[That the BJP expelled Jaswant Singh for writing a book on Jinnah is hardly surprising, even if it represents really the most rotten part of contemporary India’s political culture from the Right to the Left: intolerance of intellectual differences. What is intriguing is that Jaswant Singh wrote the bookknowing well that this would be the end of his political career; even LK Advani could not survive his praise of Jinnah and even though he came back, he remains a pale shadow of his former self. So Jaswant never really had a chance. I have not yet read the book but have tried to follow those who have. While a more detailed analysis will have to wait, I am posting a piece I had written sometime ago as part of a larger academic paper which deals with Advani’s Jinnah episode and the seductions of secularism. – AN ]
Advani Meets the Ghost of Jinnah
On 5 June 2005, Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Deputy Prime Minister, Lal Krishna Advani unleashed a storm within his party and its allied organizations of the Hindu Right. On that day, speaking at a function organized by the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations, Economic Affairs and Law (KCFREAL), Advani referred to Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s speech in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947 and described it as ‘a classic exposition of a Secular State’ and Jinnah as a genuine secularist (Advani 2005). In this speech, sections of which Advani read out at length, Jinnah, the founder of the ‘Islamic state of Pakistan’ had said: ‘You are free, you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed; that has nothing to do with the business of the State…You will find that in the course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State’ (Jinnah 2005).
On the previous day, Advani had already fired his first salvo. He had visited the Qaid-e-Azam mausoleum where he made the following entry in the visitor’s book: ‘There are many people who leave an inerasable stamp on history. There are very few who actually create history. Qaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah was one such rare individual.’ And further, recalling Sarojini Naidu, underlined: ‘Sarojini Naidu, a leading luminary of India’s freedom struggle, described him as an ambassador of Hindu Muslim unity. His address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, is really a classic, a forceful espousal of a secular state…’ (Sarwar 2005, Kapoor 2005). If there was any doubt in anybody’s mind that this was not just a polite entry in a visitor’s book, made in a formalistic way, Advani hastened to clear it in the speech that followed the next day.
When the contents of Advani’s speech were broadcast over the media, they were received with consternation by large sections within his own party and the Sangh parivar. The more aggressive sections represented by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its leaders like Praveen Togadia demanded his head, while others in the party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), were initially more circumspect (Chatterjee 2005). Eventually, of course, the RSS decided to back the more militant VHP line, leading to a situation where Advani had to resign from the Presidentship of the BJP. He had taken a calculated risk and stuck to his guns, even after he resumed Presidentship of the party following a compromise. Things however, were never the same again for Advani.
What was it that spurred Advani to take this huge risk? After all, he is no novice in politics? Did he not realize that he was likely to ruin his political career? Maybe he miscalculated as even the most astute politicians often can. But there is something else going on in this episode that has a relevance beyond the immediate questions of politics and strategy and it would be advisable to delve into it a bit more.
In his speech to the KCFREAL, Advani cited two reasons for recounting the Jinnah speech. The more immediate reason had to do with the fact that four days ago, the Government of Pakistan had invited Advani to ‘lay the foundation stone for the ancient Katas Raj temples’ in Chakwal district. The government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan had invited him to lay the foundation stones so that the work of restoration of these Hindu temples, now in ruins, could start. To Advani, whose party (and he himself) had led the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, this was a truly remarkable moment. Talking to the press in Islamabad, he therefore ‘unambiguously termed the demolition…as the “saddest day” in his life’ (Sharma 2005). He repeated this even more vigorously in a television interview given to Hamid Mir of Geo TV.
