Intolerance Grows, But Does PM Modi Care?
Writers protest against intolerance.
I am amazed at the silence of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the return of awards. Engrossed in petty politics they do not seem to realize what an award in literary, scientific or other fields entails.
Heights are not easy to scale. The awardees must have walked an extra mile to reach the place of distinction. Their charge is that an atmosphere of intolerance prevails. Modi who speaks at the drop of hat is conspicuous by his silence.
The charge of intolerance is not made by an individual. Some 500 eminent scholars, scientists and artists from all over the country have returned their awards. They have not consulted one another but have felt choked in the same way in the atmosphere of intolerance. When all of them, from different climes, feel that they cannot express themselves freely, the Modi government should sit up and find out why such a feeling has cropped up.
There can be many reasons. One is because of the increasing say of extremist RSS in the affairs of Central government. To dismiss the feeling of intolerance as a ‘manufactured response’, as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has observed is closing eyes to the realities. By this time, the BJP should have realized that its emphasis on religious differences between Hindus and Muslims has given rise to parochialism and intolerance and have kept the two communities distant.
One writer, who has returned the award, has said in his letter to the Akademi that the current trend of curbing the views of dissent, freedom of expression has forced them to take the step. He has cited the example of murder of intellectuals like Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi because of their writings.
I believe that the awardees will march on the streets of Delhi on Jan 26 to voice their protest. What has happened to the tolerant nation is beyond my comprehension. It fought a fierce battle against the British. Both Hindus and Muslims had waged the independence movement. Among those in the Muslim community were leaders like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Frontier Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. The BJP was not even born at that time. It is tragic to see those in power who did not contribute a bit to the independence struggle.
What is happening today is worse. There is a thickening atmosphere of communal polarization, hate crimes, insecurity and violence. People occupying constitutional posts seem to be promoting or patronizing the hate campaign.
And one can see that the government is not functioning independently. RSS is the incharge. Things have come to such a pass that the government-owned Akashwani disseminated the views of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. He did not say anything objectionable. But the country knows how strong his belief in Hindutva is. It is apparent that the extreme fringe of Hindus has taken over the government. It assumes that what it says or does is what constitutes the will of people. It is the judge and plaintiff rolled into one.
Leave the liberal elements among Hindus aside, none in the Jamaat Islami can afford to be liberal. One, he would never be allowed to air his views from the Akashwani. Two, if he were ever to do so he would be as extremist as the RSS chief.
Still we talk about pluralism. If it has to have any meaning, the minorities have to enjoy equal rights. The constitution says so. But there is no implementation because those in power have their own parochial agenda.
With 80 per cent Hindus in the country, we could have become the Hindu Rashtriya, the destination of RSS. Yet, being midnight children of partition, we in India have preferred secularism and do not to mix religion with the state.
True, Pakistan has become an Islamic state. But this is despite the stand by its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He said, after the establishment of Pakistan in the wake of the British rule, that we were either Indians or Pakistanis, not Muslims and Hindus. But the Maulvis took over Pakistan. After a long time and with great difficulty, people there have brought a bit of liberalism.
Where we in India have slipped is the pro-Hindu sentiment which has come to prevail with the advent of the Modi government. This has meant the denial of secularism, which is written in the preamble of our constitution.
The stand of the Muslim League before partition was for a separate state of Muslims. True, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan came to be constituted. But the fallout, I think, has not been favourable for the Muslims. They have got divided in three countries, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Imagine if the Muslims had been together, they would have been some 35 per cent, which is a large number in a democratic polity.
The frightening part, as the experience of last 70 years shows, is that the line drawn on the basis of religion has institutionalised the enmity between Hindus and Muslims in the shape of India and Pakistan. One can see how the enmity between the two countries has come in the way of the region’s development. Not only that, both are at each other’s throat all the time. They have had two wars and the Kargil adventure. There is no prospect of permanent peace between the two even though India’s foreign minister Shshma Swaraj has said that war is no option.
Pakistan goes on saying that Kashmir is the core issue which, if and when solved, can bring about a fruitful friendship. But my contention is that Kashmir is symptom, not the disease. The disease is mistrust. Unless that is removed, no agreement pact can bury the hatchet between the two countries.