Maharashtra Governor Koshiyari’s ‘secular’ taunt is not really new 

The right wing has often used ‘secular’ as an insult and wanted it out of public discourse, and out of the Constitution


Those shocked at Maharashtra governor BS Koshiyari using ‘Secular’ enshrined in the Indian Constitution as some sort of a slur or a negative term, may have forgotten that others from the right wing ideology have held the same view for a long time. The right wing followers, including prominent politicians have always used it to attack those who do not agree with the Hindutva ideology. They forget that ‘Hindutva’ itself is distinct from Hinduism.

Koshiyari is not even the first this year of the pandemic to voice anti-secular views. In March, Rakesh Sinha, Rajya Sabha member of Parliament, was all set to move a motion to remove “Secular” and ‘’Socialist” from the Preamble as he considered it “redundant” in March this year.

According to multiple news reports Sinha had said that the term Socialist should be dropped to create space for “economic thinking without a particular thought”. Every schoolchild in India knows that the Preamble to the Constitution states India is a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic. However, Sinha was not convinced and cited that the terms “socialist” and “secular” were added after the 42nd amendment to the Constitution in 1976.  

The Supreme Court has called the Preamble the basic structure of the Constitution, so words can be added to it but cannot be removed. In the S.R. Bommai v. Union of India case the Supreme Court held that “secularism is the basic feature of the Constitution.” And in the Aruna Roy v. Union of India the Supreme Court said that Secularism has a positive meaning that is developing, understanding and respect towards different religions, notes the legal portal Legal Services India.

Sinha had also criticised that amendment, and said it was done during the Emergency, “without any discussion or debate in Parliament” the Wire and others had reported, adding his quotes that “The word is not required at all because the Constituent Assembly had discussed it in detail and Dr B R Ambedkar had made it clear and the Assembly had agreed to settle the issue,” Sinha said. He said that K.T. Shah, an economist who was part of the Constituent Assembly, had proposed the words “federal secular socialist Union of States“, but that Ambedkar had contested the proposal. Ambedkar rejected the amendment, arguing, “What should be the policy of the State, how the Society should be organised in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances” he stated.

The issue got much traction and even then few had remembered that it was just five years ago that the Modi government had issued an advertisement ahead of Republic Day 2015, where an image of the Preamble, completely omitted the words “Secular” and “Socialist”. The advertisement was printed on January 26, and was noticed a day before US President Barack Obama said at a public event in Delhi that upholding religious freedom was the responsibility of the Indian government, reported the Hindustan Times.

The then Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting  Rajyavardhan Rathore had defended it this way, “The controversy surrounding the ad is uncalled for. Photo of the original Preamble was a way of honouring founding fathers of the Constitution.” 

However, Rakesh Sinha raked up the issue once again in an opinion he wrote for the Indian Express on August 15 2020, he said, “The theme of secularism, which baffled the nation before 1947, is still subject to premeditated and illogical mystification, which camouflages a deeper understanding of the concept in the Indian context.” He added that the “construction of the Ram temple had once again brought the question centerstage: What constitutes Indian secularism?” According to him the “opposing opinions on the bhoomi pujan at Ayodhya by Prime Minister Narendra Modi also expose a definitional deficit in the idea of secularism.” He called secularism a “Nehruvian legacy”. 

Even more alarming was the move, also in 2020, when the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), India’s largest education board, announced in July that it had cut this year’s syllabus by 30 percent. The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) decided that high-school students no longer need to learn about  “federalism, citizenship, nationalism, and secularism”. Concepts that are at the core of the Indian Constitution. Those chapters were deleted from the political science curriculum of Class 11. The Union Minister for HRD Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ said this was done in view of the “extraordinary situation prevailing in the country and the world. The government has done this as a part of its attempt to ‘rationalise syllabus up to 30% by retaining the core concepts.”

According to media reports, including one in the portal Foriegn Policy, the move was meant to “relieve stressed-out students who have lost valuable hours in the classroom to Covid-19 and are trying to adapt to online learning.” 

Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi bowed before the Constitution when he took oath, and has called it the nation’s holy book, no official clarification was really made about any attempts to alter the Preamble, or even denouncing any inadvertent errors made by the utetrings of senior functionaries of the party or those affiliated to it. 

In 2015, apart from secular citizens, it was only former BJP members such as Sudheendra Kulkarni, who condemned it saying  “If BJP Govt wants to remove ‘secular’ & ‘socialist’ from the Preamble, let it dare to introduce a Constitutional amendment to this effect.” He had also mentioned that the BJP’s “own Constitution (last amended Sept 2012) says it’s committed to ‘Secularism’ and ‘Socialism’. If Secularism & Socialism fill BJP supporters’ nostrils with bad odour, let them demand removal of these words from Party’s Constitution.”

Now a refresher, it seems, is needed for Maharashtra Governor B S Koshyari, after his letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. Leading from the front this time is Maharashtra strongman Sharad Pawar.

The NCP leader has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing his shock at the “intemperate language” used by Maharashtra Governor Koshyari in his letter to CM Thackeray on reopening places of worship.  

While the letter by Governor Koshyari is about opening religious places even though the Covid-19 pandemic rages on in Maharashtra he has “accused” Thackray of being “Secular” as if it is a negative quality, asking “Have you suddenly turned secular?” Governor Koshyari is a vetran of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and has been BJP vice president, and Uttarakhand CM.

The Governor wrote to the CM that he received representations from delegations demanding that places of religious worship be reopened. However, as reported widely, Thackeray in his response pointed out that all the three letters Koshyari mentioned were from Bharatiya Janata Party office-bearers and supporters.  

Responding to this question, Thackeray wondered if to Koshyari “Hindutva” meant merely reopening places of religious worship and if not opening them was to him being secular. “Isn’t secularism a key component of the Constitution, by which you swore while taking oath as the state governor?” Thackeray wrote back and was widely quoted by the media.  

He also reminded the Governor of the Covid-19 situation in the state and added, “While considering the sentiments and beliefs of the people, it is also important to take care of their lives and it is wrong to impose and lift a lockdown suddenly.”



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