A citizen of India from Jabalpur who is a Hindu refused to accept food ordered by him through Zomato on the ground that it was delivered to him by a Muslim boy. He tweeted his refusal and conveyed the message that being a Hindu it would be unacceptable for him to receive food from a non-Hindu.

It seems to be a grim indicator of the new normal in New India.

The reply of Zomato that there is no religion in food and food is religion is quite apt and it asserts and affirms the idea of India which is above all religions. Zomato founder Deepinder Goyal took a positive stand by saying , "We are proud of the idea of India - and the diversity of our esteemed customers and partners. We aren't sorry to lose any business that comes in the way of our values."

Proponents of the Idea of India cheered Zomato for its stand in rejecting the attempt to communalise food, and asserting that the faith of the delivery boy is of no consequence for the consumer.

-Isn't this stand of Zomato heartwarming and incompatible with the idea of New India marked by accentuation of distinctions based on religion?

-Are not differences among people based on religion getting converted to prejudices and discriminations in New India?

-Aren't people in New India being made to hate one another because of their faith?

It is indeed tragic that in New India fellow citizens who suffer exclusion because they profess faiths different from the faith of the majority people are treated as the "other" and become vulnerable to hateful crimes. Many of them get lynched in the name of religious slogans, food and their choice to love and marry some one of another faith.

On September 21 2017 a lady BJP leader in Aligarh was found slapping a young minor girl because she was sipping tea with a Muslim boy.

Such worrisome instances invokes images of India under British rule where vendors at railway stations used to yell Hindu Tea, Muslim Tea, Hindu water and Muslim water as part of the communal drive.

Is the Idea of New India driving us back to the pre independent and colonial era?

Yes, indeed in pre independent India there used to be the practice of selling tea by classifying it into Hindu tea and Muslim tea. Same was the case concerning water which was offered to people in public places and railway stations by specifying and differentiating it as Hindu water and Muslim water.

All this was considered by none other than Mahatma Gandhi as a gigantic obstacle for unity among Hindus and Muslims. In the Constructive Programme authored by him in 1941 he incorporated 18 points. The very first point was on Communal Unity and he very thoughtfully wrote therein about a happy state of things in India where Congress members whatever their religion be, "...has to feel his identity with every one of the millions of the inhabitants of Hindustan".

"In order to realize this, " he said, " every Congressman will cultivate personal friendship with persons representing faiths other than his own" and "...should have the same regard for the other faiths as he has for his own".

Then he observed with conviction that "In such a happy state of things there would be no disgraceful cry at the stations such as “Hindu water” and “Muslim water” or “ Hindu tea” and “ Muslim tea”. There would be no separate rooms or pots for Hindus and non-Hindus in schools and colleges, no communal schools, colleges and hospitals. The beginning of such a revolution has to be made by Congressmen without any political motive behind the correct conduct. Political unity will be its natural fruit."

Five years later i.e. on April 11, 1946 Mahatma Gandhi went to interact with Indian National Army (INA) soldiers who were taken as prisoners by British authorities. He was highly impressed to see so many officers and men of INA representing so many different religions and races of India united together for the common cause of India's freedom and living like members of one family.

For him "It was like a whiff of fresh invigorating air from the free India that is to be".

He felt that "The absence of the third party had enabled them to obliterate all communal distinctions and develop a perfect spirit of comaraderie in exile".

However, in detention they informed Gandhiwith pain and sadness that they were made to feel the distinctions based on religion. One INA soldier told him "We never felt any distinction of creed or religion in the I. N. A. But here we are faced with ‘Hindu tea’ and ‘Mussalman tea.” He then asked " What are we to do?"

Mahatma Gandhi put a counter question by asking, "Why do you suffer it?" The soldier answered by saying, "No, we do not,” and revealed, “We mix ‘Hindu tea’ and Musalman tea’ exactly half and half, and then serve. The same with food".

Gandhi had a hearty laugh saying "That is very good".

The practice of selling Hindu tea and Muslim tea in railway stations continued till the 1950s and one lady Member of the Rajya Sabha eeta Paramananda while participating in the discussion on Railway budget drew the attention of the then Railway Minister and fervently appealed for an end to this abominable practice. Eventually it was stopped.

Now in twenty first century India the food and beverages are again being seen from the perspective of religion and the divisive spirit is invoked with a view to polarize society and narrow down multiple identities of people to a immediate factor of religion.

Thankfully the police authorities in Jabalpur have been compelled by public outrage to take a serious view of the divisive tweet of the man and issue a warning by saying that "If in the next six months, he again makes any such tweets or commits any such act which is against basic tenets of the constitution or worthy of disturbing public peace or communal amity, then he will automatically be sent to jail".

We require vigilant public administration and the robust vision of the father of our nation to defend our Republic and Constitution from such assault.

S.N.SAHU served as Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan.