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In the Indian context, the term pseudo-secularism is used to pejoratively describe policies considered to involve minority appeasement.[1] The Hindus form the majority religious community in India; the term "pseudo-secular" implies that those who claim to be secular are actually not so, but are anti-Hindu or pro-minority.[2] The Hindu nationalist politicians accused of being "communal" use it as a counter-accusation against their critics.[3]


The first recorded use of the term "pseudo-secularism" was in the book Philosophy and Action of the R.S.S. for the Hind Swaraj, by Anthony Elenjimittam. In his book Elenjimittam accused leaders of the Indian National Congress of pretending to uphold secularism.[4]

After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was accused of representing the Hindu communalism in Indian politics it started using the counter-charge of "pseudo-secularism" against the Congress and other parties.[5] The BJP leader LK Advani characterises pseudo-secular politicians as those for whom "secularism is only a euphemism for vote-bank politics". According to him, these politicians are not concerned with the welfare of the minorities, but only interested in their vote.[6]

Elst suggests Lokayata (in the sense of worldliness) as a better Hindi word for modern secularism.[7]

Alleged examples[edit]

The state policies of independent India accorded special rights to Muslims in matters of personal law. For example, in the Shah Bano case, a Muslim woman was denied alimony even after winning a court case, because the Indian Parliament reversed the court judgement under pressure of Islamic orthodoxy. This is often presented as proof of the Congress's practice of pseudo-secularism by many Indians.[8][9] Other special laws for Muslims, such as those allowing triple talaq and polygamy, are also considered as pseudo-secular.[10]

The religion-based reservations in civil and educational institutions are also seen as evidence of pseudo-secularism.[9]

The BJP has also been criticised as to playing along with pseudo-secular parties by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for compromising on issues like Article 370, Ram temple and Uniform civil code of India.[11]


One [book on Indian secularism] which inclines towards the Hindu viewpoint is M.M. Sankhdher: Secularism in India. Dilemmas and Challenges.(Elst 2001, Decolonizing the Hindu Mind, p. 31)

Even Muslim activists whose counterparts in Turkey or Egypt denounce secularism as a demonic betrayal of Islam, call themselves “secularists”. Check the editorials of Syed Shahabuddin's monthly Muslim India, or the Jamaat-i-Islami weekly Radiance: they brandish “secularism” in every issue. (Elst 2001, Decolonizing the Hindu Mind, p. 31)

Other Milli (i.e. of the Muslim nation) resolutions include a call for separate electorates (MPs elected by joint electorates are denounced as “lackeys of the Hindus”) and the creation of autonomous states in Muslim-majority areas. (Elst 2001, Decolonizing the Hindu Mind, p. 32)

