The topic of Dr Singh’s lecture was “Defence of secularism and Constitution”.
The armed forces are a splendid embodiment of the country’s “secular project” and it is vitally important that they remain “uncontaminated” from any sectarian appeal, former prime minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday.
The senior Congress leader also said the judiciary should not lose sight of its primary duty to protect the secular spirit of the Constitution as the task has become much more demanding with political disputes and electoral battles turning out to be increasingly over-laced with religious overtones and prejudices.
“The judiciary needs to arrive at its own enlightened view of its custodianship of the Constitution-irrespective of the irresponsible and selfish politicians who have no qualms in injecting communal virus in our body politic,” he said while delivering the second A B Bardhan memorial lecture in Delhi.
Talking about the importance of the Election Commission in India’s democratic framework, Dr Singh said it must ensure that religion, religious sentiments and prejudices do not get worked into election discourse.
“As the custodian of the integrity of the electoral process, it is incumbent upon the Election Commission to see to it that religion and religious sentiments and prejudices do not get worked into the election discourse,” he said.
“The Commission must be thinking of rolling back the easy acceptance of over-manipulation of religious imagery,” the senior Congress leader said.
Dr Singh praised the armed forces, saying that they were a splendid embodiment of India’s secular project and have a glorious record of keeping away from the “politicians’ manipulations and intrigues”.
“It is vitally important that the armed forces remain uncontaminated from any sectarian appeal,” he said.
Dr Singh’s remarks came amid the government’s plans to celebrate on September 29 the second anniversary of the surgical strikes on terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
The Congress has been accusing the Modi government of politicising the armed forces for electoral gains. The topic of Dr Singh’s lecture was “Defence of secularism and Constitution”.
Terming the demolition of the Babri Masjid as a “traumatic event” that brought India’s secular commitments into “disrepute”, Dr Singh noted that the entire political leadership came in for criticism for failing to protect a place of worship.
“In particular, concerned citizens were deeply disappointed at the judiciary’s stance in the events leading up to the demolition. December 6, 1992 was a sad day for our secular republic,” the former prime minister said. He also forcefully stated that any attempt to weaken the secular fabric of India would be an attempt to dismantle the larger egalitarian project — a secular, progressive and democratic polity.
He said the onus of preserving the country’s secular robustness of rests on all constitutional institutions. Dr Singh said the media is an equal partner in upholding secularism.
“Above all, it is the duty of the political parties to keep on educating, enlisting and mobilising our citizens in the cause of secular values and practices as the highest republic virtues, so centrally located in our Constitution,” he said.
In his address, Dr Singh also recalled the famous Bomai case in which a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court found an opportunity to reaffirm that secularism was a basic feature of the Constitution. He said it came as a “consolation”, but satisfaction derived from the verdict was short-lived as soon after that came Justice JS Verma’s “famous and controversial” ‘Hindutva a way of life’ judgment. This verdict had a decisive impact on the debate among the political parties about the principles and practices of secularism in India, Dr Singh opined.
“The judgment ended up making our political discourse somewhat lopsided; and, many believe that ‘there can be no doubt that the decision requires to be revisited,” he said.
Dr Singh asserted that no constitutional arrangement can be protected and preserved only by the judiciary, no matter how vigilant or enlightened the judges may be. “Ultimately, it comes down to the political leadership, civil society, religious leaders, and intelligentsia to defend the Constitution and its secular commitments,” he said.
In his address, Dr Singh also listed various articles of the Constitution that uphold its secular spirit. “Every civilized society is known and defined by the terms it offers to its minorities, especially its religious minorities. And that was one of the principal issues facing our national leaders when they got down to writing a Constitution for the newly-Independent India,” Dr Singh said.
He also highlighted that there was a definite global and domestic context to the Constitution-writing exercise. The global context was that the world was reeling from the brutalities of the Second World War, a war whose origin can primarily be traced to the ideology of fascism and its ugly demands, he said.
“This ideology, of National Socialism in Germany, was a violent assertion of one race over another; in practice, it took pride in a naked use of aggression against minorities in Germany,” he said.
Dr Singh also stressed on the role played by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders of the independence movement such as Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, in upholding secular values.
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