But Advani also cited another reason. Recalling the first twenty years of his life that he spent in Karachi, he recalled what seems to have been an important experience for him. He recalls that in the last three to four years of his life in Karachi, he came in contact with Swami Ranganathananda who was then head of the Ramakrishna Math till the Math was closed down in 1948. He tells his audience that he used to regularly attend his discourses on the Bhagwad Gita and was apparently profoundly impressed by the Swami who went on to become the all-India head of the Ramakrishna Mission. Advani kept in regular touch with the Swami till the very end of his life. He had last met the Swami a year ago in Kolkata when the latter was 96 years old. In this meeting, Advani tells us, they spoke about a number of things including their Karachi days. It was then that Swami Ranganathananda asked Advani: ‘Have you read Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s speech in Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly11 August 1947? It is a classic exposition of a Secular State, one which guarantees every citizen’s freedom to practice his or her religion but the State shall not discriminate between one citizen and another on the basis of religion.’ (Advani 2005)
There are two things about this episode that are of interest here. First, the idea of the secular state and secularism as expounded by Jinnah and endorsed by Advani – as an idea based on the notion of formal equality of all citizens, irrespective of caste, creed, religion or any other marker. This idea is developed by Jinnah on the basis of another crucial secular idea, that religion is a private affair and the state must have nothing to do with it. The second point of interest here is that of the renovation of the Hindu Katas Raj temples, undertaken by the Government of the Islamic state of Pakistan. We know that the state that eventually came into being in Pakistan eventually was never a ‘secular state’ in the sense in which the modernist Jinnah had visualized it. It has over decades prided itself in being an Islamic state and yet, interestingly, did not find it odd or against its beliefs that it should be renovating temples belonging to the faithless kafirs – and that when the Hindus are an inconsequential minority in Pakistan. It is interesting that the subsequent governments of the Islamic state did not have any difficulty in, at least partially, acting according to Jinnah’s secular injunction. In fact, here was an instance of the Islamic state actually exceeding Jinnah’s brief by not merely recognizing religion as a private affair of the individual but actively intervening in restoration of temples, in true South Asian secular style.
Analysts have, of course, argued that Jinnah himself was ‘not really secular’ and that this particular speech must be read in conjunction with other statements made by him. Anil Nauriya (2005), for example argues that Jinnah made three important pronouncements in the period of Pakistan’s birth and that all three must be read in conjunction with each other. The first was this statement in the Constituent Assembly address. The second was made in mid-December 1947, when he addressed the Muslim League Council where he ‘spoke of Pakistan as being a “Muslim state based on Islamic ideals” though not as an “ecclesiastical state.”’ And the third statement was made in Dhaka in March 1948, that ‘Pakistan is the embodiment of the unity of the Muslim nation and so it must remain.’
While I think this it is important to remember these different statements, they are not necessarily contradictory. For the statement made in the Muslim League Council makes an important distinction: Pakistan would be a Muslim state governed by ‘Islamic ideals’ (not necessarily the Shariat) for it would not be an ‘ecclesiastical state’. The third statement actually adds another dimension to the problem: It is the Muslim nation that is at issue here, rather than Islamic religion and Law. Taken together, the three statements need not imply anything more than that Pakistan will be a secular state in the sense that, say Britain is: formally Christian and yet ruled by broadly secular laws. I would also suggest that these different modulations in Jinnah’s speeches be read as a sign of the fact that the moment of Pakistan’s birth is riddled with a constitutive instability. Till August 1947, Pakistan was a quasi-utopian social imaginary, it was not quite clear what that new entity would be and different sections of the Pakistan movement had different imaginations of the new dispensation. There is enough evidence to show, for instance, that one of the significant sections behind the Pakistan movement was that of the modernist followers of the Aligarh school. Their intentions were certainly not ‘religious’; rather their concerns were entirely political: power-sharing, representation, community rights, citizenship, which at a certain point tipped over to the demand for a separate homeland. However, they were not the only sections involved and there was undoubtedly a very big section of those whom we may call ‘radical Islamists’, also present within the movement. Jinnah, as the statesman-leader of the new state had to balance between the different groups and modulate his speech accordingly. We also know that his own inclinations were anything but those of a believing Muslim. I am therefore not persuaded by Nauriya’s claim – a claim also popular among many secularists.
