Sardar Patel’s Secularism – Selected Extracts from Constituent Assembly Debates

The recent exchange between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the BJP’s Prime Ministerial Candidate Narendra Modi on the issue of Sardar Patel’s legacy threw up an interesting polemic. In response to the Prime Minister’s barb on secularism, Narendra Modi argued that the Country would have been better served had it followed Sardar Patel’s Secularism over the decades.

So what exactly was Sardar Patel’s “secularism” and did it differ in any significant way from Nehru’s “secularism” ?

Some selected extracts follow below from the Constituent Assembly debates when Fundamental Rights were being debated in the context of Religious Freedoms and Minority Protections. Sardar Patel made some interesting interventions during these debates speaking candidly and forcefully.

A reading of these interventions suggests that while Patel and Nehru were on the same page at that time, Patel’s views are distinctly different from what has come to be practised by the Congress Party as “Secularism” over the past few decades.

27th August 1947 – on the debate on Minority Rights

Sardar Patel argued against communally separate electorates while standing up for the principle of Merit over religion based quotas.

Sir, on behalf of the Advisory Committee I beg leave to place this Report on Minority Rights before the House. It has been drafted after considering the report of the Minority Committee and after considering all the points raised with regard to the safeguards for different minorities in this country

It may be that there are some who are not satisfied on some points, but we have to take into consideration all points of view and feelings and sentiments of the minorities, big and small. We have tried as far as possible to meet the wishes of all the minorities. The minorities among themselves are also divided; there are conflicting interests among them. We have not tried to take advantage of these differences among the minorities themselves; we have tried to see that the minorities also instead of being divided among themselves try to present a united front in order-to safeguard their interests. But there are certain points on which the minorities cannot be united because there are minorities within minorities. So it is a difficult proposition. We have tried to solve this difficult problem without any bitterness and without any controversy which would create any ill-feeling or hitch…….

You will remember that we. passed the Fundamental Rights Committee’s Report which was sent by the Advisory Committee; the major part of those rights has been disposed, of and accepted by this House. They cover a very wide range of the rights of minorities which give them ample protection; and yet there are certain political safeguards which have got to be specifically considered. An attempt has been made in this report to enumerate those safeguards which are matters of common knowledge, such as representation in legislatures, that is, joint versus separate electorates. This is the question which has raised controversy for almost a decade and we have suffered and paid heavily for it. But fortunately we have been able to deal with this question in such a manner that there has been unanimity on the point that there should be no more separate electorates and we should have joint electorates hereafter. So that is a great gain.

Then comes representation in the services. The general standard that we have accepted is that ordinarily competitive posts must go by merit and if we are to depart from this, the general administration would suffer immensely. It is well-known that since this departure has been introduced in the matter of services our administration has suffered considerably. Now that we begin a fresh, we must see that where we have to fill some administrative posts of a higher level, these posts have to be filled by competition, i.e. by competitive examination and competitive tests. We have made some concessions in the matter of certain communities. which require a little help.

On the same day Sardar Patel also countered forcefully arguments made in favor of separate electorates by some members.

Sir, I will not take much time I was sorry to learn that this question was taken seriously because when this question came before the Advisory Committee there was not so much debate as I heard here today. My friends of the Muslim League here who moved this amendment and supported it took it for granted that they had a duty to perform in a sense. They had been pressing for separate electorates and enjoying it for a long time and felt that they should not leave it all of a sudden, but just move the motion and have the vote of the House. But when I heard the elaborate speeches I thought that I was living in the ages in which the communal question was first mooted. I had not the occasion to hear the speeches which were made in the initial stages when this question of communal electorates was introduced in the Congress; but there are many eminent Muslims who have recorded their views that the greatest evil in this country which has been brought to pass is the communal electorate. The introduction of the system of communal electorates is a poison which has entered into the body politic of our country. Many Englishmen who were responsible for this also admitted that. But today, after agreeing to the separation of the country as a result of this communal electorate, I never thought that that proposition was going to be moved seriously, and even if it was moved seriously, that it would be taken seriously. Well, when Pakistan was conceded, at least it Was assumed that there would be one nation in the rest of India-the 80 per cent. India-and there would be no attempt to talk of two nations here also. It is no use saying that we ask for separate electorates, because it is good for us. We have heard it long enough. We have heard it for years, and as a result of this agitation we are now a separate nation. The agitation was that “we are a separate nation, we cannot have either separate electorates or weightage or any other concessions or consideration sufficient for our protection. Therefore, give us a separate State”. We said, “All right, take your separate State”. nut in the rest of India, in the 80 per cent of India, do you agree that there shall be one nation ? Or do you still want the two-nations talk to be brought here also ? I am against separate electorates.

