March , 2018
“One should not be privileging one’s own faith but respecting the right of others to hold beliefs that one does not oneself hold.”
15:59 pm

Mani Shankar Aiyar

I acknowledge the presence of the President of the session Dr. H. P. Kanoria Ji, Dr. Tathagata Roy, the Governor of Tripura and Madame Rosalia Arteaga Serrano, the former President of Ecuador, and the very distinguished ladies and gentlemen who have gathered here. I particularly acknowledge the presence of a large number of spiritual and religious leaders who  represent different faiths of India and my young friends.

This is not a conference, it is a confluence. I want to particularly thank Dr. H. P. Kanoria for the care with which he has labelled this gathering. For a confluence is when streams from different sources come together at a point to constitute the main river that then runs to the sea.

I am a bit amazed that I have been asked to speak as almost the first speaker on this occasion because I certainly do not possess the credentials that almost all the other speakers possess. It is the kindness of Dr. Kanoria that brings me to the forum and it seems to me necessary to try to explain the link between humanity, power and spirituality, which is the theme of this meeting.

The words power and humanity are almost antonyms because people who pursue power are very often more than willing to sacrifice humanity in the search of power for themselves. To therefore place or juxtapose power with humanity is an amazingly bold exercise but one which appears fraught with the possibility of not being reconciled. Yet it appears to me that a reconciliation of power and humanity can only be achieved through a process of spirituality, for spirituality is not the same as religiosity. It is possible for people of different faiths to experience a similar kind of similarity and even for people of no faith to rise above being animals by embracing an element of spirituality in their processes of thinking. My guru, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was also an agnostic like me and rose to heights of political power while remaining an intensely “humane-being” and was exceptionally humanistic in approach.

On the foundational principle of secularism, in my view, of which I wrote in my book, “Confession of a Secular Fundamentalist”, I regard myself as a secularist because I believe that one should not be privileging one’s own faith but respecting the right of others to hold beliefs that one does not oneself hold. In that sense, I bow to the entire table that has been seated in front of me that represents so many different faiths which have contributed so much to the glory of India, a country which is in terms of numbers, the world’s largest Hindu country. India is the land that gave birth to Buddhism, to Jainism, to Sikhism and that it is here in India and only in India that the Jews of the diaspora found home and peace. This is the India which accepted a small community of Zoroastrians. We must consider the  contribution of this tiny community of Parsis has made to our country. Our freedom movement began with Dadabhai Naurouji, our industrialization was started by Jamshedji Tata, our atomic programme was initiated by Homi Bhaba and when it comes to military glories, the biggest military victory was given to us by Sam Manekshaw. If by looking after such a small community, the nation can gain so much, just consider how much the country can get by treating all its communities, majority or minority, as part and parcel of our nationhood.

India is a country for everybody andof everybody. Thank you Dr. Kanoria for showing us the way to live together and to flourish together. Thank you. Jai Hind.

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