Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari recently locked horns with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, wondering a tad sarcastically if the latter had "turned secular". As he put it, it was ironic that the state government had "permitted the opening of bars, restaurants and beaches" even as our Gods and Goddesses have been "condemned to stay in the lockdown".
Wondering why religious sites in the western state were yet to open, Koshyari noted that Thackeray had "publicly espoused" his devotion for Lord Ram by visiting Ayodhya after taking charge as CM. Noting that other states had reopened their places of worship he claimed that there had been no consequent surge of COVID-19 cases from these places.
"I wonder if you're receiving any divine premonition to keep postponing re-opening or you've suddenly turned 'secular' yourselves, the term you hated?" he asked.
The letter has since drawn massive backlash from both the Maha Vikas Aghadi government as well as Opposition leaders from other states.
Aside from the politically affiliated critics, many citizens have also weighed in on the topic. And while many have criticised the comments, others have offered up a justification of sorts, contending that the term secularism was not a part of the Constitution originally. While the spirit of secularism had long been a part of the Indian ethos, the term "secularism" was added to the Preamble of the Constitution with the Forty-second Amendment enacted in 1976.
As such, it is difficult to understand why a Constitutionally nominated office bearer would be seeming scornful about the concept. After all, as per Article 159 of the Indian Constitution, the oath or affirmation by the Governor requires him to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law".
But the word secularism is not just a part of the Indian Constitution. What makes Koshyari's derisive take on the word even more baffling is the fact that it is also enshrined in the constitution of the BJP.
As their Objective states:
"The Party shall bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established and to the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy and would uphold the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India."
While the Maharashtra BJP has hit out at Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray over the topic, the "secularism" debate has been skirted for the most part.
"Is Governor not a citizen, not a Hindu? He has the right to speak on all issues. Does he not have the right to question? What issue do they have with reopening of temples? Will Congress-NCP withdraw their support if you reopen temples?" Maharashtra BJP president Chandrakant Patil asked recently.
(With inputs from agencies)