Can you show me one free country where there are separate electorates ? If so, I shall be prepared to accept it. But in this unfortunate country if this separate electorate is going to be persisted in, even after the division of the country, woe betide the country; it is not worth living in.

Therefore, I say, it is not for my good alone, it is for your own good that I say it, “forget the past. One day, we may be ‘united. I wish well to Pakistan. Let it succeed. Let them build in their own way, Let them prosper. Let us enter into a rivalry of prosperity, but let us not enter into that rivalry that is going on today in the land of Pakistan. You do not know that we are sitting in Delhi on a volcano. You do not know the strain that is being put on us because of what is happening near about. My friend the Mover of the amendment says the Muslim community today is a strong-knit community, Very good; I am glad to hear that, and therefore I say you have no business to ask for any props, (Cheers). Because there are other minorities who are not well-organised, and deserve special consideration and some safeguards, we want to be generous to them. But at the same time, as you have enjoyed this to a certain extent for a long time and you may not feel that there is discrimination, we agree to reservation according to population basis.

Where is that kind of reservation in any other free country in the world? Will you show me? I ask you. You are a very well-organised community. Tell me, why do you behave like a lame man’? Be a bold and a strong man, as you are well-organised and stand up. Think of the nation that is being built on this side. We have laid the foundation of a nation. From now, under this new constitution, Chaudhuri Khaliquzzaman says the British element is gone, and therefore forget the suspicious. The British element is gone, but they have left the mischief behind. We do not want to perpetuate that mischief. (Hear, hear).

When the British introduced this element they had not expected that they will have to go so soon. They wanted it for their easy administration. That is all right. But they have- left the legacy behind. Are we to get out of it or not ? Therefore I say, and appeal to you. “What are you doing ? Think about it. Do you expect any one man in this country outside the Muslim League who will say ‘Let us now also agree to separate electorates’ Why do you do this ? If you say “We want now to have loyalty” on this side to this nation”, may I ask you “Is this loyalty ? Are you provoking response of loyalty from the other side ? I have no intention to speak on this, but when the Mover of this amendment talked such a long time and it was supported by the Leader, then I felt that there is something wrong again still is this land.

Therefore, my dear friends, I ask you “Do you want now peace in this land? If so do away with it; you can do no harm either to Pakistan or India or anything, but only you will have all over the country what is happening in this country near about us; if you do want it, you can have it.” But I appeal to you “Let us at least on this side show that everything is forgotten” and if we want to foreget then let us forget what has been done in the past and also what is responsible for all that is happening today. Therefore, I once more appeal to you to withdraw the amendment and let us pass this unanimously. so that the world outside will also understand that we are united. (Cheers).

The question of Religion based Reservations came up in the Constituent Assembly a couple of years later in 1949 when some insinuations were made against Sardar Patel. His response to those insinuations makes it clear where he stood on the issue of religious quotas as well as on the kind of Secularism he stood for.

14th October. 1949 – On Religion based Quotas

When the Minorities Committee in the Advisory Committee passed its first decisions, I was appointed Chairman and I took all the minorities with me and the decisions of the Minorities Committee and the Advisory Committee were almost unanimous. This House appreciated the work of these Committees and congratulated me on that. Time went on and the minorities themselves began to feel that we should reconsider our decision and, headed by the great patriotic Christian leader, they brought in a Resolution that they want to give up the reservations. And what reservations?- Not this Petty reservation of minorities in the services-but the big reservations in the Assemblies, both in the Centre and in the provinces.

They agreed to have joint electorates and to have nothing. to do with this communal separatism. When they desired that, I called a meeting of the minorities Committee and the Advisory Committee. At their instance decisions were taken.

So far as the Services are concerned, for all major posts or all posts which go by competitive examinations there is no reservation on communal grounds. They go to the Public Service Commission.

When the Advisory Committee took this decision to give up reservation, we clearly understood the position and all communities clearly understood it. When the decision of the Advisory Committee came before this House for its acceptance, I made it clear that this Constitution of India, of free India, of a secular State will not hereafter be disfigured by any provision on a communal basis. It was accepted with acclamation.

