Pavan Varma, Nitish Kumarâ€™s advisor, errs in defining secularism Minhaz Merchan Pavan Varma, advisor to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, contradicts himself with blissful abandon in his article Secularism vs. Growth Hysteria in the May 20-27, 2013 issue of the leading newsmagazine India Today. heere If the 2014 general election is to be fought on the twin principles of secularism and governance, it is important to define both terms accurately. Mr.Varma writes: â€œLet us accept that secularism is a highly abused word in India. It has been reduced to a slogan, a form of tokenism, a mistress of convenience for every electoral bordello. Every accusation made against it is partly true: Vote-bank politics, minority appeasement, scoring points over political opponents, and forging opportunistic political alliances.â€ Indeed. Secularism as a word and concept has been so badly distorted that it is now a duplicitous cover for the most opportunistic tactics to snare minority votes. â€œSecularâ€ parties offer minorities words, not homes; promises, not jobs; quotas, not education. For five long years between elections, they are comforted with noble ideas and kind gestures â€” but little else. The political calculation is simple: a poor, uneducated Muslim does not ask uncomfortable questions: questions about education; infrastructure, employment, womenâ€™s rights, empowerment, integration. Even middle-class Muslims, fed on a diet of secular propaganda, are too busy adjusting the chip on their shoulder to notice that theyâ€™ve been left behind in the new India rising around them. Wily clerics, co-opted by secular parties, play along. With one foot planted firmly in the seventeenth century, they are archetypal one-eyed rulers in a blind kingdom. Secular politicians and religious leaders make perfect bedfellows. Mr.Varma asks: â€œIf secularism has become a dirty word, has the original concept associated with it also become irrelevant? Muslims number over 120 million â€“ almost 13 per cent of the population. They are part of the national fabric, in inseparable ways, speaking the same language, watching the same films, eating the same food and sharing the same cultural traits.â€ Apart from the wrong math (Muslims, according to the latest census, number 177 million, and comprise 14.7% of Indiaâ€™s 1.21 billion population), this is a mischievous little googly from Mr.Varma. Secularism is obviously relevant in a plural society like Indiaâ€™s. But clever politicians try to confuse us: the â€œoriginal conceptâ€ of secularism is easy to define â€“ no favouritism and no discrimination based on religion. Secular politicians, who place their own welfare above the welfare of Muslims, however present their case with Machiavellian insouciance. To their constituents, they say secularism is about â€œentitlementâ€ (not, please note, empowerment). By singling out Muslims, playing into their victimhood and feeding their paranoia of â€œcommunal forcesâ€, they segregate them from, rather than integrate them with, the Indian mainstream. The socio-economic silos Muslims live in today are the result of over 50 years of precisely the sort of â€œappeasementâ€ and â€œvote-bank politicsâ€ Mr.Varma appears to criticise the Congress for but ends up defending in the most curiously convoluted way: â€œIt is for this reason that Mahatama Gandhiâ€™s devout piety, Nehruâ€™s professed agnosticism, Ambedkarâ€™s clinical rationality, Maulana Azadâ€™s warm eclecticism and Atal Bihari Vajpayeeâ€™s sensible pragmatism worked together to create an India where people of all faiths could feel at home. Equally, the people of India grasped the simple truth that beyond the complexities of principle or ideology, there is no way to survive except by learning to live with each other.â€ If indeed that is the idea of India â€“ diversity without discrimination â€“ secular parties like the Congress have failed to practise it. Despite following the precepts of Gandhi, Nehru, Azad, Ambedkar and the others Mr.Varma piously quotes, Muslims after more than half-a-century of Congress governments still lead segregated, angst-filled lives. The impact of government policies on citizens are judged by outcome, not intent. After more than five decades, the judgement on how the practice of â€œsecularismâ€ has benefited Muslims is clear â€“ and we donâ€™t need either Justice Rajinder Sachar or Justice Ranganath Misraâ€™s reports to tell us why. But the biggest flaw in Mr.Varmaâ€™s article emerges when he says: â€œOur country is crying out for good governance, and the failures of UPA 2 have underlined this dramatically. But can governance ever be enduring or sustainable if it is pursued at the cost of an inclusive agenda, incorporating the notions of harmony and belonging for people of all faiths?â€ The crucial error here is in assuming that governance has to be at the cost of an inclusive agenda. It doesnâ€™t. Good governance intrinsically means inclusive governance. Otherwise it wouldnâ€™t qualify as good governance. The either/or argument, pitting governance and development against secularism and inclusion, is inherently flawed. When development occurs in a society, everyone benefits: Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis. When there is stagnation, everybody suffers: Uttar Pradesh, that haven of secularism, is a living example. A growing number of â€œsecularâ€ politicians will over the next few months seek minority votes by placing before them this false choice: inclusion or growth. Beware of them: they are no friends of the minorities for they promise them only one of those two choices. Good governance guarantees both. Pavan Varma, Nitish Kumarâ€™s advisor, errs in defining secularism by Head On : Minhaz Merchant's blog-The Times Of India ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Pawan Verma on TV comes out with a rather high pitched nasal tone, that sends the brain a trifle tired. And like all political spokesmen, who come to the TV debates, irrespective from which political party, turns out to be a bit disingenuous. But they have to defend the party line and so one cannot blame them for appearing a trifle foolish and bigoted! 'Secularism' - the word as is used in India, is as bogus as it can come., as is the word 'minority'! Both addresses the Muslims and no one else, since the other minorities are not material to the politicians as their votes are scattered and so, does not matter. Total political chicanery at it zenith! Pawan and his mentor Nitish are victims of the ballot box and so cannot be blamed for being cleverer by half. Modi, on the other hand, is cleverer than all. He has avoided the trap, even though his reputation precedes him that he is a Hinduvta man! That has really de-fanged the the rooftop yelling votaries of 'secularism', as is understood for vote catching! People across the religious and caste divides want homes, jobs,education and not the filigree web of illusions that are weaved every election. including the Muslims, who are portrayed as the deprived! Muslims number over 120 million â€“ almost 13 per cent of the population. Indeed, they do as per Verma, when they actually number 177 million, and comprise 14.7% of Indiaâ€™s 1.21 billion population. But facts and statistics was never an important issue to drive a political agenda! Secularism means equality, irrespective of religion and other divides. Secularism means empowerment and not entitlement because entitlement mean it is a right. It is not. It is not a right of any community or religious groups to demand anything that is not deserved by pure merit and more as a sop to garner votes. Many communities and groups across the religious and caste spectrum are deprived. They too, require to be uplifted, and not just one group, if secularism and fairness and justice is the credo of the Nation. People of all faith can feel at home only if they are treated as Indians and given what they deserve on merits, without votebank consideration, caste considerations and religious considerations. They must feel equal as Indians. Discrimination or favouritism only divides and creates issues that lead to bad blood, riots and mayhem. Inclusive growth is another buzzword to fool the people. Inclusiveness can only happen if the political parties accept Indians to be Indians and not by their differences. The NE people, irrespective of religions, feels discriminated. Are they not also to be considered in the so called inclusiveness? Good old Varmaji speaks so eloquently meaning only for Muslims because they can decide the future of the ballot boxes and that is all about his bleeding heart article on Quo Vadis india! .