The enduring international image of India is of a peace-loving country with a long history celebrating the language of love and tolerance amongst its diverse population, comprising a variety of ethnic and linguistic communities, with rich traditions of political and intellectual achievements going back to the dawn of human civilisation. The everlasting cry for the notion of brotherhood among Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, at times, sounds clichéd, but it is always recognised as a socio-political ideal of unity in diversity.
Religious appropriations and tensions apart, men of religion had long understood the need to control raw emotions of their followers, so that they behave responsibly, recognising religious difference with some degree of civility and a complete no to violence. This is what the Chishtis taught us, as did Sant Kabir and Guru Nanak — religious preceptors, par excellence.
Further, texts on political theory and norms of governance have historically emphasised the need for a system disapproving discrimination in the name of religious difference, or hierarchies based on birth and power for that matter, with a sincere commitment for justice for all. The 14th-century Delhi Sultan, Muhammad Bin Tughlaq may have had his own specific rationality, but the arbitrary and often violent manner in which he seemingly conducted the business of state led even his closest well-wishers and associates eventually to dump him, leaving such a forbidding image of his for posterity. And, as we have long understood, it is so easy to condemn or abandon someone like Aurangzeb for whatever irrational things he might have done.
Also, intellectual freedom and excellence in a variety of fields ranging from philosophical and otherworldly concerns to emotional and bodily practices — love and sex — cannot be suppressed forever. The society was certainly not so prudish and repressive in ancient times as it might appear from horrible dictates of village khap-panchayats today; and this should certainly not be the ideal of a modern state promising good governance.
In our more recent history, Gandhian politics epitomised the power of the weapon of truth and non-violence. The significance and effectiveness of this language of peaceful resistance in modern times have reinforced India’s formidable image, internationally — not only in Central Asia, Iran, Africa and the Middle East, but also in the United States. The struggling people in Afghanistan, Palestine, and large parts of Africa have for long looked up to India to play an important role in helping resolve the problems facing them — problems not of their own making by any stretch of imagination.
The trigger-happy, frustrated, and hawkish sections amongst Indians might be getting desperate, but the policymakers and others in the business of government can only act in a sensible manner. For, it will be disastrous for India to abandon its historic role as a responsible nation, and there are enough safeguards and signals to ensure this will not be the case.
Meanwhile, some people will continue to suffer: desperate Rohingyas in Myanmar, wretched Biharis in Bangladesh, hapless Hindu and Sikh minorities at the hands of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the states utterly failing in ensuring justice for these innocent people, the miserable Palestinians in their own motherland, and those at the receiving end of ISIS bloodbath in the name of Islam, for which there is absolutely no justification.
Majoritarianism anywhere is a dangerous thing. Minorities can have a space for themselves in a constitutional democracy and can survive temporary violence, but in regimes thriving in the name of religious or cultural nationalism there are moments when the perpetrators can get away with serious human rights violations with long term consequences. None of the above kind of difficulties is possible on Indian soil, for those in power have to necessarily adhere to the principles of a firmly-grounded Indian state, which are above the narrow and partisan interests of political parties and vote-banks.
The responsibilities of the state include protection of people through ensuring justice for all, checking the usual tendencies in lawless societies for fish’s justice, big fish gobbling up smaller ones. For, the state has the capacity to kill, but it should not let anyone die. For India, however, the worst case scenario is of the people in power getting involved in corruption of the scale that was possible in UPA regime and of the kind being reported in newspapers on a daily basis now, but these embarrassments can be checked electorally, if not administratively.
Thus, pragmatics of running a state requires a ruler and polity that provide justice, some kind of reasonable state laws and policies, and welfare of the poor as well as space for critical intellectual pursuits. Temporary setbacks notwithstanding, the chequered history of India’s civilisational achievements cannot be undone by narrowly-conceived political ideologies which can dominate only in short and dark patches.