Jawaharlal Nehru - the architect of modern India, always yearned to build a secular nation. He played a heroic role in the development of a secular outlook during the freedom movement. He was very well aware of the fact that in a multi-religious, multi-cultural and a multi-ethnic democratic society, the secular frame-work ishighly imperative.
Nehru regarded secularism as the basic law of Indian nationhood. It grew as an integrative process. He believed that the territorial integrity, political stability and national identity in a country with multi-faceted diversity can be achieved only through secularism. According to Nehru, secularism does not mean indifference to religion. It only means that the state as such is not identified with any particular religion but tolerates, appreciates and respects all religions. He used every single opportunity to express the danger of mixing religion and politics. He was a vehement critic of communalism and fundamentalism of both Hindus and Muslims. He believed that communalism could not only weaken the very fabric of a society but also threatens its very existence. He was of the view that for proper functioning of democracy and growth of national unity and solidarity, communalism must be eliminated from India.
He visualized a secular state as one in which every individual had the full freedom to function according to his own way either culturally or in matters of religion. It was Nehru's vision that shaped the Constitution of India in such a manner that it should provide for a secular state. Nehru emphasized four different aspects of secularism:
In the first place he insisted that secularism meant grant of equal status to all religions in India and opposed grant of special privileges to any religion. He said: "We are building a free secular state where every religion and belief has full freedom and equal honor, whose every citizen has equal liberty and equal opportunity." Thus, according to Nehru, a caste-ridden society could not be secular and he laid emphasis on the elimination of such distinctions.
Secondly, Nehru's secularism implied neutrality of the state in religious matters. He wrote: "I am convinced that the future government of free India must be secular in the sense that the government will not associate itself directly with any religious faith." He was opposed to the association of the state with any particular religion because it divided the citizens into two classes-some having more opportunities and others having less.
Thirdly, Nehru viewed secularism as a mental attitude on the part of various communities which could bring about harmony and feeling of fraternity towards one another. He fully realized that the success of secularism in India would depend on the attitude of the majority community towards the minorities. He, therefore, exhorted the Hindus, who constituted the majority, to "remember that the interest and well-being of the minorities are their sacred trust. If they fail in their trust, then they injure not only the country but themselves." He also expected the minorities to be tolerant and advised them not to adopt an attitude which could be detrimental to the integrity and unity of India.
Finally, Nehru's concept of secularism implied the existence of a uniform civil code for the people of India. He considered the existence of different sets of laws governing different communities as inconsistent with his ideal of a secular society.
Today, the secular ethos for which Nehru strived hard through his life is facing a multi-prolonged challenge from the hydra-headed monster of communalism.India is facing the growth of intolerance and religious fanaticism. A spark is enough to ignite a communal flare-up, with people ready to slit each other's throat. Thus in the light of our experience, particularly during last two years, a fresh reappraisal or the correctness of what Nehru stood for and tried to achieve, is the need of the hour.
- Neha P Asrani