The three-day hate festival against the Muslim community, held recently in Haridwar, is just the latest in a series of untimely and vulgar attacks on minorities which, if left unchecked, can lead to fragmentation and an irreversible disintegration of the Indian Union. We must stop playing down the destructive impact of these increasingly brazen and violent attacks on minorities across the heart of North India by placing them in the context of impending elections.
Violence undermines the sense of solidarity among citizens which is at the heart of a democratic state.
The completely mistaken assumption is that once the election campaign is over, we will return to our normal daily lives and forget about those ramblings of people who many still see as fringe elements. These are not marginal elements. They are now dangerously close to being the mainstream. They thrived in a political ecosystem built on deliberately feeding feelings of victimization and pride, side by side, within the majority Hindu community. The instruments of the State have been bent to advance this communal agenda. The police are completely compromised, the judiciary has become hesitant and selective in respecting the Indian Constitution, and the carefully constructed system of checks and balances is gradually being dismantled. When that happens, it won’t just target minorities. It will target, as it has already started to do, those in the majority community who question the dispensation from power on any issue, even unrelated to the municipal agenda. If the instruments of the state and its coercive power can be used to disempower minorities, the same, if left unchecked, can disempower any citizen, regardless of their faith. Hindus need to understand that their faith is not a shield against a predatory state. There are enough examples from history to prove it. The use of arbitrary power against minorities, some applauding today and who are happy to be accomplices, could soon turn against them and their children.
Violence eats away at democracy. It undermines the feeling of solidarity between citizens which is at the heart of a democratic state. The recent history of India confirms this. We have seen violent paroxysms that have threatened to tear apart the very fabric of civilized society. Their scars remain and some continue to become infected. What we are witnessing today is a deliberate and cynical attempt to resuscitate the painful wounds of the past, replay the challenges of the past and prevent the consolidation of a common and equal citizenship, which is the foundation of a democracy. . We must be aware of our tortured history of immense cruelty, pain and suffering, but the goal of knowing this history is to make sure that it does not ruin the future of our children and grandchildren. In some of our comments we see an attempt to put the sins of a previous generation at the door of their current successors and on that basis seek a reward; that reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims is a two-way street, incumbent on the latter to voluntarily and graciously hand over sites where mosques have been built to sites of temples which might have been destroyed. Once this argument takes hold, there will be an open license to right what some may consider to be historical wrongs and we all know how fragile the historical basis is and how it can be manipulated for reasons other than religious. . After all, Ram Mandir’s champions in Ayodhya argued that their demand was not based on law and history, but on the strength of their religious sentiment. Once the law of the land is set aside to appease religious sentiment or the expression of dissent is stifled on the grounds that public order may be tainted, the discretionary use of state coercive power will become rampant. When this stage is reached, the state will have the possibility of targeting any citizen of any faith. Some Hindus may applaud the use of arbitrary power because they believe it targets minorities; that the State is a real accomplice and accommodates them in their attacks against minorities. They fail to realize that their encouragement to use arbitrary state power leads to a situation where violation of their rights by the state will also have no recourse. We are already witnessing it.
Former naval chief Arun Prakash warned us that the division and social fragmentation we are witnessing today is having a most damaging effect on national security. A divided India is a vulnerable India.
India is and always has been a plural society. Hindus themselves form a diverse community, although they share a general sense of affinity in their religious beliefs and cultural sensitivities. They speak different languages, savor a wide range of cuisines, revel in their own traditions and cultural practices, and take pride in their local identity. Democracy is the most appropriate political dispensation for India as it allows for the celebration of plurality both among majority Hindus and minorities. This breathtaking diversity is encompassed in a larger and shared identity of being equal citizens of the country. And this citizenship can only be based on a feeling of brotherhood between its inhabitants.
The Prime Minister said an uplifting message from Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas and also Sabka Vishwas (Together with All, Progress for All and Enjoying Everyone’s Trust). I believe that this solemn commitment applies to all citizens of the country he leads and not just to those belonging to the majority community. The hatred that was spat out hour after hour by the saffron-clad agitators in Haridwar was an attack on the very essence of the Prime Minister’s message. There was even a threat to take down his incumbent predecessor, Dr Manmohan Singh. Thus, the Prime Minister’s office is not a shield against the murderous intent of these savages. If these nefarious threats are tolerated and go unpunished and unchecked, the very idea of India that we have inherited and nurtured through many challenges will cease to exist. It is a time of peril for all Indians.