  • I believe that the word secular is the biggest lie since Independence. Those that have given birth to this lie and those that use it should apologise to the people and this country. No system can be secular. Political system can be sect-neutral. If someone were to say that government has to be run by one way of prayer, that is not possible. In UP, I have to look at 22 crore people and I am answerable for their security and their feelings. But I am not sitting here to ruin one community either. You can be sect-neutral but not secular.
    • Yogi Adityanath, quoted in The Indian Express, Secular word is the biggest lie, says Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, 14 November 2017. [1]
  • In the West, secularism implies pinpricking religious fraud and arrogance, but in India, secularists are the most eloquent defenders of myth and theocracy.
    • Elst, Koenraad, Who is a Hindu, (2001)
  • As a general rule, you can predict what the secularist position on any issue will be once you know what the militant Islamist position is. From justifying terrorism to misrepresenting the Ayodhya evidence, the two are rarely very different.
    • Elst, Koenraad, Ayodhya, the Finale (2003)
  • The word secular is defined in the dictionaries as "the belief that the state, morals, education, etc. should be independent of religion." But in India it means only one thing -- eschewing everything Hindu and espousing everything Islamic.
    • Goel, Sita Ram: Perversion of India's Political Parlance (1984)
  • It is, therefore, intriguing that the most fanatical and fundamentalist adherents of Christianity and Islam in India - Christian missionaries and Muslim mullahs - cry themselves hoarse in defence of Indian Secularism.
    • Goel, Sita Ram: Freedom of expression - Secular Theocracy Versus Liberal Democracy (1998)
  • Even Muslim activists whose counterparts in Turkey or Egypt denounce secularism as a demonic betrayal of Islam, call themselves “secularists”.
    • Elst Koenraad, Decolonizing the Hindu Mind (2001)
  • A number of Indians have tried to define secularism as sarva dharma samabhava (equal respect for all religions). I cannot say whether they have been naive or clever in doing so. But the fact remains that secularism cannot admit of such an interpretation. In fact, orthodox Muslims are quite justified in regarding it as irreligious. Moreover, dharma cannot be defined as religion which is a Semitic concept and applies only to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Hinduism is not a religion in that sense; nor are Jainism and Buddhism, or for that matter, Taoism and Confucianism.
    • Girilal Jain, "Limits of the Hindu Rashtra", in : Elst, Koenraad: Ayodhya and after, Appendix I
  • As far as I know, Nehru never defined secularism in its proper European and historical context.
    • Girilal Jain, "This is Hindu India", in : Elst, Koenraad: Ayodhya and after, Appendix I
  • Elst suggests Lokayata (in the sense of worldliness) as a better Hindi word for modern secularism.
    • M.R. Paranjape, Altered Destinations Self, Society, and Nation in India, by Makarand R. Paranjape
  • Secularism per se is a doctrine which arose in the modem West as a revolt against the dosed creed of Christianity. Its battle-cry was that the State should be freed from the stranglehold of the Church, and the citizen should be left to his own individual choice in matters of belief. And it met with great success in every Western democracy. Had India borrowed this doctrine from the modem West, it would have meant a rejection of the dosed creeds of Islam and Christianity, and a promotion of the Sanatana Dharma family of faiths which have been naturally secularist in the modern Western sense. But what happened actually was that Secularism in India became the greatest protector of closed creeds which had come here in the company of foreign invaders, and kept tormenting the national society for several centuries.
    We should not, therefore, confuse India's Secularism with its namesake in the modern West. The Secularism which Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru propounded and which has prospered in post-independence India, is a new concoction and should be recognized as such. We need not bother about its various definitions as put forward by its pandits. We shall do better if we have a close look at its concrete achievements.
    Going by those achievements, one can conclude quite safely that Nehruvian Secularism is a magic formula for transmitting base metals into twenty-four carat gold. How else do we explain the fact of Islam becoming a religion, and that too a religion of tolerance, social equality, and human brotherhood; or the fact of Muslim rule in medieval India becoming an indigenous dispensation; or the fact of Muhammad bin Qasim becoming a liberator of the toiling masses in Sindh; or the fact of Mahmud Ghaznavi becoming the defreezer of productive wealth hoarded in Hindu temples; or the fact of Muhammad Ghuri becoming the harbinger of an urban revolution; or the fact of Muinuddin Chishti becoming the great Indian saint; or the fact of Amir Khusru becoming the pioneer of communal amity; or the fact of Alauddin Khilji becoming the first socialist in the annals of this country; or the fact of Akbar becoming the father of Indian nationalism; or the fact of Aurangzeb becoming the benefactor of Hindu temples; or the fact of Sirajuddaula, Mir Qasim, Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan, and Bahadur Shah Zafar becoming the heroes of India's freedom struggle against British imperialism or the fact of the Faraizis, the Wahabis, and the Moplahs becoming peasant revolutionaries and foremost freedom fighters?
    One has only to go to the original sources in order to understand the true character of Islam and its above-mentioned luminaries. And one can see immediately that their true character has nothing to do with that with which they have been invested in our school and college text-books. No deeper probe is needed for unraveling the mysteries of Nehruvian Secularism.
    • Sita Ram Goel, Tipu Sultan - Villain or Hero (1993)
  • Thus Hindu society not only presents itself as a prey to these exclusive, intolerant and imperialist ideologies but also acts as a buffer between them. India is secular because India is Hindu. It can be added as a corollary that India is a democracy also because India is Hindu. If Hindu society permits this free for all any further, the days of Secularism and Democracy in this country are numbered. Let the Hindus unite and save themselves, their democratic polity, their secular state, and their Sanatana Dharma for a new cycle of civilization, not only for themselves but also the world.
    • Sita Ram Goel, Hindu Society under Siege (1992)
  • Though borrowed from the West, secularism in India served a different end. In the West, it was directed against the clergy, tyrannical rulers, and had therefore a liberating role; in India, it was designed and actually used by Macaulayites to keep down the Hindus, the victims of two successive imperialisms expending over a thousand years. In the West, it opposed the Church which claimed to be the sole custodian of truth, which took upon itself the responsibility of dictating science and ordering thought, which decided when the world was created, whether the earth is flat or round, whether the sun or the earth moves round the other, which gave definitive conclusions on all matters and punished and dissent. But in India, secularism was directed against Hinduism which made no such claims, which laid down no dogmas and punished no dissent, which fully accepted the role of reason and unhampered inquiry in all matters, spiritual and secular; which encouraged viewing things from multiple angles....