After all, what is the Sikh community backward in ? Is it backward in trade ? Is it backward in industry, or commerce or in anything ? Why do you consider yourselves to be backward ? Therefore, forget that psychology. If there is any injustice done, then come to us, we will see that no injustice is done.

Why raise this issue ? We must trust that if the present leaders go, we will have better leaders in the future. If we have trust in the future of our country, we may trust that in the future our country will produce leaders who will make a name in the history of the world. We have shown it today. We will do it in the future. That is India. India produced a Mahatma in a State where slavery was rampant. He went to a country where people would not walk on the foot-path, where people could not travel even in the III class with safety, where we were all treated as untouchables even now we are treated as untouchables there. There he made a name and fame all over the world, and presented a new weapon to the world. Then he came here. Here he raised the Sikhs, the Muslims, the Hindus, Scheduled Castes, everybody. He gave us freedom. Do you think that we are going to raise the morale of our country or the reputation of our country or the fame of our country by breaking promises ? No. We have all agreed that we must trust each other.

Do not add to our difficulties by creating internal difficulties in which there will be disputes between the communities. Help us and it will be to your advantage and it will be to the advantage of the whole country. You will have no cause for regret if you drop the claims for minor provisions for small minorities in regard mainly to service questions. Fight over issues beneficial to the whole country. Let us do that. Let us prepare the ground for that.

30th August 1947 – Discussion on Constitutional Provisions against Religious Conversions

Sardar Patel defended existing legal provisions against Forcible Conversions while arguing against the need to incorporate them as a fundamental right.

The Committee discussed this and there were several other suggestions made by the House and the clause was referred back to the Committee. After further consideration of this clause, which enunciates an obvious principle, the Committee came to the conclusion that it is not necessary to include this as a fundamental right. It is illegal under the present law and it cm be illegal at any time.

Much of this debate may be shortened if it be recognised that there Is no difference of opinion on the merits of the case that forcible conversion should not be or cannot be recognised by law. on that principle there is no difference of opinion. The question is only whether this clause is necessary in the list of fundamental rights. Now, if it is an objective for the administration to act, it has a place in the Second Part which consists of non-justiciable rights. If you think it is necessary, let us transfer it to the Second Part of the Schedule because it is admitted that in the law of the land forcible conversion is illegal. We have even stopped forcible education and, we do not for a moment suggest that forcible conversion of one by another from one religion to another will be recognised. But suppose one thousand people are converted, that is not recognised. Will you go to a court of law and ask it not to recognise it ? it only creates complications, it gives no remedy. But if you want this principle to be enunciated as a seventh clause, coming after clause 6, in the Second Schedule, it is unnecessary to carry on any debate; you can do so. There is no difference of opinion on the merits of the case. But at this stage to talk of forcible conversion on merits is absurd, because there cannot be any question about it.

On a closing note it would also be pertinent to draw the attention of the Reader to another intervention of Sardar Patel made a few months earlier on 29th April, 1947 on the question of what exactly must constitute “fundamental rights”. Sardar Patel’s comments stand in stark contrast to the Rights based Entitlements approach of the present day Congress Party.

There were two schools of thought in the Committee and there was a large number of very eminent lawyers who could scrutinise every word of every sentence, even commas and semi-colons, from a very critical point of view. These two schools viewed the matter from two different angles. One school considered it advisable to include as many rights as possible in this Report-rights which could straightaway be enforceable in a court of law, rights in regard to which a citizen may without difficulty go straightaway to a court of law and get his rights enforced. The other school of thought considered it advisable to restrict fundamental rights to a few very essential things that may be considered fundamental. Between the two schools there was considerable amount of discussion and finally a mean was drawn which was considered to be a very good mean.

Of course the third school of thought was absent in the Committee. That school would require that under the fundamental rights which were provided for a free India there should be no police, there should be no jail, there should be no restrictions on the press, the baton, the lathi or the bullet. Every body should be free in a free India to. do what he likes. That school was absent in the Committee. But the two schools of thought that considered this Report studied not the fundamental rights of one country alone but of almost every country in the World. They studied all the Constitutions of the world and they came to the conclusion that in this Report we should include as far as possible rights which may be considered to be reasonable.



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