The current letter, like the umpteen others in the past, is a campaign of vicious calumny motivated by ideological fixation rather than public altruism.
New York: Every time the BJP comes to power at the Centre, a new-fangled pandemonium is conjured up, embellished with sensational artefacts and broadcast in a shrill tone across the country to provoke an atmosphere of frenzied hysteria—all with the express purpose of embarrassing the government. In 1998, it was the discredited anti-Christian violence, after 2014 cries of cow slaughter vigilantism rent the air and now it is the Jai Shri Ram controversy that is taking centre stage.
Forty-nine eminent personalities or “intellectuals” who include the historian Ramchandra Guha, filmmaker Shyam Benegal and sociologist Ashis Nandy among others have penned a letter to the Prime Minister, decrying the increasing mob violence and the derogatory use of the Jai Shri Ram chant. At the outset this letter appears as a concerned plea for moral rectitude, religious tolerance and justice—eminently acceptable concepts in a democracy—but in reality, it is a compendium of sheer hypocrisy, double standards, undiluted ideological demagoguery and blatant falsehoods.
For one, the letter banks on sources that are suspect and references isolated snippets of data quoted out of context to project a skewed inference.
The letter begins:
“Dear Prime Minister,
We, as peace-loving and proud Indians, are deeply concerned… The lynchings of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately. We were shocked to learn from the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) reports that there have been no less than 840 instances of atrocities against Dalits in the year 2016, and a definite decline in the percentage of convictions.”
This is a gross misstatement. A broader overview looking at NCRB data going back to 2008 reveals that there has been a decline and not an increase in communal violence-related deaths since the BJP came to power in 2014; in fact, the highest recorded deaths occurred in 2008 (167) and 2013 (133) during the UPA tenure. The claim that convictions have dropped is nothing more than an attempt to cloud a largely optimistic review.
Additionally, sources like the FactChecker and Hate Crime Watch mentioned by the letter are dubious ideologically motivated websites that make no bones of their anti-Modi slant; these figures must be taken with a pinch of salt.
Even the warped data posted here cannot effectively hide the truth; at least one-sixth of hate crimes (and possibly more because strangely enough the website claims that it was not able to ascertain the identity of 30% of the perpetrators) were the result of Muslim violence on Hindus; a piece of information conveniently glossed over by our eminent worthies and evidence that communal violence is not exclusively bane of one community (https://p.factchecker.in/).
Homing in on the Jai Shri Ram controversy, the letter claims, “Regrettably ‘Jai Shri Ram’ has become a provocative ‘war-cry’ today that leads to law and order problems, and many lynchings take place in its name… It is shocking that so much violence should be perpetrated in the name of religion! These are not the Middle Ages!”
True, we are not in the Middle Ages, but it appeared so in 1990 when a quarter million Hindu Kashmiri Pandits were driven out of Kashmir to the chants of “Allah-o-Akbar” emanating from the rooftops of mosques. Our eminent personalities chose to remain silent then and still continue to downplay what is arguably the worst act of religious sectarianism in modern India; a clear case of double standards that cannot facilitate an egalitarian society.
Furthermore, an analysis of several of the Jai Shri Ram incidents unravels a predictable common storyline. First, a person (usually belonging to one community) indulges in a secular criminal act and is set upon by people taking the law into their own hands. Subsequently, someone or the victim makes a claim of being forced to chant Jai Shri Ram, thereby communalising a straight-forward case of breaking the law. Also, several of these incidents have been proven to be fabrications.
Communalising law and order situations is fraught with danger; we need to tread cautiously. Interjecting a communal angle into what is purely a law and order issue does nobody good; it muddies the picture, fuels unrequited passion and distracts us from the core issue.
Bemoaning the supposed crackdown on dissent the letter states: “There is no democracy without dissent. People should not be branded anti-national or urban Naxal and incarcerated because of dissent against the government…. Criticising the ruling party does not imply criticizing the nation.”
Let us be clear about one thing. This government has not arrested individuals or labelled them as anti-national for criticising the BJP. Its ire has been directed against persons or groups defiling the sovereignty of the country (Bharat, tere tukde honge, Insha Allah, Insha Allah), inflaming domestic tension for political gains (Bhima-Koregaon), encouraging violence (Naxalites) and blatantly supporting Pakistan at a time a grave national crisis (Balakot airstrike). If these instances do not qualify as antinational tell me what is.
The current letter, like the umpteen others in the past, is a campaign of vicious calumny motivated by ideological fixation rather than public altruism and must be called out for what it is.
Excellence in any faculty, be it acting, academia or medicine is a commendable personal achievement worthy of laudation. But it does not give one the right to appropriate a judge’s gavel, presumptuously don a saintly halo over one’s head and indulge in wild accusations.
Moral authority and secular success are not synonymous; these are two distinct elements of a society; one cannot automatically be equated with the other. But yet this sweeping misconception is wildly rampant in our country as judged by the runaway unsubstantiated activism of this group of so-called intellectuals.
The dizzying height of success can be seductive, imbuing one with arrogance, egotism and a sense of entitlement; the very characteristics that militate against the concept of intellectualism. A true intellectual, however, transcends these baser instincts to make a sincere, non-partisan judgement for the national good bereft of his/her ideological convictions and egotism—a process that I call intellectual honesty so vital to the growth and sustenance of intellectualism.
A dearth of intellectual honesty among this select group of eminent personalities is what is disturbing. In national interest and for the sake of their own diminishing credibility, it is high time they introspected. As role models occupying influential positions in our society and endowed with superior intellect, they must exhibit a greater degree of responsibility and accountability. They must function as honest, sincere and selfless guardians of our society, not as crafty spinmeisters or malignant agent provocateurs.
Vivek Gumaste is a US based academic and political commentator.