CHENNAI: India has a democratic setup in which people elect the government through adult franchise. Due to its pluralistic culture, every citizen has been given the right and freedom of religious belief without any kind of interference by the government. The Indian polity is, therefore, known as secular.
However, few unpleasant incidents that took place in last few years across various Indian states have prompted much talk of a threat to the secular character of our nation. Most of the political parties, who see themselves as “secular”, have strongly condemned those incidents and the local government’s alleged inability or unwillingness to control it.
The political blame game has been going on for quite some time in our country and it is not difficult to see why. Because India’s Constitution declares that the country is a “Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic”. But how has secularism been practised by political parties in India? Today, secularism has been reduced to a vote-catching slogan by political parties who have deepened the religious divides in society by resorting to vote-bank politics.
While they don’t openly appeal to the voters’ faith, political parties of all hues reinforce religious divisions by nominating candidates according to the religious composition of a constituency. Thus candidates from minority communities are fielded in constituencies with a sizeable minority population, obviously with the expectation that they will get the votes of their community regardless of their individual merit. Such politics further deepens social divides when political parties become hostage to their vote banks and bend over backwards to retain their support.
Such concessions made to a vote bank are generally regarded as appeasement, and breed resentment in other communities. One reason such divisive politics succeeds is that our electoral system has been hijacked by vested interests and the honest citizenry has either been reduced to an ineffectual minority or has opted out of it from sheer disillusionment.
In an effective democracy, the elected representative is expected to enjoy the confidence of at least half of the electorate for it to qualify as rule of the majority. But take the voting figures for our elections over the years. On an average just about 61 per cent to 55 per cent of the voters cast their vote in the general elections held so far. This problem has been compounded by the proliferation of political parties.
With numerous candidates contesting from one constituency, a candidate can now get elected with as little as 5 per cent of the votes. Electoral reforms may remedy this situation and safeguard secularism to a certain extent, but they cannot promote the secular spirit among people. That can be achieved only through education and other sociocultural processes because secularism is in essence a cultural concept wherein people, while cultivating their religion, have equal respect for other religions. Such an outlook requires moderation, tolerance and compassion.
These values cannot be imparted by statutes; they have to be cultivated as a way of life. The need of the hour is to consciously develop a culture of secularism and the best means for achieving this is through education, particularly through spiritual education.
Knowledge of our true selves as souls automatically lifts us above the superficial distinctions of religion, race and sex and promotes true secular thinking. But, why Spirituality ?Because it is impeccable, it implies universal love, non-violence, compassion, virtue, simplicity, honesty, detachment and attitude of humanity and service—all in one. Thus, it should not be difficult to understand that if spirituality is ensconced at the centre of politics, all would be fine and the world would be a better place to live in.