What for the US presidential candidates have to swear by their Christian antecedents? Eight candidates belonging to both the Republicans and the Democrats as soon as they entered the fray declared that they are religious Christians. The aspirants further explained, because large majority of US citizens are believing Christians, it was natural for the candidates to declare their religiosity. This did not come in the way of religious freedom or secular democracy in that country. Perhaps in India, the EC would have sent notices intimidating the candidate and the secularists would have asked for disqualification for bringing in religion.
But the latest controversy over Barack Obama has brought to the forefront the role of identity politics in US polls. A fact of history that only a White Christian male has so far been elected to the top post and that the deep racial and gender bias in the social fabric play a significant role in the final outcome has now become a matter of open debate. What was so far accepted as pass? has in the current situation become the decisive feature.
Obama is being asked to prove that he is not a Muslim. That he is not a Muslim plant to destroy the US. Obama has stepped up his effort to correct the misconception that he is a Muslim. Also, according to reports, this has become more relevant as the presidential campaign has hit the Christian Bible belt in the South. Is it necessary in a secular democracy, which never tires of lecturing to the world on freedom of faith and freedom to proselytize, to question the religion of the candidate?
Obama'scampaign managers are at a loss as to what would the aspirant say to his audience. His representatives blanketed South Carolina churches with literature that touted the candidate'sChristian faith. ?I have been to the same church, the same Christian church for almost 20 years,? Obama said stressing the word Christian and drawing cheers from the faithful in reply to criticism that he was not a Christian, a report said. ?I was sworn in with my hand on the family Bible. Whenever I am in the United States Senate I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,? he asserted to clear his image.
The allegation against him raised publicly by his opponents is that he was hiding his Islamic roots. And he is asked to prove otherwise to save his candidature. This is a defining aspect of American nationalism.
Indian secular fundamentalists can learn a lot from this debate. The idea of citing this example is to pinpoint the doubletalk in the name of secularism in this country, where deriding and denouncing anything Hindu has become the routine interpretation of the Constitutional provision. Here there are people in high places defending disrespect to national anthem in the name of secular convenience. We have our politicians shielding abuse of Bharat Mata, refusal to sing Vande Mataram, Saraswati Vandana and even lighting a lamp in the name of secularism. In India, unlike the US no politician has the courage or intellectual honesty to admit that the character of the Indian state is Hindu because 85 per cent of the population in India are Hindu and that the customs and habits of even large sections of non-Hindus are rooted in Hindu centric Indian tradition. There was a hue and cry when a High Court suggested that the Bhagwad Gita should be treated as the ethical code in India. This difficulty in defining the Indian nationhood is the biggest stumbling block in India'srise as a great global power. India is unable to get the diplomatic leverage even on a smaller country like Pakistan because of the inherent duplicity of our political class.
It is well known that the American constitution explicitly enshrines religious freedom. But a less known aspect is that the US has many anti-cult laws on her statutes and a cult is defined as a cohesive social group devoted to beliefs or practices that the surrounding culture considers outside the mainstream. Under the cult laws many religious organisations outside the traditional Christian denominations can be sued for millions of dollars and declared outlawed if even one disgruntled or rebel disciple is found to complain. Many religious organisations are routinely sued and harassed under this provision.
India has a lot to learn from the ongoing identity debate in the US primaries. On the occasion of Republic Day celebrations it will be a worthy exercise to ponder as to how we define ourselves.