Union Minister Ananth Kumar Hegde’s vitriol against secularism and those who believe in the principle does not come as a surprise. The five-time MP from Uttara Kannada district in Karnataka has a history of creating controversies through communal statements and has banked on divisive politics for successive electoral victories.
The minister’s “promise” to change the Constitution to remove the word “secularism” from it is another in his hate-speech series, and the BJP-led government at the Centre did the right thing by distancing itself from the comment. Given that people like Hegde don’t need approval for spewing venom in public, it is unlikely the BJP leadership has any say in his hate-mongering. But as he is one of the prominent faces of the BJP in Karnataka, one wonders whether the rhetoric is an indication of the path that political discourse will take in the state as election approaches.
For the record, Hegde recently said those who call themselves secularists do not know the identity of their parents and their blood. “We know it (secularism) is included in the Constitution. We respect the Constitution, but it has been changed several times.
We are here to change the Constitution,” he added. Understandably, the statement kicked up a row, especially as it came from a union minister. Parliament was stalled Wednesday with opposition parties demanding action, prompting the government to clarify that it’s not on the same page as Hegde. That may not be enough as Hegde has often caused embarrassment to the party, raising questions over his continuance in the ministry.
The BJP must rein in Hegde and others like him. People may have an objection to secularism as defined and practiced by political parties in India, but the principle of secularism, as mandated by the Constitution, must be upheld. The mandate for the BJP in 2014 was to ensure the country’s development and people’s progress, not to change the Constitution to suit a particular ideology or political agenda.