New Delhi: Congress on Saturday faced criticism of pursuing "reluctant and apologetic secularism" from activists and academicians who asked it to shed its "defensive" approach towards communalism even as party vice president termed the charge "unfair" while vowing to decimate the politics of RSS. At a panel discussion here ahead of the 125th birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the participants raised concerns over "rising intolerance" and stressed that it needed to be fought in the streets and villages much more than within the confines of a seminar room. Referring to the recent controversy over beef, activist Shabnam Hashmi, the sister of slain activist Safdar Hashmi and founder of SAHMAT, said that if the Chief Minister of BJP- ruled Goa can say that beef cannot be banned there why can Congress chief ministers not take the same stand.
Further raising the charge of "Sangh terror", she said, "How many of us have challenged the Sangh terror... It has become a habit to play defensive politics. Why be defensive." She also claimed that fascism was engulfing every inch of space and said that only civil society has been waging a categorical fight against it.
Recalling a statement by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after he assumed office in 2004 that the UPA government does not want to be vindictive, she said that while nobody is suggesting a vindictive approach, there is a need to fight such elements spread in all organisations.
She also said that only the late Arjun Singh, as HRD minister, had "weeded out" such elements from the ministry. Professor Apoorv anand of Delhi University said, "The meaning of secularism is not reluctant secularism, nor it is apologetic secularism... India's default setting is Hindu. Therefore, secularism is a matter of very rigorous training. Nehru repeatedly said that it is a matter of rigorous training.
"He (Nehru) said there is a need to actively secularise society. Unfortunately, in 20 years after Nehru, Congress bowed to this Hindu pressure. Today, Congress says 'we are very frightened that we are being seen as pro-Muslim'."
Academician and political scientist Zoya Hassan said the social and political space that the the Hindu right "seized" was created by the "retreat of secularism during Congress rule" and added that it was compromise by Congress that had enabled BJP to "discredit" the entire secular process.
In strong remarks, she said that "secular parties, particularly Congress, have found the idea of scoring quick electoral gains by 'tampering' with secularism. "In the quest for electoral advantage, Congress made a series of choices from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s that compromised irreversibly India's secular ethos," she said.
Most of the activists asked Congress and other secular political parties to "shed" their "defensive" approach on the issue of secularism and aggressively take on the RSS.