Recent events in various parts of the country, particularly Dadri, where a man was lynched because some wisecracks believed that he had consumed beef, were immensely detrimental to the image of the country. It was left to President Pranab Mukherjee to reiterate India’s core values of plurality and tolerance in order to evoke a strong endorsement from the government of the day. As a matter of fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, taking the cue from Mukherjee’s impromptu speech at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, broke his own silence and asked Hindus and Muslims to fight poverty and refrain from doing so with each other. Earlier, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who was in New York to attend an official meeting, also observed that incidents like Dadri needed to be universally condemned.
The unfortunate happening so close to the national capital is being used by politicians of all hues to settle scores and there have been accusations that the killing of the 50-year-old man was the result of a well thought out strategy by elements owing allegiance to the Sangh Parivar. Had senior leaders of the party taken a hard line while condemning the slaughter, no small-time politician or MLA or a junior minister would have dared to make inflammatory speeches on the subject.
It was thought that Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley was going to usher in huge investments and boost India as the emerging digital powerhouse of the world. However, it is quite clear that fringe elements in his own extended party’s family were proceeding to make things untenable. People everywhere are left wondering whether India was a digital superpower or a divisive nation where elementary tenets of democracy were being given a go-by and instead voices of sanity were being throttled. The infamous Dadri episode, of course, has brought disgrace to the country, but killings of rationalists, the latest being the murder of M.M. Kalburgi and attempts to foist views and ideologies on people do not seem to be the right way ahead if India has to stand amongst the top nations.
The decision by Nayantara Sahgal, Ashok Vajpeyi and Uday Prakash to return the Sahitya Akademi awards conferred for their contribution to literature reflects the anguish with which intellectuals are seeing the unfolding drama of intolerance. It is a well known fact that Nayantara Sahgal, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s niece was an active critic of her first cousin Indira Gandhi and had vehemently opposed the imposition of Emergency in 1975. Therefore, no one can accuse her of toeing the Congress line, as the well known author has in the past been associated with panels against curbs on civil liberties and human rights. The right path would be if thinkers in this country are permitted to voice their opinions freely without being ambushed on social media sites by well organised supporters of a particular ideology.
It is also true that lack of tolerance was not confined to those associated with the Sangh Parivar, as many others were guilty in equal measure. But since the BJP is in power at the Centre and is in charge of the government, it is the duty of its leaders to ensure that those opposed to its ideology are not threatened or harmed in any way. Politics apart, it is the sole responsibility of the government of the day to protect the right to life of the citizens, a point raised some days back by Vice President Hamid Ansari.
In a country as diverse as India, where a language or its dialect changes after crossing every river and where different religions are practised because citizens harmoniously co-exist, this kind of cultural terror is unacceptable. Culture, according to one definition, is also a synonym of politics and thus no one should be permitted to hoodwink others by talking about culture when the end is purely political.
Hindus are, by and large, very tolerant people and conform to practices and rituals which vary in different parts of the country. If India has essentially evolved as a democracy over the past 68 years, it is essentially because ours is a country which is Hindu majority and Hindus have over the centuries proved that they were not scared of new thoughts and beliefs, but were proud of their own. The second important point is that India is also a secular country because it is predominantly Hindu. Neighbouring Pakistan was founded on the basis of religion and thus has not been able to either sustain democracy or secularism. It is thus imperative that the BJP, which is the principal political party, reins in its fringe elements and asks some of its anachronistic and bigoted supporters or members to control their outbursts. The onus of running both the government and keeping the country together lies with this party’s leaders, with others also contributing their share in upholding the core values Pranab Mukherjee articulately referred to. India should be known for its advancement in various spheres, rather than for intolerance and aversion to plurality. The BJP leadership must ensure that the nation does not forfeit the advantage of moving towards Digital India and consequently get enmeshed in promoting a Divisive India. Between us.