Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

5 - Indian Secularism Since 1980


As India enters the twenty-first century, one of the key pillars of its constitutional democracy – the commitment to secularism – remains shaky. It remains infirm despite the defeat of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)–led coalition in two successive national elections (2004 and 2009). The ideologues within the BJP and its associated organizations, most notably the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), have not abandoned their staunchly antisecular orientation. On the contrary, they have argued with some vigor that the failure of the BJP to prevail in both of the elections stems from its unwillingness to firmly uphold the values of “Hindutva.” They contend that a robust assertion of the core principles of the party would have held it in good electoral stead. The appointment of a new president, Nitin Gadkari, who has his roots in the RSS, suggests that the party is hardly about to disavow its antisecular credo. Given the perfervid commitment of party ideologues to this antisecular vision, it would be premature to assume that the danger that the BJP and its political allies pose to Indian secularism is at an end.

A postelection controversy involving a stalwart member of the BJP, Jaswant Singh, a former minister of finance and minister of external affairs (foreign minister), underscored the party's unwillingness to countenance any significant dissent regarding the critical question of its core ideological beliefs. A brief discussion of this controversy illuminates the intransigence of the party toward the question of secularism.

Thakurta, Paranjoy Guha and Raghuraman, Shankar, Divided We Stand: India in a Time of Coalitions (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2007), 156–239
Tejani, Shabnum, Indian Secularism: A Social and Intellectual History, 1890–1950 (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2007)
Smith, Donald Eugene, India as a Secular State (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963)
Chadwick, Owen, The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975)
Gopal, Sarvepalli, Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976)
Jaffrelot, Christophe, The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1996)
Jacobsohn, Gary Jeffrey, The Wheel of Law: India's Secularism in Comparative Constitutional Context (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003)
Varadarajan, Siddharth, ed., Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2002)
Zakaria, Fareed, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003)
Kothari, Rajni, Politics in India (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970)
Brass, Paul R., The Politics of India since Independence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)
Graham, Bruce Desmond, Hindu Nationalism and Indian Politics: The Origins and Development of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990)
Hardgrave, Robert L. Jr., “Hindu Nationalism and the BJP: Transforming Religion and Politics in India,” in Prospects of Peace in South Asia, ed. Rafiq Dossani and Henry S. Rowen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 193
Grover, Vrinda, “Role of Police in Anti-Sikh Massacre, Delhi,” in Minorities and Police in India, ed. Asghar Ali Engineer and Amarjit S. Narang (New Delhi: Manohar, 2006)
Khory, Kavita R., “The Shah Bano Case: Some Political Implications,” in Religion and Law in Independent India, ed. Robert D. Baird (New Delhi: Manohar, 1993), 149–67
Ghosh, Partha S., The Politics of Personal Law in South Asia: Identity, Nationalism and the Uniform Civil Code (London: Routledge, 2007)
Hansen, Thomas Blom, The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999)
Gopal, Sarvepalli, ed., Anatomy of a Confrontation (New Delhi: Viking, 1991)
Noorani, A. G., The Babri Masjid Question: 1528–2003, vols. 1 and 2 (New Delhi: Tulika Books, 2003)
Ghosh, Partha S., The Rise of Political Hinduism in India (Ebenhausen, Germany: Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, 1995)
Subrahmanyam, Sanjay, “Before the Leviathan: Sectarian Violence and the State in Pre-Colonial India,” in Unraveling the Nation, ed. Kaushik Basu and Sanjay Subrahmanyam (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1996)
Brass, Paul R., “Indian Secularism in Practice,” in Forms of Collective Violence: Riots, Pogroms, and Genocide in Modern India (New Delhi: Three Essays Collective, 2006)
Bharucha, Rustom, In the Name of the Secular: Contemporary Cultural Activism in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998)