Could a firebrand Hindu cleric’s appointment to Uttar Pradesh’s head office spell the end of a secular India?
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appointed Hindu priest Yogi Adityanath as the new chief minister of his nation’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, and everybody in the country seems to know what this means. Adityanath is not your everyday yogi, embracing all spiritual brands and spreading universal benediction. He is from the extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which persecutes Muslims and untouchable Dalits in an attempt to create the dreaded Hindu Rashtra (nation), in defiance of India’s secular constitution, which was penned by Dalit politician Babasaheb Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.
Could India morph into a religious state like Pakistan, which often comes under fire for maltreating its minorities? If the BJP has its way: probably. Under the Modi regime, Muslims in India have been lynched on the mere suspicion of eating beef, and many others have been beaten by “cow vigilantes.” As composed by Ambedkar, the constitution of India was secular in its content without using the word “secular” because in 1951—when it was completed—secularism was not acceptable to the conservative sections of the All-India Congress. In fact it did not became secular until 1976, when Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was in power.
“The Constitution 42nd Amendment Act,” passed by the Indian parliament in 1976, changed the preamble of the country’s constitution by inserting the words “socialist secular” between the words “sovereign” and “democratic republic,” which “the people of India solemnly resolved to constitute India into.” Today India is hardly “socialist” as it was under Nehru; and it is fast losing the secularism that the world has long admired it for. In fact, the BJP-led government used last year’s Republic Day to issue an advertisement in local newspapers that pointedly reprinted the Preamble to the constitution without the words “socialist secular.”
Under Modi, as many feared, India appears to be slowly transforming into a Hindu state that ignores its minorities in a bid to prop up Hindu nationalism. Pakistan has flirted with similar initiatives in the past, leaving it at the mercy of foreign-funded warriors of jihad, which continue to plague its citizenry. It isn’t too late for India—it can still course-correct. But does it, and its Hindu rulers, want to?