Lions of Modi: Sham called secularism

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
25 Jul 2022
The National Emblem, popularly known as 'Ashok Stambh' designed and sculpted and installed on top of the new Parliament building in Delhi.

The whole nation congratulates Droupadi Murmu for her splendid performance in the just-concluded Presidential election. We should be proud that a lady from the Adivasi community has reached the highest post in the country. She will also be the Supreme Commander of our Armed Forces. 

Once she is sworn in as President, she will be the first citizen of the country and will command the respect from every citizen.

There are few parallels in world history of a lady coming up from such a lowly background as Murmu’s to become the President of a large democracy like India. The only name that comes to my mind is that of Abraham Lincoln. 

His life began in a humble log cabin in Kentucky. Self-educated and skilled at public speaking, Lincoln became a lawyer, lost all the elections he fought to eventually become the president of the United States in 1860. 

Unlike Lincoln, she had a political party to take care of her and give her positions like MLA, minister, governor and, now, President of India. We all hope that her rise will motivate not just the Adivasis but all the down-trodden sections of Indian society.

Once she is sworn in as president on July 25, she will be the custodian of the Constitution and will be second to none. And that includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who surely was responsible for choosing her. If he had his way, she would have been President at least five years ago, that is when she had turned just 59. At 64, she is the youngest to become President of India.

Under the Constitutional scheme of things, the state has three wings namely, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, each having separate powers. The Prime Minister is the head of the executive, the Speaker the head of the legislature and the Chief Justice of India, the head of the judiciary. The President is the head of the state and everything comes under him.

Recently, Modi made an announcement about the installation of the Ashok Stambh atop the new Parliament building under construction as part of his Central Vista project. The huge three-lion structure has little in common with the one at Sarnath, among the many Emperor Ashoka erected after he renounced war and accepted Lord Buddha’s teachings as his way of life.

The lions in the new sculpture are bloated and are in an aggressive mood, as if they are about to attack. There are people who can explain anything and everything. One such explanation heard was that when the emblem was scaled up to attain a height of 6.5 metres, there would be structural changes.

I have seen at Kushinagar, near Gorakhpur, the statue of the reclining Buddha. It is 6.10 mt. long and is made of monolith red-sandstone of the 5th century A.D. It represents the 'Dying-Buddha' reclining on his right side with his face towards the west. It is a well-known destination for Buddhists from all over the world. Even in that pose and in such a large size, Buddha’s face retains his calmness. The serene smile of his face symbolises his peaceful and calm nature. Either the sculptor failed to produce a replica of Ashoka Stambh or deliberately chose a new stambh to gel with the regime that appointed him.

The installation should have been done by the President, not the prime minister, because the former is the head of the state while the latter is only the head of the government. Protocol also demanded that the President be given the right to install the emblem on the new Parliament building. In doing so, Modi would have only crowned himself with glory.

It is not for the breach of protocol that the function created a flutter in political circles. There was an elaborate puja carried out on the occasion, according to the Vedic rites. It was not the first time that Modi was seen presiding over such rituals. He was seen in such a posture when construction of the Shri Ram temple began at Ayodhya. He also wore the sacred clothes while inaugurating the new temple corridor at Varanasi. In fact, the cyber space is full of images of Modi wearing various religious garments. In fact, he spends a lot of his time attending religious functions.

The Constitution grants every citizen the right to practice his or her religion. And even propagate it. Yet, the state does not have a religion of its own. The puja that was done at the time of the installation of Ashok Stambh had no constitutional sanction. The Preamble of the Constitution very clearly says that India is a secular nation. Someone may say that the word “secular” was inserted during the Emergency.

In that case, why was it not removed when the Janata Party came to power in 1977 with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani as two leading lights of the dispensation? When all other decisions of Indira Gandhi were amended, why was this decision on secularism not touched? This is because the Indian state has down the centuries been more or less secular. Modi should have shown the courage of conviction by removing the word “secular” from the Preamble before performing such a puja at state cost.

Then he would have known how important “secularism” is to the people of India. If Modi thinks that he has the power to do anything he likes, he is wrong. He is just a creature of the Constitution. He draws all his powers from the Constitution. He cannot foist his religious ideas on the nation. 

He should realise that the world has been changing fast. He should allow the people to have their religious freedom while keeping the state aloof from it. Alternatively, he can follow the practice followed by the Indian Army in its barracks. They have the culture of worshipping together. There are also priests of all religions appointed by the government to serve their spiritual needs. Yet, the Army as such is secular!

We as a nation have always been blaming the British for all the ills that afflict the nation. If there is a Hindu-Muslim riot, we will immediately point out the divide-and-rule policy adopted by the British. We always blame the British for looting us. We forget the fact that 75 years have passed since they left the shores of India.

