It is now perceived by many that the ruling alliance made a conscious effort to ensure that the country belongs to a particular religion
In terms of its image as a secular country around the world, India has suffered a lot during the tenure of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Narendra Modi, according to Indian academia, journalists and people belonging to the conscious segment of the Indian society.
They said given the performance of the BJP government from 2014 to 2019, it is now perceived by many that the ruling alliance has made an effort to make sure the country belongs to a particular religion – rather than all the religions.
Though other parties are also guilty of using religion in the election campaign, ruling coalition National Democratic Alliance, led by BJP, is way ahead of them in this regard, they added.
Most of the individuals who spoke to Dhaka Tribune from Sunday to Tuesday requested to remain unnamed, fearing retaliation.
This reflects nothing but shrinking space for the civil society as a whole, they said when asked about their wish to remain anonymous.
Nowadays, people are afraid of speaking their minds, especially against the ruling class, they added.
“I am not familiar with this India,” the editor of a widely circulated Indian daily told Dhaka Tribune. “The BJP government was in the centre before. Never ever was religion used in the way it has been used in the last five years, including in the campaign and before the 2014 polls.”
He further said: “In my 35-year journalistic career, I haven't seen such an effort to establish Hinduism in our country like the past five years, especially during the election campaign. This is not going to be good for our democracy.”
A senior journalist of a reputed Bangla daily said: “Look, secularism has never been perfected in India. But you have to admit that, despite being a developing country with a significant number of people without proper education and below poverty line, we’ve been kind of a model – at least in South Asia.
“But, during the tenure of Narendra Modi from 2014 to 2019, India's secular image was simply destroyed,” he said.
"I am not sure whether things will be same again any time soon. I wish I knew," he added.
“In a vast and diversified country like India, no form of religious nationalism is going to work. You can have short-term benefits, but in the long run, it will do the country more harm than good,” said a university teacher.
“You have to remember that it is not only BJP that is playing the religious card. Other parties are also doing the same. Look at the chief minister of West Bengal. She is also doing all she can to secure the votes of Muslims, who constitute more than 25% electorates in the state,” he said.
“Yes, undoubtedly, our image as a secular country has been affected in the last five years because of the ruling party's efforts to promote Hindu supremacy and go soft on the perpetrators of cow-related crimes,” veteran journalist Gautam Lahiri, who is a former president of Delhi Press Club, told this correspondent from New Delhi.
“It will be extremely difficult to impose [religious supremacy] in India. Take the example of Muslims – there are more than 14% Muslims in India. Under any circumstances, you cannot ignore such a number,” he said.
A retired diplomat said: “If secularism is compromised in a diversified country like India, many aspects, including the most important, which is national security, will be affected.
“As India aspires to be a superpower, it has to project itself like one that will attract respect from other countries,” he said.