Colombo, January 15 (newsin.asia): India is a secular country, and its secularism is rooted in its hoary religious tradition, asserted Ravi Shankar Prasad, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Cabinet Minister of Law, Justice and Information Technology in his Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture here on Monday.
Expounding his theory, Prasad said that India is secular not because the constitution says so, but because its secularism and tolerance are rooted in the ancient Indian religious texts, which say that faiths may differ but these are only various paths leading to the same destination, which is truth.
They speak of the concept of the world being a single family and stress the importance of seeking the welfare of all, irrespective of differences and diversities.
Given this background, India’s leaders have believed that the Indian State should have no religion, and no religion should be discriminated against. They wrote these into the constitution of 1950.
However, Prasad pointed out that designating India a secular state was a difficult decision to take in 1947 when the country got partitioned into a largely Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan with one million being killed and 10 million being uprooted in Hindu-Muslim riots.
Because of the Indian concept of secularism, the country is today a land of “extreme diversity” with all major religions represented. It has the second largest Muslim population in the world besides 20 major languages and 16,000 dialects, the visiting Minister said.
Speaking on the working of the Indian constitution in the last 70 years, and how the diverse country with humongous problems is held together, Prasad pointed out that apart from secularism, rejection of violence, extremism and separatism is another reason for unity.
No violent or extremist movement has been mainstreamed. They have remained in the fringes, he pointed out.
Even those who swore by separatism and violence, finally accepted Mahatma Gandhi’s creed of non-violence, the Minister said. India is able to solve issues without resorting to violence because the people are able to talk to each other.
The other factor which has held the highly stratified and diverse country together is the faith the framers of the constitution had in the intelligence and ability of ordinary people. India boldly introduced universal adult franchise despite high illiteracy and poverty because of the leaders’ faith in the masses ability to make discerning choices irrespective caste, class, ethnicity, region or gender, Prasad said.
The other root of Indian unity is the importance given to “social democracy” in addition to “political democracy” as the author of the constitution Dr.B.R.Ambedkar advocated.
The constitutionally guaranteed independence given to the Election Commission ensures free and fair elections making Indian elections a “celebration of democracy”, Prasad said.
The freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary also nurture democracy and help uphold the constitution.
Prasad however, disapproved of the tendency in the judiciary to give rulings which abridge the constitutional right of the elected executive to govern. Such curbs hurt one of the basic tenets of the constitution which is the Separation of Powers, he pointed out.
A free media, including social media, have created awareness and empowered the common man. There are 882, 24-hour TV channels of which 200 are news channels and there are 99,000, he said.
Communication is facilitated in a population of 1.3 billion people, by 1.21 billion mobile phones of which 400 million smart phones. The number of mobile phone factories has grown from two in 2014 to 108 now.
Empowered by communication technology, the masses have a acquired firm grip on their rulers. If the governments they elected fail them, they are shown the door in the next elections. He recalled how a powerful Prime Minister like Indira Gandhi was thrown out of power after she put India under Emergency Regulations between 1975 and 1977.
Prasad said that empowerment of the masses through the use of Information Technology has been a trigger for economic development and the realization of the aspirations of the youth of 35 years and less who make up 65% of the Indian population.
The Minister further said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes that digital technology is a great social leveler. He is using digital technology to empower the hoi polloi by breaking down social and other barriers.
One of the gains of the importance given to digital technology is the fact that BPOs are now found even in small Indian towns and has promoted entrepreneurship among university leavers.
“Job seekers are now job providers” Prasad pointed out referring to young technical graduates who are now setting up their own innovative businesses instead of working for wages in others’ companies.
(The featured image at the top shows Muslims and Hindu of Delhi celebrating Phhol Walon Ki Sair. Photo: Hindustan Times)