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Secularism's Last Sigh?: The Hindu Right, the Courts, and India's Struggle for Democracy

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The struggle to secure the constitutional and political protection of secularism in India has been long and difficult. Recently, the Hindu Right- a nationalist and right wing political movement devoted to creating a Hindu State- has hijacked the dominant understanding of secularism as the equal respect of all religions in order to promote its vision of Hindutva and its agenda of establishing a Hindu State. Its' emphasis on the formal equal-treatment of all religions operates as an unmodified majoritarianism whereby the dominant Hindu community becomes the norm against which all others are to be judged- threatening the rights of minority religious communities. In Manohar Joshi v. Nitin Bbaurao Patil and eleven other cases (collectively known as the "Hindurva" cases), the Supreme Court of India delivered a mixed message to the cause of secularism. In this Article, we examine two deeply problematic aspects of the Supreme Court's judgment: (1) its conclusion that hindutva constitutes neither a violation of the prohibition on appealing to religion to gain votes nor a violation of the prohibition on promoting religious enmity and hatred and (2) its conclusion on the secular character of the speeches of the Hindu Right- effectively vindicating the profoundly anti-secular vision of secularism that the Hindu Right has long been trying to promote.In the final section, we turn to consider the crisis of secularism in India. After briefly reviewing some of the debates on secularism's future, we suggest a strategy for reappropriating the dominant discourse of secularism from the Hindu Right, and reshaping this discourse in a way that may better capture and promote a democratic political vision.
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... Following the same logic, some scholars portray Indian secularism as "contradictory" (Rudolph and Hoeber-Rudolph 1987); others conclude that secularism provides a forum for conflict resolution among India's vast and diverse cultural communities (Coleman 2008); and yet others (such as Nandy 2002) claim that Indian secularism has failed to address the religious nature of political life in contemporary India. In this context, Cossman and Kapur (1997) remind us that the Supreme Court of India did not stop the Hindu Right Wing from hijacking the dominant understanding of secularism as a means of promoting its vision of Hindutva and its agenda of establishing a Hindu state: The Supreme Court was not bold enough to translate India's secularism as the equal respect of all religions. This situation has inevitably cultivated a conflictual relationship between the secular state and religious society. ...
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