Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Communal Divide – Where Are We Heading?

New DelhiIn the 75th year of independence, India is rightly celebrating “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ – a lofty catchword given by the current Government of PM Narendra Modi in its 8th year in office. Since independence in 1947, India has come a long way in ‘wiping the tears” of millions and millions of its poor and underprivileged. It seems we are on rails after more than seven decades. But we still have a long way to go. 

India’s success or failure story, as one chooses to see, is a fascinating experience that ‘We the people of India’ ought to read, understand and prepare ourselves to meet the challenges of the future to ward off the dangers and doubts expressed by our forefather, the chief architect of the constitution of India, Babasaheb Ambedkar. In his last speech in the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949, referring to historical events such as the invasion of Sind by Mohammed-Bin-Kasim, the invasion by Mohammad Ghori to fight against Prithviraj Chauhan, as well as disunity among Indians in the war against the British colonial rule in 1857, Ambedkar noted, “…not only India has once before lost her independence, but she lost it by the infidelity and treachery of some of her own people.” In this context, he remarked, “Will history repeat itself? 

It is this thought which fills me with anxiety. This anxiety is deepened by the realization that in addition to our old enemies in the form of castes and creeds, we will have many political parties with diverse and opposing political ideologies. Will Indians place the country above their creed, or will they position the creed above the country? I do not know. But this is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be jeopardized a second time and probably be lost forever. We must all resolutely guard against this eventuality. We must be determined to defend our independence with the last drop of our blood.”

 India’s story of development and progress is unique with many facets and aspects. But I would focus on only one that has come to the fore and threatens us to go berserk and leave the path of harmonious living under the lofty ideals of ‘Equality, Justice, Liberty and Fraternity’ as a ‘Secular and Socialist’ as enshrined in the very Preamble of the Constitution – Communal Divide – in a multi-cultural and multi-religious and diversified society of more than 1.4 billion people. 

The immediate provocation to write this note is the ongoing slugfest and acrimonious debate on mandirs and masjids, minority and majority, freedom of religion and belief, role and conduct of Muslim or Mughal rulers, and so on. This animosity can create avoidable difficulties that would be detrimental to peace and harmony and the county’s much needed economic and social wellbeing if not checked immediately.

The allegedly blasphemous remarks on Prophet Mohammad by BJP National Spokesperson Nupur Sharma and endorsement and support by the Delhi Chapter of BJP, Naveen Jindal, resulted in apparent fallout both in India and abroad. There were violent protests in Kanpur and other places. The Muslim clergies and political leadership were up in arms and protested the assertions of BJP spokespersons and others. The so-called ‘Godi Media,’ as always, appeared to be biased and lop-sided against the minority community not only in the episode of ‘unacceptable remarks’ by Nupur Sharma but also in the ongoing ‘Tamasha’ of TV debates on Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi and other related issues. The TV channels are no more news channels but have become noise channels. Things came to a boil when Qatar, Kuwait, and Iran summoned Indian Ambassadors and registered their displeasure and protest on the said insult and blasphemy done by the BJP leaders against Prophet Mohammad and demanded an unconditional apology from India. It was just a coincidence that Vice President Venkaiah Naidu was there on an official visit to Qatar on the day of summoning to the Foreign Office of the Indian Ambassador. It was an additional embarrassment. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Turkey, Malaysia, Maldives, Afghanistan, Jordan, Libya, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and organizations like GCC and OIC followed suit. They vehemently criticized and protested the uncalled for and undiplomatic statements of the senior BJP leaders, which amounted to hate speeches generating animosity against the Muslim minority of the country. I do not intend to name and find fault as to who was wrong or right. While India’s diplomatic machinery is fighting to salvage the situation and safeguard our national interests, the action back home appears to be only cosmetic by the BJP by suspending Nupur Sharma and dismissing Naveen Jindal from the party. There is no official action by the government under the law except initiating FIRs against more than thirty people, including Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal, many days after the allegedly blasphemous remarks. Just a few days before, the authorities showed great hurry in arresting Prof. Rattan Lal in Delhi. It seems that the FIRs exercise was only to assuage the ruffled sentiments of our counterparts abroad. 

As a citizen of India, I am greatly disturbed by the deterioration of the communal situation. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has termed the ominous culprits as ‘fringe elements’ who do not represent the government and its policy. These are the diplomatic jargon, but who does not know the status of the two high-ups in the BJP hierarchy and their backing by the hard-core Hindutva elements? The doyen of Indian diplomacy, T.N. Kaul, advised in one of his books’ Ambassadors need not lie’, that Indian diplomats have their own limits to undo the harm done by our loud-mouthed politicians and priestly class. The Muslim leaders and politicians are obviously charged and tend to voice their protests and concern as loudly as possible. It is also a fact that the majority community was in no mood to listen and address the problem till the diplomatic fallout. It is a severe issue that MEA and its diplomatic establishment alone cannot handle. It is rightly said that foreign policy is an extension of the internal situation. Yet the fact remains that Muslim majority countries, as it has been demonstrated, would not keep quiet if the communal situation is not handled tactfully and per the law of the land in its letter and spirit. The media in these countries and some countries in the developed world has become vocal on these issues of communal tension, human rights, and religious freedom. We cannot afford to live in isolation. 

