Rahul Gandhi must read more and learn to reform the Congress party!

For whatever be the reasons that Rahul Gandhi is now entrusted to head the Congress party and he is now in the line of succession. So, given the constraints of the Indian situation, we have to welcome the new young face and learn to live with him, right?

Now what are the issues on which the young Gandhi would have to grapple with?
I believe that besides the usual list, like the reform of the Congress party itself, the party is now  a mere imagination of Sonia Gandhi and ,poor lady, she herself has no clue as to go about further than consolidating herself as she is.

This is certainly bad. The men around her, as ministers or busybodies at the AICC are just time-servers; they are not drawn by any common beliefs.

So, I would put the evolving of a set of common beliefs as the chief task of the young Gandhi, given his interest and experience in management.

He has to read his great grand father’s books, to start with, if he had not done so already.
Also he has to read some books at least on Mahatma Gandhi.

These two founding fathers of independent India have left the country with certain liberal beliefs. Democracy, secularism and socialism have been the watchwords under Nehru.
Of these concepts, democracy is rather a bit easy. For everyone talks about it. About socialism, it is now gone and now the talk is about economic reforms without anyone having any precise idea of what economic reforms really mean.

So, one lesson Rahul Gandhi has to learn and also “teach” is to come out with precise account of the contents of economic reforms. More so, when he has come out with a set of ideas for defining his” future challenges”. The future challenges are simply about how to adhere to economic reforms in all its dimensions, not just to crow about the rate of economic growth. It is a thought task and a tough challenge and it would test the ingenuity of all around Rahul to come out with a precise definition and explanation of economic reforms.

Just for once we would like to mention the twin pillars of any economic reform package is as to how to ensure a liberal democracy with individual liberty as the ultimate test.
The much more challenging task for the young leader is to turn India into a genuine secular state.
Secularism and how it came about in India?

Now, secularism is much used because it finds a mention in our Constitution. Much misused because of the rise of the BJP’s Hindutva rightwing extremism.

But then secularism is not an easy world either. I am not sure how Nehru used the word or how Nehru came to be identified with the word. May be he in his Socialist ideological enthusiasm used the word Secularism to distance the Congress party from the then prevailing Hindu-Muslim debates, more so in the pre-Independence Partition days negotiations.

But what is clear is the historic context in which the concept came to be articulated in India.
Otherwise secularism is always historically associated with the rise of European Enlightenment. Anyway, that is how I have learnt to understand and appreciate secularism. Just now, I am going through a book by Isaiah Berlin, a collection of his writings and lectures, in the series by his devoted editor. Isaiah Berlin: “Political Ideas in the Romantic Age: Their Rise and Influence on Modern Thought”(2007).In this very large collection, runnign to some 300 pages, I don’t find the word secularism mentioned even once! And Isaiah Berlin is considered the world authority on European Enlightenment. But what is given is an extensive coverage of the ideas that lead up to what we today understand as secularism. So, here I just quote the introductory remarks by another scholar who is an authority on Berlin. Here are the relevant passages: “Berlin regarded the period surrounding the French Revolution as a political and intellectual watershed. The ideas that emerged at that time continued to form ‘ the basic intellectual capital on which we live today’”. “If we traced the influence of the Enlightenment to liberalism, then Enlightenment also impacted the Communism, so the conflicts between liberal democracy and Communism, also led to differences and implications within and the successors to Enlightenment:”.

The point here I want to make is that secularism also a contribution of the Communist ideology. In the Indian context, secularism was used by Nehru knowing well it also has a link with the Communists whom he knew, in Russia and outside and whom he liked and disliked at the same time!

But when he came to build the new India, after Partition, on the grounds of religious divide, he wanted to build India on a strictly non-religious basis and for this he deployed the word secularism, as an equidistance from all religions, Hinduism and Islam in particular and this gave the Congress party a political space when it was being crushed under the weight of the rise of Hindu Maha Sabha tide and also the fears of the Muslims caught in the whirlwind of Partition.

And also we have to remember the fact that Gandhi was not always in this sort of secular ideological formulations but he was seen as a reconciler, a parson who sought religious harmony but he was also strictly a Hindu, he saw himself one and others even within the Congress party saw him one.
Am I right in saying so?

I am not sure but I want readers to understand me well and clearly. This is the way I understand the concept of secularism as a historic concept that arose out of the French revolutionary spirit of a rise of reason and a fight for human freedoms, it was human vs. divine rights fight that led to the French Revolution that abolished monarchy once for all from modern man’s idea of a government. Rousseau and Voltaire come too often in any such discussions; they do so even in Berlin’s many pages. It is Rousseau’s Social Contract, a contract with the people’s will that did away with the need to invoke the divine rights of the kings.

Just now I am going through another latest book, titled “A Secular Age” by Charles Taylor, 874 pages. In fact it is a review I am reading now and when I was thinking on the subject this review came in handy. So, I quote some of the sentences and also the ideas therein.

In the pre-modern, that is medieval times when Christianity was invoked always, it was almost impossible for man not to believe in a religious power that determined man’s destiny. Modern period arose when man ditched god, so to say, for invoking much of his beliefs, this is secular beliefs! So, only when we talk and discourse on matters of state or mind without invoking the name of god, we seem to be talking in a secular way. “Western world’s gradual movement towards something called “secularity” is what gives shape and meaning to secularism”.

