Letter: The fragility of India's secularism

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The Independent Online
Sir: I wish I could share James Manor's prognosis on the events in India ('Storm in an Indian teacup', 9 December). Unfortunately, it is an analysis that glosses over India's recent history.

Over the past decade the country has had to cope with the assassination of two of its last four prime ministers, separatist insurrections in three important border states, and worsening inter-caste violence. It has also witnessed nationwide spasms of communal violence in three of the last four years, with each outbreak worse than the previous ones both in intensity and geographical scope.

Today the leaders of the main opposition party are behind bars and five quasi-political organisations have been banned. This is not a context in which either liberal democracy or religious tolerance can be said to be secure - they may not be dead but they are certainly imperiled.

The record of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao on secularism and the defence of minorities is not reassuring. As Home Minister in 1984 he was indicted for the passivity of the security forces when 3,000 Sikhs were massacred following the assassination of Mrs Gandhi. He has not done much better as Prime Minister. The Ayodhya controversy had come to be regarded by many Indians as the litmus test of the country's secularism and now the misguided policy of seeking to accommodate the forces of neo-Hindu chauvinism has backfired disastrously in the tragic denouement.

If democracy and pluralism are to survive in India, political leaders will have to grasp the nettle of defining clearly, and being prepared to abide by, a credible conception of secularism that commands widespread acceptance. The issue will not simply dis

appear.

Yours faithfully,

JAMES CHIRIYANKANDATH

Centre for Indian Studies

University of Hull

11 December

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