Great Indian Philosopher for Secular Education
· Dr. Radhakrishnan defined secularism as equal respect to all religion
· Gandhiji realized late the need for separation of religion from politics
Dr. Hari Desai
It was almost like a miracle that one who was born in a poor family and “auctioned his university medals and in addition borrowed more money. Unable in the following years even to pay the interest on these debts… found himself dragged to court in 1913 in a civil suit” rose to be not only a world renowned Philosopher and Professor at Oxford but was even invited to be the President of India! India is proud of Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishna (5 September 1888- 18 April 1975) whose birthday is being celebrated as the Teachers’ Day. His worthy son and a celebrated historian S. Gopal presents his father in his biography saying: “Poverty did not preclude his working out for himself a dress which suited his figure and his personality- a long silk coat buttoned up at the neck and reaching down to his knees, a white dhoti with a black border, black slippers and a turban of white muslin. This was his attire in India for rest of his life, whatever his position; and sartorial elegance became a part of his personality.”
Born at Tirutani, a very small temple town to the north-west of Madras city (now called Chennai), Radhakrishnan’s parents knew no English and had no clear idea of his performance at school. Their self-made son was destined to be not only bright at studies but was to be a Professor at University of Calcutta as well as Oxford, the Vice Chancellor of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), an Indian Ambassador to Moscow and the Vice President of India. Thanks to his closeness to PM Jawaharlal Nehru, he was invited to be the President of India and he was almost unanimously elected with support of all the political parties in May 1962.
A world renowned authority on Indian culture and Hindu philosophy Radhakrishnan, always favoured secular education. Despite being an ardent believer of Hinduism, he was outspoken in his criticism of caste and superstitions that blinded Hinduism. Steering clear of abstractions, Radhakrishnan’s views found acceptance amongst scientists and men who had nothing to do with religion. As someone who did not bear a divisive agenda in mind, Radhakrishnan was critical, but not dismissive of any religion. Time and again, he had tried to explain religion using philosophy. In 1938, he had made concerted efforts to establish a department of Islamic studies at a university that was being chiefly funded by Hindu patrons.In his book, “Recovery of Faith”, he explains secularism in India as follows: “When India is said to be a secular state, it does not mean that we reject the reality of an unseen spirit or the relevance of religion to life, or that we exalt irreligion. It does not mean that secularism itself becomes a positive religion or that the state assumes divine prerogatives…. We hold that not one religion should be given preferential status.” He defined secularism as equal respect to all religions and never should be considered as irreligious. Political parties in power follow this definition and take advantage of the situation to their advantage. Mahatma Gandhi realized in the last days of his life the need for separation of religion from politics, especially the state. Gandhiji always practiced religion in politics through prayers. He followed the principle of equal respect to all religions. At the fag end of his life Gandhi wanted non-interference of State in the religious matters. He also emphasized the separation of religion so that it can be practiced only at personal level. But that was too late.
While maintaining his dignity as the President of India, Radhakrishnan did contribute a favouarable political atmosphere for Indira Gandhi by roping in the Congress President K. Kamraj in her support when PM Lal Bahadur Shastri died in Tashkent in January 1966. Though President Radhakrishnan and PM Indira Gandhi shared cordial relations and she extended all courtesies by regular meetings with him at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, somehow the new avatar of Goongi Gudia (dumb doll) was more assertive who did not prefer a tutor-President for the second term. Despite Kamraj proposing Dr.Radhakrishnan’s name, she preferred Dr. Zakir Hussain. Dr.Radhakrishnan returned to Madras in May 1967. He was lonely in mind and spirit as he himself earlier defined it: “to be lonely is to be depressed, to be frustrated, to have nothing which can occupy our mind or our attention.” When he died in 1975, thousands of common people to the well-to-do, politicians and diplomats came but two persons were conspicuous by their absence, the PM Indira Gandhi and President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed had not shown the grace to attend!
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