    There is yet another difference. In the West, the struggle for secularism called for sacrifice and suffering-remember the imprisonments, the stakes, the Index; remember the condemnation of Galileo; remember how Bruno, Lucilio Vanini, Francis Kett, Bartholomew Legate, Wightman and others were burnt at the stake. But in India secularism has been a part of the Establishment, first of the British and then of our own self-alienated rulers. It has been used against Hinduism which has nourished a great spirit and culture of tolerance, free inquiry and intellectual....Secularism has become a name for showing one's distance from this great religion and culture. Macaulayites and Marxists also use it for Hindu- baiting.
    • Ram Swarup, "Seeing through Indian secularism", in: Koenraad Elst, Ayodhya and After: Issues Before Hindu Society (1991), Appendix II
  • In India, political incidents frequently pit Hindu nationalism, or even just plain Hinduism and plain nationalism, against so-called “secularism”. In practice, this term denotes a combine of Islamists, Hindu-born Marxists, Christian missionaries and americanized adepts of consumerism who share a hatred of Hindu culture and Hindu self-respect. What passes for secularism in India is often the diametrical opposite of what goes by the same name in the West. Genuine secular states have equality before the law of all citizens regardless of religion. By contrast, India has different civil codes depending on the citizen's religion. Thus, for Christians it is very hard to get a divorce, Hindus and Muslim women can get one through judicial proceedings, and Muslim men can simply repudiate their wives. The secular alternative, a common civil code, is championed by the Hindu nationalists. It is the so-called secularists who, justifying themselves with specious sophistry, join hands with the most obscurantist religious leaders to insist on maintaining the present unequal system.
    Likewise, there exists a legal inequality in matters of temple management, pilgrimage subsidies, special autonomy for states depending on their populations' religious composition, and the right to found religious schools; and this inequality is defended by the so-called secularists because it is invariably to the disadvantage of the Hindus. The Hindu nationalists favour the secular alternative of equality regardless of religion.
    In India, shari'a -wielding Muslim clerics whose Arab counterparts denounce secularism as the ultimate evil, call themselves secularists. Just as the English word deception differs in meaning from its French counterpart déception (= disappointment), the word secularism has a sharply different meaning in Indian English as compared to metropolitan English.
    When we consider “secularism” as an intellectual movement rather than as a juridical concept, “secularism” means that religion is treated as a human construct rather than the product of a divine revelation. It implies a frank and critical investigation of the claims of religion. In this respect, the failure and dishonesty of Indian secularism is even more radical. Its discourse on religion is extremely and wilfully superficial. It shields from criticism even the most obscurantist religious beliefs or institutions, provided they are non-Hindu (and even in attacking Hinduism, its criticisms of even legitimate targets tend to be crassly superficial). For instance, almost every self-styled secularist, from former President A.K. Narayanan to the editors of the newspapers, has sworn by the story that Christianity was brought to India by the apostle Thomas. In the West, not just secularists but even Catholic universities like the one where I studied have dropped this myth. But in India, the secularists are its most determined upholders.
    • Elst, Koenraad, The Problem with Secularism (2007)
  • A visit to India was the next logical step. When I arrived, the Indian papers were full of the controversy over the ban on Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses. To my surprise, many so-called "secularists", such as Khushwant Singh and M.J. Akbar, supported the ban, which had been promulgated by the "secularist" Congress government. The more I learned about this Indian "secularism", the more it became clear to me that it was often the very opposite of what we in the West in genuinely secular states call "secularism".
    Indeed, over the years I have had many a good laugh at the pompous moralism and blatant dishonesty of India's so-called secularists. Their specialty is to justify double standards, e.g. why mentioning murdered Kashmiri Pandits is “communal hate-mongering” while the endless litany about murdered Gujarati Muslims is “secular consciousness-raising”. Sometimes they merely stonewall inconvenient information, such as when they tried to deny and suppress the historical data about the forcible replacement of a Rama temple in Ayodhya by a mosque: given the strength of the evidence, all they could do was to drown out any serious debate with screams and swearwords. But often they do bring out their specific talents at sophistry, such as when they argue that a Common Civil Code, a defining element of all secular states, is a Hindu communalist notion, while the preservation of the divinely-revealed Shari’a for the Muslims is secular. That’s when they are at their best....
    In Europe, the Pope is the scapegoat par excellence of militant secularists and atheists, but in India he is counted among the "secular" alliance (along with the most obscurantist Mullahs, self-described “secularists” whose like-minded Arab colleagues abhor secularism), for he is anti-Hindu and that's the only qualification you need to earn the label "secularist". To the RSS, the secularists are accomplices of the anti-national forces, of Pakistan and the terrorists. That is not incorrect, but to me, they are first of all a bunch of clowns.
    • Elst Koenraad, Hinduism, Environmentalism and the Nazi Bogey -- A preliminary reply to Ms. Meera Nanda, In: Return of the Swastika: Hate and Hysteria versus Hindu Sanity (2007), chapter 3.
  • Its roots [of the term 'communalism'] lie in the British colonial policy of taking “communities” as the relevant units in recruitment or in the allotment of seats in representative assemblies. Originally, the term had no pejorative connotation, but Indian nationalists in the freedom movement objected to these “communal” policies which allegedly aimed at keeping the Indian population divided. Indeed, the biggest worry of the freedom movement was the “communalist” collaboration of the Muslim League with the colonial administration: in exchange for “communal” electorates and recruitment quota, the party claiming to represent the Indian Muslims agreed to stay aloof from the anti-British agitation. Today, “communalism” is one of those labels allotted exclusively to people who reject it; it is a term of abuse. Even people who advocate communal recruitment quota (a demand recently revived by an array of Muslim organizations) are now self-described “secularists” and signatories to every new “National Manifesto [...] Against Communalism.... Jamaat-i-Islami (whose Pakistani wing has campaigned for decades, and with success, for the desecularization of the state) attacks “communalism” in the name of “secularism”. I cannot recall a single issue of the Islamist papers Radiance and Muslim India which failed to brandish “secularism” and denounce “communalism”.
    • Elst Koenraad, Decolonizing the Hindu Mind (2001)


