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Gurcharan Das: Religion and Politics Must Be Kept Separate

Gurcharan Das is the former C.E.O. of Procter & Gamble India and the chairman of the board of Citibank India. He graduated from Harvard in Philosophy and Politics and attended Harvard Business School where he was taught by J.K. Galbraith, Henry Kissinger and the philosopher John Rawls, who turned Das into an unapologetic capitalist. He is the author of three plays (including the renowned Larins Sahib) and several works of nonfiction, including India Unbound: From Independence to the Global Information Age (2001) and The Elephant Paradigm: India Wrestles with Change (2002). India Unbound's conclusion is that in the next two decades India will become the third largest economy, after the U.S. and China, with a middle class of 250 million people. Professor Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winner and master of Trinity College, Cambridge, was so impressed he asked Das to start a "secular, rightwing party" modelled on Britain's Tories in India.

The Times of India, May 18, 2003

"Both my grandfathers belonged to the Arya Samaj, but my father was drawn to the syncretic sant tradition of bhakti, and he joined the Radhasoami sect in Beas. When I was growing up, I vividly remember my mother telling us stories from the Mahabharata in the evenings while my father meditated in the next room. Despite this, I grew up like many Indians with a liberal attitude that is a mixture of scepticism but sympathy towards my tradition."
"Our most cherished ends in life are not political. Religion is one of these and it gets demeaned when it enters public life. Hence, religion and politics must be kept separate, and to believe this is to be secular. I agree with B.L. Mungekar that 'India will die if secularism were to die' and if we abandon secularism we will become like tragic Pakistan. But why has such a sensible idea failed? Our secularism has failed to stem the tide of intolerance because most secularists do not value the religious life. In well-meaning efforts to limit religion to the private life they behave as though all religious people are superstitious and stupid. This naturally doesn't go well with the majority of Indians who are deeply religious and suspicious of godless, westernised, brown sahibs telling them what to do."
"Secularists are also statist and think that the state can reform society and religion, which is again arrogant and foolish for genuine reform must emerge from within society. Moreover, secularists forget that the truly religious people are usually deeply secular. Thus, what has failed is not the noble philosophy of secularism but its practice. And in the meantime, intolerant fundamentalists have filled the vacuum."
"So, how do we begin to privatise religion? The answer, I expect, lies with the moderate voices in each religion's mainstream. Moderates must come forward and teach us that true religion has nothing to do with hating others. It worked when Gandhi or Maulana Azad preached secularism for they were believers themselves and the masses identified with them."
"Secularism was successful in Europe in the 18th century because people were disgusted with the corruption of institutionalised religion. In India too, moderate religious leaders must demonstrate that the agendas of Ayodhya, conversions, and banning cow slaughter are perverse. They must show up the extremists for what they truly seek, which is a grab for power. The answers will not come from the Congress or the B.J.P. Nor can we wait for another Gandhi to emerge. The answer lies with the many reasonable voices of good sense within the Hindu and Muslim communities. Surely, there must be a few courageous individuals among them who will speak up before their faith is totally hijacked by the terrorists."