For the last seven decades some Indians have been obsessed with ‘secularism’. But virtually none of them know its origins.

It’s a relatively new term, used for the first time by a journalist called Holyoke in 1878 or so. He meant that religion should be ignored entirely in human affairs.

But the original demand for the separation of spiritual from the temporal had a much less lofty intent. Even sordid, one might say.

It came about because Henry the VII of England wanted to indulge in continuous sexual pleasure. But he was already married and wanted a divorce.

But the Pope said no, you are married and I will not grant you divorce. England was Catholic at that time.

So in a rage Henry in 1535 decided to ‘break with Rome’ and started his own church, the Church of England. This was glorified later by academic chamchas as the separation of spiritual and temporal power.It didn’t happen, of course. A full 150 years later in 1688 they threw out a king, James II, for being a Catholic because the English don’t allow anyone except Protestants to be king or queen. When they run out, they import them.

In 1688 they imported a Dutch fellow only because he was a Protestant. Very secular indeed. Earlier, in 1649, they had cut off the head of Charles the First for the same reason. He was a Catholic. Separation in his case acquired a new meaning.

In contrast, in India, our priests have never wielded political power in the comprehensive way the Church in Rome did in Europe. Secularism there meant preventing the Pope from exercising this power. That’s why secularism here gains no traction. There’s no historical, customary, traditional or philosophical basis for it.

Instead, we have the opposite situation where far from religious institutions not controlling the State, it’s the State, in the name of protecting the minorities, that controls religion. Thus, there’s actually no separation at all.