It seems to me then, that in this speech that Advani invoked, Jinnah was underlining a secular imperative that strikes a deeper chord in the South Asian context. It is this that I want to explore a bit more by delving into this episode. What exactly was going on here? Was it about ‘secularism’ as we know it? Was Advani, by claiming Jinnah as (fellow?) secularist, really turning over a new leaf, becoming less ‘communal’? What is really at stake in insisting on Jinnah’s secularity by someone known among secularists as an enemy of secularism? In what follows, I will argue that it is impossible to make sense of this episode as also of the idea of secularism espoused by LK Advani and the Hindu Right as long as we continue to see ‘secularism’ simply as an anti-thesis of religion or indeed of communalism. It is by and large accepted today that ‘secularism’ is in some sort of deep crisis. In India, the question of its crisis has come up repeatedly over the past few decades, especially because it has seemed powerless in the face of increasing attacks on minorities and minority rights. It is worth emphasizing that secularism not only presents no serious challenge to the politics of the Hindu Right and leaders like LK Advani, a certain secularism is perfectly amenable to deployment against minority rights. That Advani could make these dramatic statements barely three years after the Gujarat massacres, and even while he was continuing to back the Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in the party, should tell us something about what I call the secret history of secularism.
The Seductions of ‘Secularism’
At one level, what Advani said was nothing new. Secularists have all along known that the preferred term of abuse reserved for them by the Hindu Right, was ‘pseudo-secularist’: they were never accused of being secular but of being complicit in the destruction of secularism. Most secularists have taken this to be a mere rhetorical ploy. Even critics of the secularists like Ashis Nandy have not taken this very seriously beyond asserting that this merely shows that ‘communalism’ is actually a secular project. I will argue that the doctrine of secularism itself is at issue here in more than a rhetorical sense. For, it is constitutive of the Hindu Right’s philosophy – at least as articulated and appropriated within a large modernist Hindu public. Indeed, this appropriation and rearticulation defines the common sense that prevails in the more self-consciously secular section as the judiciary. And what is true of the Hindu Right was also true of Jinnah and the Pakistan movement in the 1940s.
That is why neither Jinnah nor Advani – nor Advani’s spiritual father VD Savarkar – ever had any problem with individual citizens holding on to their religious beliefs and it was precisely this point that was underlined by Advani when he cited Jinnah’s speech to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. The missing term here that accounts for the secret history of secularism is ‘nation’ for it is this term that mediates the relationship between the individual citizen and the secular state. Savarkar, Jinnah and Advani are fundamentally united in their quest for a nation that would be internally homogeneous, such that the state would recognize only the individual citizen as the legitimate bearer of rights. It is unthinkable within either Savarkar’s or Jinnah’s frame that the state should recognize any community’s right to follow its separate practices, as for instance in the case of ‘personal laws’ in contemporary India.
In fact, soon after his return from Pakistan, Advani had the occasion to assert this point once more. The occasion was provided by an incident of a Muslim father-in-law raping his daughter-in-law, following which some Ulema of Deoband decreed that now that she had had sexual relations with the father-in-law, she must leave her husband and live with the father-in-law, and treat her husband as son. The episode caused a furore in secular circles as well but Advani took the opportunity of asserting that ‘the Imrana episode showed that it was imperative for the nation to have every person equal before law.’ (ENS 2005) It will not be out of place here, to point out that the demand for what is known as the ‘uniform civil code’ in India was first raised by women members like Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur in the Constituent Assembly in the 1940s. It was included in the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution (Article 44 of the Directive Principles) and has since been a demand of the women’s movement as well as of all secularists. It was only in the 1990s, following the realization of the centrality of the demand to the Hindu Right’s campaign that it was gradually given up by the women’s movement in favour of ‘gender-just personal laws’. (Menon 1998)
It bears mentioning here that, in a very significant sense, it was the Shah Bano episode that provided the practically directionless Hindu Right the much needed ammunition in the mid 1980s. In this landmark case, Shah Bano, a divorced Muslim woman had filed for maintenance from her former husband and the case went up to the Supreme Court, seven years after it was first filed. The apex court, invoking Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, held that since this law applies uniformly to all – irrespective of caste, religion or creed – Shah Bano be given maintenance money. The Supreme Court judgement brought forth a huge protest from orthodox sections of Muslims, though it included several modernist and even secular individuals like Syed Shahabuddin and MJ Akbar. The outcry was primarily because these sections held that the court’s judgement was an encroachment of the Muslim Personal Law. Under pressure from some of the most orthodox and patriarchal elements within the Muslim community, the government of the day, under prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, enacted a new law, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986 that nullified the court’s decision. Even though this move was opposed by many leading Muslim intellectuals and by the women’s movement in particular, this issue became the turning point in the Sangh parivar’s campaign for a uniform civil code which simply escalated thereafter.
