Rajeev Bhargava

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Jawaharlal Nehru, a central figure in the anti-colonial movement against the British and the first prime minister of independent India, is widely accepted as a Westernized intellectual influenced by mainstream views of the Enlightenment on religion as a storehouse of falsehoods and superstition. Nehru, an atheist, felt that although religion was supposed to raise questions about human existence, at best it answered them wrongly and dogmatically.

In this chapter, the author argues that Jawaharlal Nehru's views on religion and secularism were unusually subtle and considerably complex, remaining acutely relevant today. To be sure, some Nehruvians in the late 1960s and 70s, encouraged by some of Nehru's own remarks, have presented his views as overly simplistic, which is precisely the authors' point. Nehru's own views on religion and secularism, indeed even his political practice, were very different from Nehruvian secularism that emerged after his death – a handiwork of intellectuals close to his daughter, Indira Gandhi. Here the author also argues that Nehruvian views on secularism must give way to Nehru's own views, for they have an even greater relevance today than during his lifetime. Finding casteism as dangerous as communalism, since both are impediments to democracy and equality, Nehru's secularism is pitted against religiously grounded casteism.


Institute for Social Justice

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Journal Article

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