In the run-up to the General Elections of 2004, the ruling BJP and their allies in the NDA, coined a slogan ‘India Shining’. That ‘India Shining’ campaign was basically a massive cover up for a whole range of misdeeds which included growing intolerance and attacks on the minorities culminating in the Gujarat Carnage of 2002; a slogan which proved to be its nemesis at the hustings!
Ten years later, in 2014 the BJP-led NDA were given the reins of power once again. About 31% of those who voted felt that they needed a Government with ‘a difference’ and they hoped that the “achche din” promised during the election campaign would soon become a reality for India’s teeming millions. Sadly but not unexpectedly, the dreams of a better tomorrow have vanished into thin air. As the country continues to be plagued with a whole range of problems, what one experiences with a sickening regularity is the growing intolerance from certain sections of society. India has always had its moment of intolerance. In the past however, they seemed to be contained – with the ruling powers demonstrating some political will to address them. Not so today. There seems to be a tacit approval from the government, a legitimisation, of the terrible intolerance.
Let’s then look at some of the many acts of intolerance right from mid-2014: Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation overnight becomes a hero and a patriot; Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS Chief calls for the establishment of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (nation); a Union Minister, Niranjan Jyoti turns abusive saying that in India, one is either ‘ramzadon’ (those born of Ram) or ‘haramzadon’ (illegitimately born); the HRD Minister through a circular states that Christmas Day (December 25th) should be a working day for schools (and then denies it); the Government however continues to insist that it is not a holiday for Government employees.
On September 14, 2014, a BJP Parliamentarian Sakshi Maharaj made a strong allegation that, “the Madrasas of the Muslims were teaching terror”. On January 5, 2015, addressing a gathering in Meerut, he boldly proclaimed, “the concept of four wives and 40 children will not work in India and the time has come when a Hindu woman must produce at least four children in order to protect Hindu religion.” The same news report goes on to add, ‘Sakshi Maharaj went further to add that those involved in conversion must be punished with death though ‘ghar wapsi’ (reconversion) is not equivalent to conversion. “Wait for some time,” he thundered, “a law will be passed in Parliament in which anyone indulging in cow slaughter and conversion will be punished with the death sentence”.
So the Dadri lynching of 28th September 2015 – when Mohammad Akhlaq was killed because of a rumour that ‘he ate beef’ – should not be seen as a spontaneous act of violence by a mob but a well thought of barbaric act by people who know that they can do things with impunity, because they are vested with immunity.
The Shiv Sena (a key ally of the BJP) in Mumbai takes law and order in their own hands! They prevent Ghulam Ali, the Pakistani musician from performing there; storm the Board of Control for Cricket in India office protesting plans for a bi-lateral series with Pakistan and they attack and ink the face of Sudheendra Kulkarni (a protégé of L. K Advani) for organising the book launch of former Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri. The list is indeed endless!
As a formality, the President of the BJP Amit Shah summons besides Sakshi Maharaj, the Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, the UP State Legislator Sangeet Som and the Union Minister Sanjeev Balyan and gently informs them that they should not make inflammatory remarks. Besides, the BJP will not ditch its Hindutva ally the Shiv Sena. A time-tested strategy is ‘to run with the hare and hunt with the hound’. So while the Shiv Sena in its extremism will reap the ‘moolah’ from the hardliners, the BJP with its cosmetic posturing will seem like a ‘liberal face’ and continue to woo the average citizen who is not interested in understanding the depth of dirt from which these groups operationalise.
Everyone is aware that practically nothing will happen to the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. The Gujarat Carnage of 2002 provided the criminals with an official approval from the Government of the day. This model of intolerance is now being mainstreamed all over the country. Of course, some from the ruling dispensation are concerned when some of the topmost intellectuals of the country have the courage to return the prestigious national awards which they have received in the past. This is something which was not expected. On the one hand, they request the intellectuals “not to spoil the name of India” and at the same time some of them will also denigrate these intellectuals by casting aspersions on their credibility by calling them “pseudo-intellectuals” and “traitors”.
Those who rule us must ask themselves one question: who are the ones responsible for spoiling the name of the country; for trying to destroy the precious heritage of multi-culturalism, pluralism and diversity of our land? On October 19th, President Pranab Mukherjee while expressing his concerns over the recent happenings pointedly said that “Indian civilisation has survived for 5000 years because of its tolerance; humanism and pluralism should not be abandoned under any circumstance”.
‘Panchjanya’ the mouth-piece of the RSS in a recent issue has an article stating that “the Vedas order the killing of ‘sinners’ who slaughter cows.” And no case is made out on this article of hate. Few however have the courage to listen to one of the greatest historian on ancient and medieval India Dr. D.N. Jha who in his celebrated work ‘The Myth of the Holy Cow’ concludes that “the cow was neither unslayable nor sacred in the Vedic period”.
Thanks to those who rule us today, India has perhaps deservedly earned itself a new sobriquet, “India Intolerant”. It’s not too late however for civil society to come together and to tell those who are bent on destroying what we treasure the most that they will never succeed in their campaign of intolerance. We need to learn from history and not allow the pain, the sufferings and the violence to go full cycle before we say “enough is enough”! We need to pray with Rabindranath Tagore “into that heaven of freedom my Father, let my country awake”. Above all, the time to act is now!
(Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)