Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Narendra Modi and India’s new secularism.

Watching Narendra Modi at Kashi Vishwanath temple and later at Dashashwamedh Ghat during the evening Ganga Aarti in Varanasi, I am reminded of the time when he, in an interview, said that he was a nationalist and a Hindu. The moment he said it, I wondered how soon media will pick it up as an “admission of guilt”. They did it soon enough, and headlines declaring that Modi had referred to himself as a “Hindu nationalist” began to be seen everywhere.

The Western publications that refer to him as a Hindu nationalist politician / leader, use the phrase as a pejorative description. That Modi does nothing to refute these reveals something very important about him – Modi is unapologetically Hindu. He adheres to India’s ancient civilisational heritage without saying it in so many words. As with his administration, his cultural affiliation finds expression through action, not through hollow symbolism.

What Modi’s visit to Kashi Vishwanath and later Ganga Aarti signifies is that the race to prove oneself secular by mouthing words in praise of all religions (while at the same time doing little or nothing for the betterment of the said communities) is passe. The Skull Cap Politics that no Indian is stranger to (especially right before elections) proves that we have allowed symbolism to become bigger than the object it symbolises – unity, integrity, and equality.

By paying homage to Ganga in Varanasi without fearing being labelled ‘communal’, Modi has made sure that we begin the slow climb towards true secularism – an atmosphere where different communities do more than merely ‘co-exist’. An atmosphere where they cooperate and work together to build an India where symbolism is put back in its place and people of every religion can be themselves without being considered anti each other.

When Modi offers prayers to Shiv and Ganga, he is not making a statement against any other religion. He is merely asserting his own religious identity. He defies those who would argue that merely being Hindu is something anti-Muslim. He challenges the notion — popularised by India’s self-styled defenders of secularism — that religions are at odds with each other in this country. India has never had to learn secularism from the West, and she is not going to start now.-NitiCentral

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