[16 May 2024] The Hindu Op-ed: The pitch for Subaltern Secularism

PYQ Relevance:


Q Are tolerance, assimilation and pluralism the key elements in the making of an Indian form of secularism? Justify your answer. (UPSC IAS/2022)

Q How the Indian concept of secularism different from the western model of secularism? Discuss. (UPSC IAS/2018)

Q What are the challenges to our cultural practices in the name of Secularism? (UPSC IAS/2019)


Consider the following statements:  (UPSC IAS/2020)
1. The Consititution of India defines its ‘basic structure’ in terms of federalism, secularism, fundamental rights and democracy.
2. The Constitution of India provides for ‘judical review to safeguard the citizens’ liberties and to preserve the ideals on which the Constitution is based.
Which of the Statements given above is/are correct?
(1) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2


Prelims:  Political Theories; Secularism

Mains: Society; Secularism;

Mentor comment: India since its Independence has been an observer of major democratic shifts, especially when it comes to the Political Parties. In the Indian kind of Parliamentary Democracy, the State is prohibited from patronizing any particular religion as the ‘State religion’ (positive secularism) and is enjoined to observe neutrality. The positive part of the Indian kind of Secularism is that it (the state) has been entrusted to regulate by Law (Procedure established by Law) or by an Executive order (head of govt.). In studies of Religion, the present modern democracies are generally recognized as secular. This is due to the near-complete freedom of religion (religious beliefs generally are not subject to legal or social sanctions), and the lack of authority of religious leaders over political decisions. However, in present Indian democratic politics, there exist two major binary contradictions – between the modern ‘secular subalterns’ (by R. Gandhi) vs. ‘Hindu subalterns’ (by PM Modi). This is for the first time that India is observing major shift in its Political Representation and the associated subalterns (subordinates).

Let’s learn


Why in the News? 

The 2024 Indian General Election is being framed as a contest between “Subaltern Hindutva” and “Subaltern secularism”.

What is ‘Subaltern Secularism’?

The concept of “subaltern secularism” refers to the idea of secularism being embraced and practiced by marginalized or oppressed groups in society, often in contrast to the secularism associated with the elite classes or the classes that are in major power.
Concerning ‘Secularism’, the “subaltern groups” are those who have been excluded from the dominant discourse on secularism, which has traditionally been associated with the English-speaking elite.

What is ‘Subaltern Hindutva’?
: Thesubaltern Hindutva refers to a political strategy that mobilizes marginalized or subaltern Hindu groups by appealing to their sense of honor and identity within Hindu society.
This concept emerged as a significant force in Indian politics, particularly since the 2014.
Subaltern Hindutva gained traction by addressing the perceived contempt faced in the English-speaking elite circles, especially as more of them became educated.

Agenda of ‘Social Welfare’ set by ‘Subaltern Secular’ Group:

  • On Reservation: They promised a dedicated ministry for the empowerment of the Other Backward Classes (OBC), the creation of a National Council for Social Justice, reservation in the higher judiciary for Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and OBCs, and a Rohit Vemula Act for students of disadvantaged sections.
  • Political representation for weaker sections: Due to the lost regional subalterns in the post-Mandal era, they amended their constitution to reserve 50% of seats to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) for SCs, STs, OBCs, women, and minorities.
  • Legal guarantees for Minimum Income: They promised “Sampoorna Samajik Suraksha”, and a Nyuntam Aay Yojana (Nyay) as social security that will have legal guarantees for minimum income and social security for the poor.
  • Social and Health Security: Right to Health, pensions for Single Women, Elderly, and persons with disabilities, a Comprehensive Integrated Child Development Scheme in line with the National Food Security Act, and quality elementary schooling and maternity entitlements are promised.

How does the present ‘subaltern secularism’ differ from then ‘traditional secularism’?

  • By focusing on marginalized or oppressed groups: In ‘traditional secularism’, the discourse is often dominated by the elite, leading to a disconnect with the masses. On the other hand, ‘subaltern secularism’ challenges this top-down approach by advocating for the inclusion of marginalized voices in shaping secular narratives and practices
  • By practicing secular values:Traditional secularism’ tends to be associated with the privileged classes and can sometimes overlook the perspectives of marginalized communities, ‘subaltern secularism’ seeks to empower these groups by providing them with a platform to express and practice their secular beliefs within their unique socio-political contexts.

What are the implications of ‘Subaltern secularism’ for Indian Democracy?

By focusing on marginalized or oppressed groups embracing and practicing secular values, subaltern secularism challenges the traditional elite-centric narrative of secularism in India.

  • Brings Inclusive Representation: It emphasizes the inclusion of diverse voices and perspectives in the secular discourse, ensuring that the concerns and experiences of marginalized communities are acknowledged and addressed within the democratic framework.
  • Empowering the Marginalized Groups: It can empower marginalized groups by providing them with a platform to express their secular beliefs and practices, enabling them to participate more actively in the democratic process and shaping the political landscape.
  • Counterbalancing the Dominant powers: By offering an alternative to dominant religious and social hierarchies, subaltern secularism can serve as a counterbalance to forces that seek to marginalize or oppress certain communities based on religious or social identities.
  • Challenges to Existing Power Structures: Subaltern secularism challenges existing power structures by advocating for a more inclusive and equitable society, where the rights and voices of all individuals, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, are respected and protected.
  • Political Strategy and Mobilization: Embracing subaltern secularism as a political strategy can help opposition parties like the Indian National Congress mobilize subaltern voters who have been historically marginalized, thereby reshaping electoral dynamics and promoting a more inclusive democracy.

Conclusion: For this strategy (social welfare) to succeed, the ‘secular subalterns’ will need to build robust political campaigns aligned to its new secular thinking, breaking away from its previous characteristic timidity.

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