We live in odd times. Anyone who professes to be secular these days, in the sense of wanting a separation of religion from politics, invites general derision. Derision from the votaries of Hindutva is of course to be expected; indeed a secular person would consider it a badge of honour. Intriguingly however derision also comes from a wholly different quarter, from a host of intellectuals who cannot be accused of being sympathetic to the Hindutva agenda. Now, if the opposition of these intellectuals to secularism was linked to an alternative programme that they advocated for fighting Hindutva, a programme which they thought was potentially more effective than the secular programme in fighting the fascists constituting the Hindutva brigade, then the matter would be altogether different. But there is no palpable alternative programme, which is what makes their position rather curious.
There are several different strands to the argument that they offer against secularism. But in essence it emphasises the fact that the idea of separating religion from politics is an illicit transplantation from the European context. The illicitness is variously illustrated: sometimes as being part of an imperialist discourse, sometimes on the grounds that in contrast to Protestant Europe our society "seethes with vibrant religiosity", sometimes on the grounds that the concept of secularism represents the tyranny of post-enlightenment rationality. A lay person would be tempted to ask at this point: so what? Just as the attempt to transplant Westminister-style democracy has led to something altogether different in our country because of the specificities of our social structure, but nonetheless what it has led to is eminently worthwhile, likewise, one can argue, the attempt to transplant secularism, while it might not necessarily replicate the European scene here, is still eminently defensible. In other words to argue from our "particularities" that the attempt to transplant secularism is an illicit one, is a non-sequitur. But the argument persists.
The lead article by Javeed Alam in the current number of Social Scientist is a critique of this argument. Since the authority of Gandhi is often invoked in support of an alternative conception to secularism, as it is normally understood, Alam's reference to Gandhi, including the quotation with which the article begins, is extremely apposite.
Malini Bhattacharya's Safdar Hashmi Memorial Lecture makes the extremely important point, among others, that "globalisation is not necessarily opposed to traditionalism". Indeed on the contrary, traditionalism, since it signifies "closed-in identities with no possibility of dialogic exchange and mutual communication", leads to a sort of "ghettoisation" which further strengthens imperialist hegemony. The paper discusses the strategy of cultural struggle in the era of globalisation within this perspective.
What has happened to Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union is unparallelled in modern history: so great has been the economic retrogression