So, secularism is basically a Western concept and let us be clear that secularism is now very much part of modern thought and anyone who considers himself or herself as modern is basically a secular-minded person and one reason for the rise of recent terrorism is the thought that it is a Western concept and we have to oppose it because we still believe in religious thoughts, be it any religion and also such an opposition breeds fanaticism, any unreasoning process lead one to take more rigid views.

Even the more cosmopolitan minded persons who might have some bit of religious beliefs can be termed as not secular. But this seems wrong. A secular India must strictly be a non-interfering India in religious matters.
That is how the most famous secularist in modern history, the Turkish leader Attaturk Kamal Pasha introduced secularism in Turkey.

The most recent book (Journeys in Islam by Akbar Ahmed, 2007) is about how the Muslim world is facing up the rise of terrorism. This book is a journey by Akbar Ahmed and two of his colleagues, drawn from other religions. Ahmed, as readers might be interested to know is a Pakistani scholar-diplomat (he was Pakistan Ambassador to UK and also produced a film on Jinnah, as an answer to Attenborough’s Gandhi) and had lectured at UK’s Cambridge and other American universities.

The latest book of Ahmed discusses the modern Turkey and how it battles to face the new challenge of the new rise in Muslim consciousness along with Turkey’s secular republican tradition.
A modern secular state, even the non-Muslim nations, like ,say UK or France or the USA, have to learn to live with the presence of Muslim population, the Muslim minorities need equality before law, they Muslims must have their traditional outward symbols, be it a headscarf as in Turkey or in France or the Sikh turban etc. The older societies that are traditionally Christian also now have to ensure robust secular credentials to carry the large immigrant population.

So, Ahmed who had visited Deoband, Aligarh and Ajmer and studied the various Muslim religious sects comes to the conclusion that any modern state has to learn to balance reason with religion. Reason with faith.

This is the challenges for India too.
The old secularist cliches won’t do. It won’t do for the Congress; it won’t do for the BJP too!
To be secular and be religious at the same time is not contradictory. You can be a secular citizen but you can also be a theist. The BJP is neither secular nor a theist party. It spells only fanaticism. Its intellectual content, its secularist content is mere fanaticism. The DMK’s secular credentials are also bogus. Its claim to be an atheist party is also bogus. Tamil society, more so the Dravidian variation is the most superstitious society and an embodiment of all ills that arise out of a backward society.

So, a modern, civilised, progressive and democratic and open society can be and should be a secular society and at the same time must give enough space for those to practice their own religions in their own ways.

This is what we learn from even the modern Muslim nations like Turkey and others. I am sure the same definition and intellectual content for secularist beliefs must equally be applicable to Israel and Palestine also. You can’t live in any society of the present times without having the democratic rights for the people and this spells the secularist space as far as the applicability of all state laws and the functioning of the Constitution, judiciary, executive and the press and much of the rest of the civil society itself.

I read recently that the great Attaturk borrowed from Swiss Law to change some of his personal law legislation. May be. I am not sure. But the point is that Turkey always held a special place in the evolution of a secular state in the modern world.

The point the new book brings home is that secularism is not any theism or atheism, not simple or simplistic extreme positions. There could be any variations, a mix of both. Certain scepticism is part of any modern-minded person’s mental makeup and it is good for building and shaping a modern democracy where multi-religious people live.

That way, the society and the government benefits, the government can be judged purely on its secular credentials, it can be judged purely for its competency in delivering its many services, protecting the rights and freedoms of the peoples without invoking partisan arguments for its failure to deliver modern day secular governance norms.

Equality before laws, equal rights before laws etc are part of the modern day state.
The Czech dissident-turned President and now a thinker who commands universal admiration for providing a role model for the rest of the post-Communist states is cited often in the post-Enlightenment secularist mould.
Anyway, all these thoughts are not for any one individual but for all those who care for India and its future growth as a mature nation.

As for the political class it is important that this class knows its modern, enlightened base on which it derives it most intellectual and cultural inspiration. Indians are still looking to the West for their own inner strengths. Unfortunately or fortunately, the West, I mean, the UK and the USA are no longer examples of much civility, as they once were. Just now, I read that in the UK, as high profile a novelist like Martin Amis is lining up with the rising Islamophobia. This is terrible, to say the least. This is a virus, say the observers and at any rate for India and the Indians of this generation there is a long learning curve. We urge the young brigade at the AICC, to do some reading, a history of the Congress party, its 120 odd year old history and how it had evolved into the present small coterie-type decline. Some of the old values, collective leadership, a genuine inner party democracy, state-level leaders, traditional Congress families, family-ties have to revived and established, district level leaders have to be given lots of powers and self-respect.

One also hopes, the current international political trends are studied in some depth. India’s uniqueness, its democratic uniqueness has to be fostered and further cultivated. Secularism seems to be the core issue and India’s secularism is its core of the core values.

Let us hope the younger generation rises up and inherits a worthy mantle of political leadership.

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