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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

5 - Indian Secularism Since 1980

Summary

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.

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