Speaking in Rajya Saba in November 2015, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the concept of secularism in the Constitution, as envisaged by Dr Ambedkar, was that the state would not become a theocracy, hence would not have any religion.
However, the state guarantees its citizens the right to practice and propagate the religion they follow, he said.
The genesis of the controversy dates back to 2015, when a government ad published a pre-1976 version of the Preamble that does not include the words - “secularism” and “socialist”. While the government issued a directive to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to use only the 1976 version of the Constitution in its future ads, NDA ally, the Shiv Sena demanded a debate on the subject. The “Preamble” controversy led even BJP party chief Amit Shah to dismiss the need for any amendment.
In February 2015, Amit Shah called the opposition’s criticism over the missing words as “meaningless” and clarified – “The BJP believes that the Preamble, as it stands today, should remain. There is no need to change it.”
However, since then, several BJP leaders like Yogi Adityanath and more recently, Union Minister of State Anant Hegde have stoked a controversy by attacking the word “secularism” in the Constitution.
“Sect-Neutral But Not Secular”
The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was quoted as saying – “The word secularism is the biggest lie since Independence. Those who have given birth to this lie, and those that use it, should apologise to the people and this country. No system can be secular. Political system can be sect-neutral. If someone were to say that government has to be run by one way of prayer, that is not possible. In UP, I have to look at 22 crore people, and I am answerable for their security and their feelings. But I am not sitting here to ruin one community either. You can be sect-neutral but not secular.”
Anant Kumar Hegde was equally forceful in his denouncement of the word while speaking at a function organised by the Brahmana Yuva Parishat at Kukkanur in Karnataka’s Koppal district on Sunday, 24 December.
“I Hope There Are No Secularists Here”
He urged people to identify themselves by their religion and caste rather than promote secularism. “There is a new culture now of secularists. If someone says I am a Muslim, or I am a Christian, or I am a Lingayat, or I am a Hindu, I feel very happy because he knows his roots. But these people who call themselves secularists, I don’t know what to call them. They are like people without parentage or who don’t know their bloodline. They don’t know themselves. They don’t know their parents, but they call themselves secular. If someone says I am secular, I get suspicious. I hope there are no secularists here”, he said.
The Union Minister also suggested the government was determined to remove the word from the Constitution.
“A few people say the Constitution mentions the word secular, so you have to agree. Because it’s there in the Constitution, we will respect it, but this will change in the near future. The Constitution has changed many times before. We are here and have come to change the Constitution. We will change it”.