When Jawaharlal Nehru declared on 26 January 1929, from the banks of the river Ravi, that India wanted complete independence, not the dominion status hitherto demanded, very few people believed that they would see the end of British rule 18 years later. But the transfer of power happened in a non-violent manner and without any rancour. So much so that it took Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy, two hours to travel from the Viceregal Lodge, now Rashtrapati Bhavan, to Parliament House. Every person in the throng wanted to shake hands with him. There was no bitterness and the people looked forward to a polity which would be independent and would have their elected representatives to help them realise the ethos of pluralism and egalitarianism which they had cherished.
Why the social fabric has gotten torn and why the dream of a pluralistic society has become more distant are questions that stare us in the face. From whichever angle you look at it, the fault lies with the political parties. Their parochial ideologies and an eye on power have pushed aside the ideals which inspired us to throw out the mightiest colonial power without firing a shot.
Having gone through the ordeal of the freedom struggle we were inspired by idealism and values. Little did we realise that the British had divided us so much when for a time we pushed into the background our inclination to caste and community. This schism reappeared soon after the last British soldier left the gateway of India at Mumbai. And today we are divided caste-wise, religion-wise and language-wise.
One can argue that China, when it attacked India in 1962, thought in the same way but found a united country to defend the north-eastern territory, which in ordinary times was considered arguably a point for discussion. The only explanation is that an outside invasion unites the country, not the dangers of division or dispute.
Today, the country has been furrowed deep by caste and religion. This becomes all the more appalling when the state is found mixed up in strife. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphasis on development, however praiseworthy, loses its sheen when he meets the RSS leaders who make no bones about their ideology of Hindu Rashtra.
The BJP rules at the Centre and it endangers the idea of India, a democratic and pluralistic society. I do not buy the argument that radical Islam is encouraging the violent fringe among the Hindus. The RSS is systematically changing the complexion of the polity so that it looks Hindu. Its chief Mohan Bhagwat has proudly said many a time in public that Hindu raj has returned after 800 years! What effect would it have on the minorities? Several Muslim leaders have told me that the community lives in fear.
Things have reached such a pass that serious Muslim thinkers are worried over extremism in Islam (Islam literally means ‘Peace upon you’). There is even a move to admit Hindu students in madrassas. The Muslim students also want to join the DAV and Arya Samaj educational institutions.
What is disconcerting is that even activists from secular parties are making a beeline for the BJP. It cannot be the love for ideology but sheer aspiration to be on the side which is in power. Such personalities like Kiran Bedi who have stood against communalism all their lives are proudly parroting the stand of the BJP. Basically, it is the lure of key positions in the party that is in power. The fallout of these developments is not healthy. It is making the minorities insecure and reinforcing the feeling, already present to some degree, that they are second-class citizens. This will sap the energy of India and come in the way of development. Until there is a feeling among the minorities and the marginalised that they will gain equally, there will be no concerted effort to push the wheel of India ahead.
The increasing strength of the BJP should be a point of concern not only for the minorities but also the liberals in the country. The idea of India, as inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, is a state where all are equal before law and enjoy equal opportunities. The feeling of the Muslims is that they are increasingly being pushed to the wall. This may lead to desperation. The world has seen such developments in the past and more dangerously in the present.
The killing of 12 people by the armed gunmen early this month in the Paris office of ***Charlie Hebdo is not justified even by the tenets of Koran. The insult to the Prophet Mohammad is not acceptable but killing the people connected with it is also equally condemnable. I can understand and appreciate the hurt and anger the insult of the Prophet must have caused. But to kill the people allegedly connected with it is a blow against humanity, particularly the freedom of expression.
The axiom that your liberty ends where my nose begins holds good in this matter. But in this case, the revenge is the killing. It will be a law of the jungle if individuals take upon themselves to avenge insults to the religious icons. People’s anger is understandable and all efforts should be made to assuage it. But what kind of world would it be if all people take to arms because their religion has been insulted or their icons run down? Methods are very important.
Mahatma Gandhi said that if means are vitiated, the ends are bound to be vitiated. It is a pity that Indians have not come up to that standard. But this does not falsify the nobility of what he said. In a world crisscrossed by fanaticism, extremism and jihad, the only dictum to adopt is cooperation and conciliation. This was the dream of Nehru when he raised the flag on the banks of the Ravi. I wish that India would follow that path and be an example for other countries, particularly the neighbours.