From its early days, the national movement was committed to secularism. Secularism was defined in a comprehensive manner which meant the separation of religion from politics and the state, the treatment of religion as a private matter for the individual, state neutrality towards or equal respect for all religions, absence of discrimination between followers of different religions, and active opposition to communal-ism. For example, to counter communal-ism and give expression to its secular commitment, Congress in its Karachi Resolution of 1931 declared that in free India ‘ every citizen shall enjoy freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess and practice his religion’, that all citizens would be ‘equal before the law, irrespective of caste, creed or sex’, that no disability would attach to any citizen because of cast, creed or gender in the exercise of trade or calling’,  abd that ‘ the state shall observe neutrality in regard to all religions’.

Read: Why is it important to separate religion form the state?

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It is true that  in the early years, Gandhi, a deeply religious person, emphasized the close connection between religion and politics. This was because he believed that politics had to be based on morality, and to him all religions were the source of morality. Religion was, in fact, he believed,  itself morality in the Indian sense of dharma. But he not only moved the Karachi Resolution in 1931, but when he saw that communalists were using religion as sectarian belief system to divide the people , he overtly began to preach the separation of religion from politics. Thus he said in 1942: ‘ Religion is personal matter which should have no place of each individual. It must not be mixed up with poltics or national affairs.’   Jawaharlal Neharu wrote and spoke passionately and with deep understanding on communal-ism. He was perhaps the first Indian to see communal-ism as the Indian form of fascism. Interestingly, the leaders of the national movement never appealed to the people on religious grounds or that the British rulers, religion was Christianity. There critique of British rule was invariably economic, political, social or cultural.

It is true that national movement was not able to counter forces of communal-ism adequately or evolve an effective strategy against them. This contributed to the Partition and the communal carnage of 1946-47. But it was because of the strong secular commitment of the national movement that, despite these traumatic events, independent India made secularism a basic pillar of its constitution, as also of its state and society.

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