Amid the Narendra Modi government’s plans to celebrate on September 29 the second anniversary of the surgical strikes on terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir(PoK), former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday said it is vitally important that India's armed forces remain "uncontaminated" from any sectarian appeal.
Manmohan Singh hailed the armed forces, saying that they were a splendid embodiment of India's secular project and have a glorious record of keeping away from the "politicians' manipulations and intrigues".
According to the Army, Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was severely hit in the surgical strikes carried out on the intervening night of September 28-29, 2016. The strikes were carried out by paratroopers and infantry soldiers. The time of the attack -- 3.30 AM -- was chosen to ensure maximum damage to the enemy.
While delivering the second AB Bardhan memorial lecture in New Delhi, the former prime minister also spoke on judiciary and the Election Commission.
"The judiciary needs to arrive at its own enlightened view of its custodianship of the Constitution - irrespective of the irresponsible and selfish politicians who have no qualms in injecting communal virus in our body politic," Manmohan Singh said.
Manmohan Singh also said it was important for the Election Commission to ensure that religion, religious sentiments and prejudices do not get worked into election discourse.
"As the custodian of the integrity of the electoral process, it is incumbent upon the Election Commission to see to it that religion and religious sentiments and prejudices do not get worked into the election discourse," he said.
"The Commission must be thinking of rolling back the easy acceptance of over-manipulation of religious imagery," the senior Congress leader said.
Terming the demolition of the Babri Masjid as a "traumatic event" that brought India's secular commitments into "disrepute", Singh noted that the entire political leadership came in for criticism for failing to protect a place of worship.
"In particular, concerned citizens were deeply disappointed at the judiciary's stance in the events leading up to the demolition. December 6, 1992 was a sad day for our secular republic," the former prime minister said.
He also forcefully stated that any attempt to weaken the secular fabric of India would be an attempt to dismantle the larger egalitarian project -- a secular, progressive and democratic polity. He said the onus of preserving the country's secular robustness of rests on all constitutional institutions.
Singh said the media is an equal partner in upholding secularism. "Above all, it is the duty of the political parties to keep on educating, enlisting and mobilising our citizens in the cause of secular values and practices as the highest republic virtues, so centrally located in our Constitution," he said.
In his address, Singh also recalled the famous Bomai case in which a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court found an opportunity to reaffirm that secularism was a basic feature of the Constitution.
He said it came as a "consolation", but satisfaction derived from the verdict was short-lived as soon after that came Justice J S Verma's "famous and controversial" 'Hindutva a way of life' judgment.
This verdict had a decisive impact on the debate among the political parties about the principles and practices of secularism in India, Singh
"The judgment ended up making our political discourse somewhat lopsided; and, many believe that 'there can be no doubt that the decision requires to be revisited," he said.
Singh asserted that no constitutional arrangement can be protected and preserved only by the judiciary, no matter how vigilant or enlightened the judges may be.
"Ultimately, it comes down to the political leadership, civil society, religious leaders, and intelligentsia to defend the Constitution and its secular commitments," he said.
In his address, Singh also listed various articles of the Constitution that uphold its secular spirit. "Every civilized society is known and defined by the terms it offers to its minorities, especially its religious minorities. And that was one of the principal issues facing our national leaders when they got down to writing a Constitution for the newly-Independent India," Singh said.
He also highlighted that there was a definite global and domestic context to the Constitution-writing exercise.
The global context was that the world was reeling from the brutalities of the Second World War, a war whose origin can primarily be traced to the ideology of fascism and its ugly demands, he said.
"This ideology, of National Socialism in Germany, was a violent assertion of one race over another; in practice, it took pride in a naked use of aggression against minorities in Germany," he said.
Singh also stressed on the role played by India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders of the independence movement such as Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, in upholding secular values.
(With PTI inputs)