We, the people of India, and our government cannot afford to ill-treat its minority as strong as 210 million with more than 16% share in its demography. Though lying low in the given situation, the civil society and intelligentsia are ill at ease, my gut feelings tell me, on the emerging crisis. They need to be alert and vocal. We, the society and the polity, would ignore these hard-ground realities at our peril. The warning of Babasaheb Ambedkar – Will we lose our independence again?’ must ring bells of caution in our ears. It is becoming all the more worrisome that besides tensions and animosity among the Hindus and Muslims, other federates of the diversified society, such as Sikhs and Dalits (both among Sikhs and Hindus), are, it appears, not at peace. Jathedar of Harminder Sahib, Giani Harpreet Singh, openly pleaded the case of owning weapons and training to the Sikh youth by setting up’ shooting ranges’ as the others have been doing it secretively. Who are these others? It requires no elaboration. He also mentioned the churches and mosques coming up in Punjab. Dalits are concerned about the demolition of Guru Ravidass Temple at Tughlakabad in Delhi and the ongoing Bhema-Koregaon case saga. 

Dr. Ambedkar

Much has been written about the avoidable communal strife and standoff in the wake of these recent developments. As a concerned citizen who supports the lofty idea of ‘Samrasta,’ which the RSS talks about in a secular and democratic state like India, I have a couple of humble suggestions to make:

  • The top leadership of all political parties and top priestly big-wigs of all religious denominations should sit together and think of some ‘CBMs’ to bring about much needed trust among the communities, particularly the Hindus and Muslims, before it is too late.
  • Rightly or wrongly, the cry “Savidhan Bachao – Desh Bachao” is gaining strength. The BJP governments and their ‘Mentor’ RSS, who enjoy a brute majority and unbridled power under the system, should come forward and negate this perception that they intended to change the constitution. However, I am personally of the view that it is not that easy to change the basic edifice and fundamentals of the constitution, including the secular and democratic character of the society and polity, without inviting further trouble and danger to our country if anybody tried to do so.
  • It seems that the national media in India has become blind. Most TV channels and the Anchors or so-called journalists run acrimonious debates on Hindu – Muslim issues throughout the day without any norms and code of conduct. There should be some ‘self–regulatory’ mechanism so that the freedom of the media is not harmed. It must be stopped or regulated without delay.
  • The political parties, particularly BJP, and organizations like RSS and its field agencies should categorically stop talking of ‘Hindu Rashtra’. India is a union of states with diversified languages, cultures, food habits, and religious beliefs. It should remain a secular state as stipulated in the constitution.
  • We should stop digging into the past and not try to rewrite history – Buddhism was here but was destroyed and vanished. Foreigners, including Mughals, came and conquered and assimilated here. The British, French, and Portuguese were sent back. The invaders, conquerors, and imperialists did what pleased them. The fact is that we could not stop them. Were we no match to them? I don’t expect an answer. History would judge us. Why are we digging the graves now as a sovereign, independent country and a member of the comity of dignified nations? We can build as many Mandirs, Mosques, Gurudwaras, Churches, and so on as we like. Who would stop us? Let us pray for peace and respect for each other rather than getting dogmatic. Let us respect the minorities and their rights, and in turn, minorities should respect the ethos of the mainstream of the society, that is, the majority Hindus. Dalits should not be counted as Hindus or Sikhs only for vote banks or countering Muslims; they should be given their due space in the society and polity. Ishwar Alla Tero Naam; Sab Ko Sammati De Bhagwan.

As I said, we have come a long way but still have a long way to go. The slogan and agenda of the Government of PM Narendra Modi, who enjoys the democratic mandate of the people of India – Sab Ka Sath, Sab Ka Vikas, and Sab Ka Vishwas is the right approach to bring peace, harmony, fraternity, and further prosperity in our country. I conclude here with a famous quote to caution ourselves: 

Chupa Kar Asteen Mein Bijliyan Rakhi Hain Gardoon Ne, Anadil Bagh Ke Ghafil Na Baithen Ashiyon Mein

Watan Ki Fikar Kar Nadan! Musibat Ane Wali Hai, Teri Barbadiyon Ke Mashware Hain Asmanon Mein

(The sky has kept thunderbolts concealed up its sleeve Garden’s nightingales should not slumber in their nests. Think of the homeland, O ignorant one! Hard times are coming. Conspiracies for your destruction are afoot in the heavens)

Author profile
Ramesh Chander

Mr. Chander is a career diplomat who retired as India's Ambassador to Belarus.

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