Social Scientist. v 14, no. 152 (Jan 1986) p. 3.

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Medieval Indian Notions of Secular Statecraft in Retrospect

THE LIBERAL ideas that permeate the Indian Constitution as also those exercising a large measure of influence on the general working of the modern Indian polity, in reality do not seek to establish a truly secular state, namely, a state that should preclude religion altogether from playing a role in the exercise of political authority. The emphasis is not oh the separation of state from religion but on its role as an arbiter between religions. But, at the same time, the state is also perceived as an instrument for introducing reforms m the Hindu social and religious customs. It is expected to play a similar but less conspicuous role in respect of the Islamic institutions.' One may thus characterise the modern Indian state as a supra-religious organisation vested With the authority to establish, control and regulate the religious establishments. While not identifying itself with one particular religion, this state does aspire to bring the major religions of the country, and through them the socio-cultural outlook of the people following them, in harmony with social norms facilitating the ongoing processes of modernisation and capitalist expansion. From this it follows that the concept of secularism embedded in the governing principles of the Indian Constitution is peculiar to the Indian situation where a bourgeois landlord combine is called upon to control and carry forward an under-developed and culturally fragmented society on the path of capitalist development.

As to what are the historical antecedents of this particular type oT secularism is a much debated question which has been sought to be answered by the social scientists variously in keeping with their respective perceptions of the forces and the influences that contributed to the shaping of modern Indian polity. It is no doubt true that rhany of the features of Indian secularism were actually defined, in the course of thejreedom struggle.2 Thest ".vere largely the outcome of compromises and adjustments arrived at between different cultural and interest groups within the eclectic framework of Gandhian political theory. A further suggestion that the attitude of religious tolerance underlining Indian secularism may be traced back to ancient religious tradition of India also deserves consideration.3 But it seems that another and, perhaps, more pertinent angle from which an answer to this question may be sought is that of tracing the elements of continuity in the features of the Indian state from before the colonial period. An

* Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh

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