Politicians of the subcontinent, once they have won their elections and are at the cusp of beginning their tenure as MPs, always swear oaths in the name of Allah or Bhagwan that they will dutifully carry out the responsibilities of their office. Things are far more acute in the US where MPs swear in with their hands on religious texts like the Bible or Quran. Do an MP’s personal religious beliefs play any role in the running of the state? As a secular nation, India must strive to foster a stronger belief on the constitution than on religion. An MP who is respectful of their nation’s constitution and of their country’s laws, who wishes to serve the people simply because they love their nation, someone who wishes to see society grow and prosper, for people to have access to good education, healthcare, and security, such a person does not need to swear to someone’s name. Such a person can dedicate themselves to the service of their country and its people without any sworn oath. Those who dedicate themselves in such a manner do so because of their principles and not because they believe the Almighty will punish them if they fail to live up to their oath. And those who swear in the name of God before assuming office, do they not break their oaths? In fact, they do so quite often. Besides, it’s not as if such people are truly so staunchly religious that they will not commit an injustice just because they have sworn not to do so. They continue to break the oaths they have taken in the name of their gods, insulting the latter time and again and rendering the oaths futile. There is absolutely no need to drag religion or God into the swearing in of new MPs, especially in a secular nation.
In countries which still have a constitutional monarchy, MPs continue to swear to serve the king or queen. In some cases, people swear to serve the President. Despite having completely separated the church and the state some European nations continue to hold their swearing-in ceremonies in the name of God. Or they seek the Lord’s blessing in the running of the country. At least among the East European countries at present one does not have to swear an oath in the name of God. On the other hand in most Muslim nations oaths are sworn in the name of Allah.
The other day the new Indian MPs, while they were taking their oaths of office, could be heard chanting the slogans aligned with their personal religious beliefs. Politics is gradually becoming all about sloganeering. Some chant ‘Jai Shree Ram’, some chant ‘Allah Hu Akbar’. Can the Parliament at least not be kept separate from one’s personal religious beliefs? In India, different people worship different gods. Some believe in Ram, some in Ganesh, some in Durga while some are devotees of Hanuman. But everywhere what has been spread is the slogan of north Indian Hindu fundamentalists.
‘Allah Hu Akbar’ is just as dangerous a slogan. Muslim jihadi terrorists in various countries across the world use this very slogan while decapitating innocent non-Muslims and non-believers. It can only be an act of intelligence to keep the Parliament separate from religion. The Indian subcontinent was divided because of religion, and even now religious fundamentalism and terrorism is a huge problem here. In Pakistan as well as Bangladesh, with the rise of religious fanaticism, serious security issues are being faced by the minorities, the secular individuals and women. While in Kashmir problems with Muslim terrorists have continued to cause trouble, elsewhere a new threat has emerged in the form of Hindu fanatics modelled after their Muslim counterparts. These people are more interested in shouting religious slogans than in slogans demanding the people’s rights to food, clothing and shelter, education and healthcare, security for all and the right to be able to freely express their opinions. For this reason, even politicians find it in their best interests to serve the purpose of religion in order to satisfy their voters. Or perhaps it is the politicians who ultimately encourage the public to place religious beliefs above all else. This serves to reduce the government’s responsibilities vis-à-vis the welfare of its people since they find it is easy to gain popularity by fanning the flames of religion.
Some political parties, while serving the needs of minorities, had completely forgotten about the Hindu majority of this country. That they too exist, that they too are citizens and they too vote. This time around these parties have learned a lesson that this forgotten faction can easily rise up in agitation. The political parties have had to pay for their sustained negligence this time. The moment the question of conserving the rights of a Hindu citizen comes up, it has become commonplace to accuse someone of having a Hindutva agenda. But the Hindus who wish for the appeasement of Muslim fundamentalists to end are not the ones who have dedicated themselves to the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra. The ones who want to establish such a Rashtra instead of a secular one can rather be termed as Hindu fundamentalists. If the latter had taken a turn towards terrorism for the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra, if they were to begin murdering non-Hindus to wipe them off the face of this country, only then could they be truly accused of anything, and not before that.
Besides, if Hindus have been facing discrimination for centuries, deciding to oppose this systemic discrimination does not in any way mean establishing a Hindu state and slaughtering all Muslims or driving them out. Such people are merely adherents of Hindutva, something that is far less dangerous than Muslim fundamentalism. The true reason behind this wave of ‘Jai Shree Ram’ that is sweeping across this country, even West Bengal which has traditionally been secular, is this longstanding tendency of politicians thinking only about the interests of Muslim clerics and maulavis at the cost of the interests of the general Hindu populace. There is no reason to belittle this reaction of everyday Hindu citizens as merely ‘Hindutva’.
Even today it has not been possible to ensure the peaceful coexistence of Hindus and Muslims everywhere in the subcontinent. Till the date that can be achieved both Hindus and Muslims will continue to remain preoccupied with religious dogma and I doubt whether that will truly serve in anyone’s best interests. The political party that will not ignore the Hindus, the one that values Hindu votes, is the one that is in power today and so very popular at that. It’s not as if everyone has voted them into power with love. It has more been a vote against the political parties who have so far only been interested in appeasing the mullahs etc. It’s only in India that I have seen most political parties chase after the minority vote rather than the majority one. The reaction we have seen among the Hindus this time has managed to make the politicians sit up straight. It is important that we give equal value to everyone as human beings, irrespective of majority, minority, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, atheists, rationalists, white, black, rich or poor. It is a grave crime to discriminate against people on the basis of religion, wealth, class or caste. It’s also a crime all these politicians have committed, not that they will ever admit it.
A few days back two Hindu convicts were murdered in a Bangladeshi prison. They were killed because they were Hindus. In Pakistan, too Hindus and Christians are not safe. In India recently there has been a marked increase in Islamophobia among certain groups of Hindus who have gone to the extreme of lynching people for allegedly having eaten beef. When will this enmity between Hindus and Muslims end? This huge landmass was partitioned into two just to reduce this enmity but seventy years hence the antagonism has not abated in any way whatsoever. Has this mutual hatred and antagonism been artificially produced or is the animosity entirely original and without any solutions! If Hindus and Muslims remain such sworn mortal enemies for centuries then whatever else one might expect from these two communities, peace will not be one of them. I don’t believe that hate has no end or that resentment is perpetual. People across the world have proven time and again that all hostilities eventually come to an end.
When I was young I too used to walk in processions and shout along with the others – ‘We want food, we want clothes, we want a life worth living’. I too used to walk in protests meant to rock the city demanding health and education for all. But times have changed. Today, more than rights what is articulated in political slogans comprises religious beliefs and agendas. There is nothing easier than feeding religion to a soul. Instead, what is truly difficult is to ensure a better standard of living for the people, to make them educated and aware, to provide them employment opportunities and good working environments and ensure the total eradication of all discriminatory practices. It’s perhaps best to ask the politicians to do the difficult deed rather than the facile one.