It is important to remember that the demand for a ‘uniform civil code’, which stands in for a larger thematic of ‘One Country, One Law’ has been probably one of the most significant questions, providing the Hindu Right’s campaign with a moral and political charge that is modernist and secular to the core. In purely formal terms, this is not a demand for second-class citizenship for Muslims but rather for a more radical modernist one of ‘equality before law’. It is a demand that enables the Hindu Right to relentlessly pit the ‘backwardness’ and ‘bigotry’ of the Muslim minority against its own modern, reformist self-image (Menon and Nigam 2007). From the earliest days of the nationalist struggle, the Hindu Right has sought to claim for itself the modernist ground of the nation, thus presenting the minorities – and their desire for protection of their cultural rights as a sign of their ‘backwardness’. More importantly, this is a belief that has now, over decades, become part of the modern Hindu/Indian common sense – a constituency that far exceeds the formal spheres of the Hindu Right’s influence. In part, this was the ideological region of the co-habitation of Nehruvian secular-nationalism and Hindu nationalism. Nehru himself believed that such was really the case and it was in no small measure because where Hindus had developed a modern bourgeoisie, the Muslims were held back by the dominance of feudal elements. (See Nigam 2006 for a fuller discussion). This was a logic, we may underline, that was repeatedly rehearsed by the Nehruvian leadership when, in the immediate aftermath of Independence, it moved to enact a range of new laws for the reform of Hindu customs and practices. The Hindus, it was argued, are ready for reforms while the Muslims are not. (See Tambiah 1998 for a related discussion)
It was in this context that the rhetoric of formal equality was deployed as a mark of the modern, played out through the last fifty years or more, notably as the most fundamental argument against reservations. Recall the well-known argument during the anti-Mandal agitation: individual merit will be sacrificed in the name of community interests. Those who talk of any form of reservation or safeguards for groups rather than support individual accomplishment could thus be accused of indulging in the politics of ‘appeasement’ and ‘vote banks’. The argument against the ‘backward’ and ‘bigoted’ Muslims could now easily be turned against the secularists who, in the name of minority rights, merely want the minorities to cling on to their outmoded laws rather than merge into the national mainstream where there will be one single law governing everybody. And of course, every now and then we have stories like that of Imrana, which seem to reinforce this argument in the minds of many, especially ordinary Hindus.
It is important to understand the immense rhetorical charge that this modernist self-representation of Hindutva carries among large sections of people. To dismiss these people as ‘irrational’, ‘bigoted’ or ‘backward-looking’, without understanding where their strength comes from, is to really miss the point. The reason why the ‘appeasement’ and ‘vote-bank’ argument works among a large number of ordinary Hindus is because it is easy to believe that any kind of reverse discrimination for minorities is naturally weighted against principles of formal equality.
Needless to say, only a minority community need fear this insistence on individual – as opposed to group – rights. The norms of the majority culture never need to be separately articulated. They function by default as the template for the formulation of legal norms. Take for instance, the fact that Sunday continues to be the weekly holiday in secular England or Europe, not to mention the rest of the ‘not-yet-secular’ world. This is despite the fact that the Jewish Sabbath falls on Saturday and the Islamic on Friday. The Christian origins of Sunday are all but lost in secular memory. Right from the days of the French Revolution, this impulse towards the creation of a homogeneous national culture and the individual citizen as the only legal entity the state would recognize, has been central to the project of the modern nation-state. And everywhere, it was the majority culture that was made the basis of the secular norms of the nation-state. In India, the experience of codification of different laws – say the Hindu Code Bill – also amply illustrate how a diversity of practices is often subsumed under one particular textual interpretation of ‘custom’ and ‘customary’ law which is usually the one sanctioned by the dominant groups.
