while electing our leaders. The best bet would have been that everyone in the Legislative Assembly is a secularist for there is absolutely no alternative to a secular India.
THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN SHILLONG TIMES. THE AUTHOR IS ALBERT THYRNIANG SDB.
One thought on “There is absolutely no alternative to a Secular India”
What a sorry state of affairs in our beloved country . Democracy is no more if this continues.