18 April, 2021

Baby And Bathwater

Bye, bye secular democracy, hello ‘ethnic democracy’?

Illustration by Sorit
Baby And Bathwater

There is a line in Hanif Kureishi’s new book The Last Word where the protagonist, a fictional cutout of V.S. Naipaul, observes that “every age has a central philosophical issue.... Ours will be revival of religion as politics”. He may well have been referring to the toxic mix of religion and politics that has marked the Indian election campaign—ironically in the name of secularism caught up between its ‘pseudo’ and ‘genuine’ champions. Well, I’m in the ‘pseudo’ camp for the simple reason that Narendra Modi and the BJP’s notion of ‘genuine’ secularism is too fuzzy for me to get a handle on it; and—as I’ll argue in a bit—it is, in fact, a cover for a more troubling agenda.

For those of us who believe that, despite all its flaws, an interventionist state secularism remains the only sensible way of mana­ging India’s often disorienting cultural diversity, there has been little to cheer about in this election. We have seen the old national consensus around...

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