In a way, this is what the most sophisticated representatives of the Hindu and Muslim nationalists, namely Savarkar and Jinnah, wanted. The main contention between them, as we know, was not over religious practices but over the definition of “nationhood”. Religion was present but simply as a marker of national identity; its ritual or theological matters were irrelevant. Theirs was not the vision of a theocratic state but of an eminently secular one.
Incarnations of the ‘Individual’
However, there is something beyond this manifest level that also needs to be taken into account. While it is evident that this discursive strategy of Hindutva draws very heavily on the liberal discourse of individual rights, the individual that emerges is very different from the one in liberal discourse. Read through Golwalkar’s writings and it will be evident that it is precisely the liberal notion of individual rights that is his greatest enemy, which in his view, is breeding self-centrednesss and sapping the National spirit. Thus we must not be misled by the mere appearance of the word ‘individual’, for the individual here is a mere extension of the National Self or the Virat Purush. This is not the disembedded individual who is the bearer of rights in liberal legal discourse. This individual, in fact, is thickly bound in the national community through a range of duties and obligations, and is not the unencumbered self of liberal discourse. This idea of the embedded individual is another important strand within Hindutva discourse that must be seen as simultaneously accounting for its infinite malleability and a source of potential tensions. At one level, it allows for a reasonable degree of flexibility in terms of its modernist-liberal self-presentation; at another level, it provides the space of imaginations of an organic nationhood – a collective national personality.
At the first level, then the idea of ‘formal equality’ of individuals is deployed by the Hindutva ideology to trump minority rights, but not necessarily to uphold individual rights. Nonetheless, it does open out a pathway through which a sort of ‘liberal’ notion of citizenship is articulated within Hindutva discourse. At the second level, it draws on the more explicitly fascist notions articulated for example, in Golwalkar’s tract ‘We’, or Our Nationhood Defined. Here minority rights are not merely trumped by invoking the idea of formal equality. In fact, there is an explicit demand that the minorities must either fully assimilate themselves into the Hindu nation, or live completely at the mercy of the Hindu Race – without citizenship rights. Much of this strand derives its nourishment from the experience of Nazism and the way it dealt with the problem of its minorities, especially the Jews. This tract, withdrawn by the RSS because of the embarrassing glorification of Nazi Germany, displays an obsessive concern with this question and the threat posed to any nation by ‘unabsorbed minorities’.
Both levels exist simultaneously in Hindutva discourse – the ‘individual’ and its ‘embeddedness’. Yet, it is worth mentioning that some of these revealing references to Nazism apart, most of Golwalkar’s discussion of nationalism and the minorities question revolves around the more ‘normal’ cases of nationalism in the West. This is the most significant aspect. In a symptomatic discussion, he blames the League of Nations for foisting a dispensation on Czechoslovakia, which led to the freezing of unabsorbed minorities within it. In his reading, it is the presence of such minorities with extra-territorial loyalties, such as the Sudeten Germans, which is eventually responsible for the nation’s downfall. Recall that Hitler used the so-called “persecution of Sudeten Germans” in Czechoslovakia as the final pretext for aggression, aided ably by the local Nazis. Written a year after the Sudetenland Crisis, this tract sees distinct parallels with the presence of Muslims in India.
