September 29, 2013

Safeguard Our Secular, Democratic Pluralistic Social Order

THE 16th meeting of the National Integration Council (NIC) was held in the aftermath of the horrendous communal disturbances in Muzaffarnagar and in the backdrop of the continuing tensions in western Uttar Pradesh. The Resolution adopted unanimously, amongst others, resolved “To condemn violence in any form committed to disturb communal harmony and to deal with all those indulging in such violence in a prompt and resolute manner under the law. To take all measures to preserve, sustain and strengthen the harmonious relationship between all communities and enable all citizens to lead their lives in freedom as equal citizens with dignity and honour.” The CPI(M)’s contribution to the various items on the agenda suggested by the government and deliberated in the meeting is carried elsewhere in this issue. Cutting across party lines, many, particularly the secular voices present in the meeting, expressed dismay that such pious sounding resolutions have little meaning in the aftermath of communal riots and mayhem. Almost everybody decried that the promised annual meetings of the NIC (the last was held two years ago in 2011) were never held and, instead, meetings are convened only after disturbances have taken place. Unless there is a pro-active interventionist approach which can only happen through periodic and regular meetings, the situation cannot improve. Such post-event meetings only remain exercises in conducting a postmortem. Once again, the government gave familiar assurances notwithstanding the past experiences. It needs to be recalled that during the six years of the BJP-led NDA rule, the NIC was not convened even once. It has faded beyond memory even to recollect if the NIC was ever constituted during the six-year Vajpayee rule. Even after the State-sponsored communal pogrom in Gujarat in 2002, the NIC did not meet. Reflecting a similar approach and attitude, the Gujarat chief minister, busy as he is projecting himself as the country’s future prime minister, chose not to attend this NIC meeting. The BJP president was also not present. Amongst the chief ministers of BJP-led state governments, the only exception attending the meeting was the CM of Madhya Pradesh. Some other chief ministers from states like West Bengal, Tamilnadu, Odisha sent their representatives – ministers in the state cabinet. The BJP’s leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, speaking early in the discussion, raised the usual points repeated by the communal forces ad nauseum. She asked for a change in the Hindi term for secularism – dharma nirpekshata – to be replaced by panth nirpekshata. The former meaning no discrimination between religions or that the State treats all religions as equal while the State itself does not embrace any religion to be replaced as the State not discriminating between sects. The unsaid but powerful underlining message being that only Hinduism qualifies to be a religion while all other religions can, at best, be described as sects. Despite all their present day disclaimers regarding Golwalkar’s brazen advocacy of `Hindu Rashtra’, they can only reinforce his fascistic arguments. Such a conception, by itself, lays the foundations for communalising the society by claiming that one religion is superior to all others. This is the very logic on the basis of which the RSS/BJP go about sharpening communal polarisation in order to transform the modern secular democratic Republic of India into their version of a rabidly intolerant fascistic `Hindu Rashtra’. In a similar vein, the Madhya Pradesh CM spoke of the `appeasement’ of the minorities. While a vast majority of the participants spoke in terms of implementing the recommendations of Justice Sachar Committee on the status of Muslim minorities and the Ranganath Mishra Commission recommendations on reservations for minorities with the required urgency, the BJP articulated that such measures would amount to `appeasement’ of the minorities! Prominent representatives of the religious minorities in the NIC, spoke alarmingly of the growing tensions against their brethren across the country in the run-up to the 2014 general elections. Noted jurist Fali Nariman, in fact, posed the question: Is India moving towards becoming a religious State? Prominent leaders from UP and Bihar, along with their chief ministers, spoke of the frightening pace of communal polarisation that is underway. Unless the government and all political and social forces rally together to safeguard our secular democratic pluralistic social order, the very future of modern India would be in peril. The representatives of India Inc. were conspicuous by their absence. By doing so, they have only reconfirmed that their pre-occupation is with their maximisation of profits irrespective of what may happen regarding the disintegration of our pluralistic secular democratic social and political order. Their new-found `messiah’, as articulated in these columns last week, appears to have motivated them not to participate in this meeting lest they annoy their hope for their future! So chillingly reminiscent of the corporate support and encouragement to Hitler and the rise of fascism in Germany. It is clear that in the run-up to the 2014 general elections the RSS/BJP, as evidenced in their decision to project the Gujarat chief minister as their prime ministerial candidate, shall leave no stone unturned to sharpen communal polarisation and hope for electoral dividend on that basis. Such a cynical and gross misuse of the religious sentiments of our people for their petty electoral gains at the expense of destroying the very unity and integrity of our country’s social fabric and the secular democratic political order cannot be allowed. India’s rich plurality and its unity and integrity need to be preserved and, on that basis, the struggles for creating a better India for all our people must be strengthened. (September 25, 2013)