  1. John Anderson (2006). Religion, Democracy And Democratization. Routledge. p. 134. ISBN 978-0-415-35537-7. Retrieved 16 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Mani Shankar Aiyar (1 May 2006). Confessions of a Secular Fundamentalist. Penguin Books India. pp. 25–. ISBN 978-0-14-306205-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Deepa S. Reddy, ed. (2006). Religious Identity and Political Destiny: Hindutva in the Culture of Ethnicism. Rowman Altamira. pp. 171–173. ISBN 978-0-7591-0686-4. Retrieved 16 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Elenjimittam, Anthony (1951). Philosophy and Action of the R. S. S. for the Hind Swaraj. Laxmi Publications. pp. 188–189.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Deepa S. Reddy (2006). Religious Identity and Political Destiny: Hindutva in the Culture of Ethnicism. Rowman Altamira. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-7591-0686-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Mary Ann Tétreault; Robert Allen Denemark (2004). Gods, Guns, and Globalization: Religious Radicalism and International Political Economy. Lynne Rienner Publishers. pp. 115–. ISBN 978-1-58826-253-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. M.R. Paranjape, Altered Destinations Self, Society, and Nation in India, by Makarand R. Paranjape
  8. Rafiq Dossani; Henry S. Rowen (2005). Prospects for Peace in South Asia. Stanford University Press. pp. 195–. ISBN 978-0-8047-5085-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 Shabnum Tejani (2008). Indian secularism: a social and intellectual history, 1890-1950. Indiana University Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-253-22044-8. Retrieved 16 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Kanaiyalalu Manghandasu Talreja (1996). Pseudo Secularism in India. Rashtriya Chetana Prakashan. p. 46.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. M. G. Chitkara (2003). Hindutva Parivar. APH Publishing. p. 84. ISBN 978-81-7648-461-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]