Yogi Adityanath's state-sponsored Holi celebrations undermine Constitution, dent idea of syncretic India

Defending the state-sponsored celebrations of Holi and Diwali in the state, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath bizarrely remarked that, "We will celebrate Deepotsav in Ayodhya, Holi in Barsana, Dev Deepawali in Kashi, Ramayana Mela in Chitrakoot and Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj. I will participate in all the celebrations as protection and promotion of all these festivals is my government's responsibility. I've never stopped anyone from celebrating Eid or Christmas in the last 11 months, so."

As a private individual of the Hindu community, he is free to celebrate all festivals but as chief minister, he epitomises 'state' in terms of Article 12 of the Constitution and therefore, any state-sponsored festival will dent the secular fabric of the Constitution. This is perhaps the most unsettling feature of the present time, the way the ruling right-wing party is espousing Hindutva and romanticises it for electoral gain without calculating the damage done to syncretic India.

The 'Holi' agenda

File image of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. PTI

File image of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. PTI

The Yogi government organised a two-day 'Rangotsav' on the occasion of Holi in Mathura and Barsana, the birthplaces of Lord Krishna and Radha respectively. Profound security arrangements were made where the city was divided into 20 zones, each controlled by an additional superintendent, and 40 sectors, each supervised by a deputy superintendent, to ensure the safety of people and dignitaries for two days.

Approximately 80 officers, including four IPS, were deputed, five companies of PAC, one company of flood PAC and one unit of ATS had been requisitioned by the district police for two days for the celebrations. The entire expenditure was burdened on the state exchequer.

In a similar state-sponsored event last year, the government of Uttar Pradesh had organised 'Deepotsav' on the occasion of Diwali and granted Rs 165 crore towards this celebration. Considering the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the government has already allocated Rs 1,500 crore for organising the Ardh Kumbh Mela at Prayag, Allahabad (in 2019) and has made various special budgetary allocation in the name of religious circuits in the state. Yogi has also sworn to construct a 100-metre tall idol of Lord Ram on the banks of river Saryu.

The models of secularism

Stimulated by the specific inclusion of 'secularism' in the Constitution in 1976, the Supreme Court declared 'secularism' to be part of the 'basic structure' and invoked it to be a relevant 'factor' in imposing President's Rule on the four BJP state governments after the Babri Masjid was devastated in 1992.

However, there is an amazing lack of consistency and clarity about the meaning of Indian 'secularism'. Even the Supreme Court could not confine the concept of a secular state within the precise bounds of a definition. One element though appears to be indispensable and common to all the various patterns state-secularism presents in combination with a range of variables. That common element, the invariable, is the absence of a state-sponsored or state-favoured religion.

The Russian communist pattern of state-secularism, for instance, besides abstaining from sponsoring or favouring any religion, actively favours and encourages anti-religious beliefs. The United States' concept of state-secularism presents a significantly different pattern, essentially, on the principle of freedom for the individual in the exercise of religion as a segment of the general scheme of individual liberty.

Secularism is at the core of modernity. It records a history of progress and gradual emancipation from religion through the exercise of reason. The doctrine of secularism was institutionalised with the historic separation of Church and State in the 19th century and eventually globalised through colonialism.

This is another pattern of state-secularism where religion is a completely private affair. The state will neither favour nor oppose any religion (Everson versus Board of Education 1947, 330 US). The question is whether a model in which state has no religion but it equally favours all religions can be termed as a secular state or not?

Indian secularism

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, whose fondness for India's social diversity was as strong as his overriding commitment to social reform and modernity, is wrongly vilified as personifying a new modern India directed towards reforming its traditional life out of existence. A balanced 'secularism' is hostile to both invidious, unjust, and discriminatory social practices as well as the politicised appropriation of religion in order to effect a 'fundamentalist' take – over by the state.

Indian secularism hence, is founded on three constituent elements: (i) the principle of religious freedom which expansively protects all aspects of a religion including its beliefs, rituals, practices, thoughts, ideas and philosophies, and injuncts discrimination on grounds religion, race, caste, place of birth or gender; (ii) the principles of depoliticisation and celebratory neutrality which prevent the state from being taken over by any one community but permits it to assist all faiths in their endeavours and celebrate their existence as part of the pageantry of India; and (iii) the principle of social welfare and reform which requires religions to yield to regulatory and reformative regulation and cleanse their inegalitarian, gender – unjust, and other constitutionally unacceptable prescriptions.

Drafters of the Indian Constitution perhaps aspired for this model of secularism and based on this, subsidies were provided to Hindu places of worship along with financial support for Haj. Now, when the government has scrapped the Haj subsidy, a continuance of subsidies to Hindu places of worship raises serious doubts on this model too.

The Yogi government has been belligerently advertising Hindutva ideology on the state's expense. Their deceptive discrimination is perceptible when the BJP government of Gujarat effectively and successfully argued in the Supreme Court against the reconstruction of Islamic shrines destroyed during the 2002 riots (State of Gujarat versus IRCG). Little more than few weeks after the judgment, the prime minister had bemoaned that how his appeal to reconstruct the Kedarnath Shrine after the 2013 flash floods was vetoed by the UPA government.


All political parties indulge in some form of religious electioneering. Indeed, the Congress party’s statutory reversal of the Supreme Court's decision is criticised precisely because this initiative was to woo the Muslim vote. Similarly, the 'kabristan-shamshaan' slogan and "Ramzan aur Eid mein bijli to Diwali mein bhi bijli" were too used to polarise Hindu vote.

India's election law specifically forbids invoking threats of social ostracism, excommunication, or expulsion from religious groups or castes, divine displeasure or special censure, making appeals to religion, race, caste, community, or language or religious symbols, or attempts to promote feelings of enmity amongst such groups or the propagation or glorification of Sati as part of the election process.

Politicians pander to religious sentiments – both when they are in power and at the husting. But, being part of the government publicly promoting a particular religion at the cost of public money and discriminating other is prima facie against the liberal constitutionalism premised on equality between individuals and different groups.

The equality, another basic structure, stands dishonoured. The cautiously designed system of checks and balances is being deliberately debilitated. Vital institutions are strikingly weaker than it was at some point in the past. If corrective measures are not taken, a fragile nation which has already experienced a painful 'partition' may plunge towards a new political fundamentalism contrary to the spirit of this unique civilisation, striving for political unity amongst social diversity to provide justice to all.

The author is associate professor of law, NLUO and deputy registrar, Supreme Court of India.

Published Date: Mar 01, 2018 12:19 PM | Updated Date: Mar 01, 2018 12:19 PM

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