India cannot claim to be secular anymore

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Kuldip Nayar

THE demolition of the Babri Masjid and the ban on cattle sale for slaughter are two sides of the same coin. They reflect the prejudice of the majority community. Both are fouling the air. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which completed three years in office just a week ago, is blessing the different expressions of Hindutva which is slowly but gradually engulfing the entire country. It looks as if the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has started its preparations for the next Lok Sabha elections in 2019. The governance by chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, shows that the RSS has taken over in more senses than one as the state government has started appointing trusted men at key positions.
New Delhi is no better. The Nehru Memorial Centre is one example where the director has been removed and, in his place, an RSS ideologue has been installed. He is spoiling the very ethos of the organization and supporting the rightist forces instead of the liberal atmosphere which is attributed to the Nehru Centre. The ongoing scuffles in the Jawaharlal Nehru University have political parties behind them with the same purpose.
The present concentration of the rightists forces seem to be on the beef. Their imbedded arrogance is exhibited by its students’ wings in one campus or the other throughout the country. This time it happened at Chennai’s Indian Institute of Technology. What is different from the past is its frequency and ferocity of violence. The thrashing of students who eat beef is to re-emphasize their self-righteousness. The liberal atmosphere of the campus is now depended on the political party that dominates the state in which the educational institution is situated.
Consequently, the BJP influences the Hindi-speaking states in the north. The writ of the Congress and other regional parties runs in the rest of India. This has divided the country mentally and idea-wise. Prime Minister Modi, when he resumed office, had given the slogan: sabka saath, sabka vikas, meaning thereby that we shall be all together and advance further hand-in-hand. But subsequently he and his party, the BJP, appear to have lost the way.
And today, whether they like it or not, their government has come to represent a particular way of thinking—an intolerant India—which has the overtones of Hindutva. Probably, the party’s think-tank has come to believe that they can win more votes by dividing the society, thanks to the Bajrang Dal and Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad which have begun vitiating the atmosphere. They are holding more and more exercises in different cities where lathis and other weapons are brandished.
This is something similar to the fear of Islamic domination that is being exploited by right-wing parties in the West. We forget that in the democratic structure that we have, everyone is free to eat whatever he or she likes. Nothing can be enforced. In a vast country like India where food and dress change every 50 kilometres, diversity is inevitable. Indeed, this is India’s strength. Respecting diversity keeps our different units together in a federal structure which we follow. The BJP hardliners, who believe that they have come to power because of a fundamental shift in national values, should think again.
There is more than a grain of truth in the argument that voters gave them a chance because they had lost faith in the Congress and were looking for an alternative. The Congress, on its part, will be failing them if it persists with dynastic politics. The party must realise —if it has not done so far—that Rahul Gandhi does not sell. Sonia Gandhi herself will be a far better bet than the other leaders so far available in the party. The disadvantage of being an Italian has disappeared over the years and she is considered as much an Indian as anyone by birth. But the problem is that she has very little chance to head the country because the Congress has lost its shine. No doubt, the BJP has Hinduised politics but that is the dominant thinking which has caught the public imagination at present, thanks to Modi’s leadership.
This thinking may not last long since the Indian nation is basically pluralistic. The BJP itself seems to be conscious of this because there is some evidence that it is moving from the right-of-the-centre to the centre. The predicament that plagues the party is that its cadres come from the RSS. Maybe, that is the reason that there is no scam in the government. However one may dislike the RSS ideology, its emphasis on integrity cannot be doubted. Yet, there should be no misgiving on its interference in the governance. Even top bureaucrats are judged how close they are to the Hindutva philosophy.
Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao appointed several officers, who were known to be secular, at key places so that the government reflected a pluralistic way of thinking. He felt personally betrayed when the Babri Masjid was demolished because he never thought that things would reach the point of pulling it down. But the fact remains that he connived at the whole operation. Now the thread has been picked up by a CBI court which has charged L.K. Advani, M.M. Joshi and Uma Bharti with criminal conspiracy.
It would be a great let down if what the judiciary is doing is undone by the dominant political parties. Advani and his associates can appeal to the higher court but if the ruling party does anything which favours the accused, it would amount to mocking at the law. The Congress has asked for the resignation of Uma Bharti who is a minister in the Modi cabinet. If she were to be dropped by Modi, it would send the right kind of message. This is the least that Prime Minister can do to assure the people that the government has no side to take except to support the court.
—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human rights activist and author.
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