A closer reading of the history of fascism of various shades and of the Hindu right in particular, suggests a more chilling possibility: that fascism is an always-present possibility within the structure of all nationalisms. This possibility derives from the very fact that all nationalisms in fact, produce the problem of “minority cultures” in their quest for a homogenous national culture, given their inability to deal with the problem of “unabsorbed minorities”. As scholars have pointed out in recent times, for all their despotism, Empires like the Ottoman or the Mughal could deal with immense cultural diversity; minority cultures began to be perceived as a problem at the precise historical moment of transition from empires to modern nation-states. The dividing line between a ‘good nationalism’ and its pathological fascist variant, then, is very thin. And it is this ‘nationalism’, even liberal and secular nationalism that provides missing term in the secret history of secularism. Our discussion above has already indicated the difficulties with the term secularism and pointed to some of its totally unanticipated deployments in Indian political life.
Secularism in India was as much about defining a nation, mediating immense cultural difference, through its invocation of the idea of ‘unity in diversity’, as it was about inter-relationship between religion and politics. In both cases that is of the secular as a new ontological condition and secularism as a political doctrine we can see a simultaneous double development: lines of continuity with the non-secular/pre-secular alongside a radical rupture – with the latter in some ways defining the contours of the possible of the former. And in conclusion, I wish to suggest that this focus on the ‘formations of the secular’ in the Indian context might also enable us to see, retroactively, experiences elsewhere, as in Europe and the US in a different light. We might be able to see how, in a sense, the Indian case is not at all exceptional and how, on the one hand, the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’ remain constitutive of each other, while on the other, the logic of formal equality makes secularism eminently available for deployment against minority rights.
In this context, any attempt to think what comes after the secular, must begin with the recognition that despite itself, it never was. That is to say, the secular as an ontological condition is simply the horizon within which the religious or the sacred reconstitutes itself. Secularism as a political doctrine – thanks to its imbrication in the doctrine of formal equality becomes embroiled, against its own self-perception, in the non-recognition of minority rights. In the context of a society like India’s ‘secularism’ never even constituted the sole language of public reason and much of the discourse of religious toleration, as in the celebrated case of Gandhi, came from within a religious universe. The decline of the hegemonic position of the secular, in contexts such as India’s (and indeed of large parts of the world) opens up the possibility of reconfiguring the secular as a practice of critique – always immanent and active within determinate social and religious worlds.
Advani, LK (2005), ‘Fiza zaroor badli hui hai, bahut badli hui hai’, Full text of the speech, Indian Express, 8 June, 2005, p.9
Bhargava, Rajeev (Ed 1998), Secularism and Its Critics, Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Chatterjee, Manini (2005), ‘On Advani, two RSS mouthpieces speak 2 tongues, VHP 3rd’, Indian Express, 15 June 2005
Chatterjee, Partha (1998), ‘Secularism and Tolerance’, in Bhargava (ed 1998)
Chowdhury, Neerja and Manini Chatterjee (2005), ‘Advani compromises on Jinnah, BJP on Advani’, The Indian Express, 11 June 2005
Express News Service (2005), ‘Imrana: Advani calls for uniform personal laws’, Indian Express, 2 July 2005, p.5
Jinnah, Mohammed Ali (2005), ‘We are all equal citizens of one State’, Presidential Address to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, 11 August 1947, reprinted in the Indian Express, 9 June 2005, p.9
Kapoor, Mini (2005), ‘Jinnah great man, stood for secular Pak: Advani’, Indian Express, 5 June 2005, front page.
Kumar, Vinay (2005), ‘Ready to face challenges: Advani’, The Hindu, 16 June 2005, p. 14
Menon, Nivedita (1998), ‘Women and Citizenship’, Wages of Freedom, (Partha Chatterjee, ed 1998), Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
Menon, Nivedita and Nigam, Aditya (2007), Power and Contestation: India After 1989, Zed Books, London
Menon, Nivedita (1998), Gender and Politics in India, Oxford University Press, Delhi
Nauriya, Anil (2005), ‘Advani, Jinnah and the secularism debate’, The Hindu, 11 June 2005, edit page
Sarwar, Beena (2005), ‘Jinnah created history: Advani’, The Hindu, 5 June 2005, front page.
Sharma, Jyotirmaya (2005), ‘Ideological heresy?’, The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, 19 June 2005, front page.
Srinivasan, TN (Ed 2007), The Future of Secularism, Oxford University Press, New Delhi