Most of the modern British writers do not take pride in the colonisation of most parts of the world by their ancestors. They are ashamed of Jallianwala Bagh, though they paid compensation at the rate of Rs 5000-Rs 7000 per person — a big sum hundred years ago — to everyone who lost his life in the massacre. In contrast, how much did the victims of 1984 and the Gujarat riots receive from the state?

It is now almost certain that Rishi Sunak will become the leader of the Conservative party and, eventually, prime minister of Britain. He has been consistently leading in the race with just two left in the field after the fourth round. His forefathers were from the Punjab and they went to East Africa from where they migrated to Britain. 

Sunak’s parents were both born in Britain and his father served in the British government. That may be one of the reasons why he wanted to be in politics. His wife Akshatha Murthy is the daughter of Infosys founders NR Narayana Murthy and Sudha Murthy. By virtue of this fact, she is reportedly richer than the Queen of England. Sunak is not new to politics.

He was the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Boris Johnson government. It was his resignation from the Cabinet that precipitated the crisis that forced the prime minister to announce his resignation on July 7.

Sunak represents the white-majority Richmond (Yorks) constituency in Parliament. He will be the first person of Indian origin to become the head of government. Of course, he has been facing criticism in the social media for an interview he gave when he had just crossed teenage. His wife was trolled when the media found out that the cups in which she served tea to the journalists were very expensive. “With the cost of each cup, a British family can live for two days”, one commented. 

The couple, of course, took the criticism in their stride and did not respond. What is noteworthy is that none of his rivals or the mainstream media questioned his competence to be the prime minister on ethnic grounds. It did not even bother them that Britain was creating a record when a person of Indian origin was becoming prime minister of the country that ruled India, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, for two centuries. 

No British correspondent travelled to that region in the Punjab where his grandparents were born to do a story. Nor did anyone come to Bengaluru to interview the Narayana Murthys. Why? Because they do not consider his rise as anything subversive or unnatural. For them, Sunak is a British citizen.

What this implies is that the British people have overcome such feelings for they do not discriminate against anyone on the basis of ethnicity or religion or culture. Even when the British were ruling India, an Indian, Dadabhai Naoroji, was elected to the British Parliament in the 19th century. There are many countries in the world, including Canada, where people of Indian origin hold Cabinet posts. In the US, a lady partially of Indian origin is just a breath away from the Presidency. 

How has India been in this regard? Even today, it is not uncommon for ruling party leaders to refer to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s Italian origin, though she is a naturalised citizen of the country and has lived in India almost all her adult life. When the Congress-led UPA won the election in 2004 and Sonia Gandhi could have been elected Prime Minister, BJP’s Sushma Swaraj threatened that she would shave off her hair and sleep on the floor for as long as Sonia Gandhi remained in power. Yet, they are never tired of speaking endlessly about “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam” (the whole world is a family.)

They don’t even spare her son Rahul Gandhi, born in India. While we celebrate Indians becoming something elsewhere in the world, our own track record has been far from creditable.

There was a time when India had members from the minority communities becoming president of the country. They also held positions like the Home Minister, Defence Minister, defence forces chief etc. Today, the situation is different. Muslims constitute about 15 percent of the population but they do not have any representation in the Union ministry. The Christians have just one. What’s worse, the ruling BJP does not have a single member of the Lok Sabha belonging to the Muslim community. What’s more important, they feel discriminated against whether it is on the citizenship law or in the application of criminal laws.

Britain is today one of the most multi-ethnic, multicultural countries in the world. Most of the non-Anglo-Saxon people are from countries which were once part of the British empire where the Sun never set. When the colonies like India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar were given Independence, the British citizens returned to their homeland. Because of the colonisation, there was a reverse flow of people from the colonies to Britain. People from the Commonwealth countries like India enjoyed certain privileges. 

Today, people of Indian origin are one of the largest groups in Britain. They have all been thriving. Not only that, they have also become part of the mosaic called the British. Nobody looks askance when he is told that the East India Company, the world’s first multinational company, that came to India for trade but stayed on to rule the country is today owned by an Indian. 

In contrast, minorities in India have been coming under increasing strain on account of the food they eat, the dress they wear and the customs they follow. Even the lions in the national emblem have started threatening them.

ajphilip@gmail.com

Droupadi Murmu Presidential Election Adivasi Community Abraham Lincoln Prime Minister Narendra Modi President of India Ashok Stambh Constitution of India Secularism Rishi Sunak Issue 31 2022 Indian Currents Indian Currents Magazine

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