A Not So Pluralistic India

More gruesome details about the Alwar lynching have come to light. Rakbar Khan, a dairy farmer from Haryana, the victim, could have been saved if the police had acted in time. In fact, the force stopped for tea and wasted three and a half hours in reaching the victim to the hospital. He bled to death. If one were to put all the pieces together, one would come to the conclusion that the police delay was deliberate.

The religion of the victim, he was a Muslim, has been his undoing. Inquiry would give details but there is no doubt that the police were keener on recovering the two cows from him than saving his life. The cows were taken to a gaushala (cow shed) 10 kilometres away, a good one hour before Khan was brought to the community health centre, a six-kilometer drive from the attack site.

According to data available on blood-thirsty mobs striking fear in the hearts of minorities for some time now, 86 per cent of those dead in cow-related violence since 2010 are Muslims and 97 per cent of the attacks took place after 2014. Whenever such happenings took place, including lynching or attacking people, invariably the Muslims and the Dalits had borne the brunt in the name of so-called cow protection.

This is a sad commentary on our efforts to have a pluralistic society. Mahatma Gandhi would emphasise on Hindu-Muslim unity all the time during his prayers. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, too stressed on the same point and strengthened the argument for unity through steps, including abolishing the column of religion from application forms for admission to institutions and employment.

The line drawn on the basis of religion is haunting us all the time. Muslims in India, although 170 million do not matter in the affairs of government administration. In fact, their habitation is separate and even though they have become slums they feel safe in living together.

Not long ago, there was a riot in Delhi. I was helping the community as an activist. One sitting judge preferred to stay in the slums and told me that he felt safe there. He found the police contaminated. Obviously, there is a lacuna in the training of policemen. For a long time, the government kept out mosque, temple or gurudwara from the police line. But leaders from different political parties saw people only in terms of religion and catered their parochial tendencies.

The question we should ask ourselves is why the protectors of law are becoming violators themselves. There are separate schools for each community. The madrassa cult has got deepened in the community because the Muslims want to save their identity.

I raised all these points in the Rajya Sabha when I was nominated to the house in the 90s. My criticism was directed at the Congress which had ruled the country since independence. Instead of giving reply to what I had mentioned, Pranab Mukherjee, then a top Congress leader, went out of the house to register his lack of interest on the issue. Probably, this was his reply to my pointed criticism of the Congress for having failed to galvanise the nation.

Secularism is the ideology which we have chosen in contrast to Pakistan’s Islamic order. Unfortunately, the Muslim community in India stays distant. It feels as if it is somewhat responsible for the partition. This is not entirely true. The Hindus failed to instill confidence among the Muslims. Some fundamentalists were openly propagating for the beliefs they espoused.

The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has no connection with the national struggle and therefore its ideology remains what Shyama Prasad Mookerji, a tall leader at that time, propagated. The philosophy was to establish a Hindu Rashtra. Jayaprakash Narain was able to bring even the fanatic Hindus into the Janata Party and act at his bidding. They gave up their caps which was typical.

The sticking point, however, was the relationship with the RSS. When JP asked the then Jan Sangh leaders to severe their ties with the RSS, they preferred to constitute their own party. Some committed members stayed with the RSS but most of them remained with JP. The matter ultimately came before the central leadership. The Jana Sangh lost there.

That is the time when Atal Behari Vajpayee emerged as the leader because he was acceptable to all. He kept their confidence intact because the bus he took to Lahore had members of all political parties. The speech he made at the civic reception was so appealing to the Pakistanis that some of them came to me to seek my services to request Nawaz Sharif not to speak because the mood was pro-Vajpayee. Nawaz Sharif said he was not a fool to speak after Vajapyee. Instead, he said that if Vajpayee were to contest elections today in Pakistan, he would sweep the polls.

The BJP has come a long way since then. Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks trying to be another Vajpayee but not succeeding in his efforts. Vajpayee remains the idol because he was able to influence even the Congress followers. I recall Vajpayee visiting London when I was the High Commissioner. Those were the days when Babri masjid dominated the discussion. Vajpayee said: “Those who are Ram bhagat, they have gone to Ayodhya and those who love the country have come here.”

Though Modi is emphasising on Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, but RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat seems to have initiated a parallel campaign to have as many candidates in the Lok Sabha as possible so that when the time comes to choose the prime minister, the RSS would have its own stamp. Instances like Alwar lynching is going to pull down both the RSS and the BJP because the country’s mood does not tally with the intentions of RSS. The nation wants to stay pluralistic.

The Article First Appeared In The Express Tribune


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