Indian State and Secular Politics

1. In India, decolonisation did not reconstitute the State, rather it was a refurbishing of the same colonial state, now free from any remote controlling by the British. In legal terms too, all legislations and judicial pronouncements made prior to Independence continued to hold unless challenged and proven to be in contravention to the new constitution. The same bureaucratic structures and personnel – army, police, civil services, judiciary… – continued to manage the state of affairs and affairs of the state. The only thing that really changed after Independence and which was definitely a radical change was that for the first time this state could acquire popular legitimation and could rule in the name of the Indian people. Therefore unlike the French, Russian or even Chinese situations, we could never talk about a revolutionary state emerging on the ashes of the old one. An interesting comparison could be made with Pakistan, where despite all failures and difficulties, some real efforts were made to reconstitute the state.

2. State principles, written and unwritten rules regulating the state machinery remained the same in India. Its social engineering principles and mechanisms which were essential to stabilise the colonial rule continued to stabilise the postcolonial rule. What changed perhaps was their renomination – efforts were made to resignify them in terms of the modernist ideas and ideals of the nationalist leadership, which was now at the helm of the State. Therefore the ideal of secularism, for instance, was attached to the state’s management of communities through institutionalisation and accommodation of their hegemonic leadership. So what we find today designated as secularism is simply the state’s ability and efforts to manipulate and control various social agencies to reproduce itself. The word secularism was, of course, added to the Indian Constitution only in the 1970s and that too during one of the most authoritarian phases of the Indian polity.

3. Secularism here is essentially a state ideology that monolithises religious discourses, externalises and neutralises every internal threat to hegemonies within religions. In other words, it institutionalises religious leaderships and strengthens religious conservatism, thus helping the State to accommodate them and manipulate their agencies to create and disseminate its legimitation. It is in this regard, one can say that the liberal-secular forces in India have aligned with the religious conservative or right to foreclose any possibility of the emergence of a Religious Left which seeks to deinstitutionalise religions.


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