India has been the cradle of religious pluralism for centuries. It is one of the few countries in the world that has been home for people belonging to different religions, castes, creeds, cultures, languages that, not only seamlessly assimilated to the Indian ethos, but also contributed significantly to the art and culture. Moreover, for centuries, Hindus, Muslims, Christians have coexisted peacefully. This has been primarily due to the tolerance shown by the Hindus towards people professing other faiths.
India, during the Mughal rule, excelled in art and culture – the many monuments we see today, like the Taj Mahal, Red Fort, and Agra Fort are a standing testimony to the great contributions made by the Mughals to the cultural tapestry of India.
The advent of the British rule completely changed the complexion of Hindu-Muslim relations. The ‘divide and rule’ policy of the British sowed the first seed of disharmony between the two communities that coexisted peacefully for centuries. The continuation of distrust between India and Pakistan is a legacy of the divisive policy of the British.
History shows us how tolerant Hindus have been. It is for this reason various communities who faced persecution in their countries chose India as their destination. Even today, the Bangladeshi Muslims prefer to take refuge in India than any other Muslim country. So is the case with Muslims from Myanmar. Mahatma Gandhi, in one of his speeches on Hinduism, said,
“Since Hinduism is based on truth and nonviolence, it can never oppose any other religion. Hinduism strives for the betterment of all religions, and through them of the entire world.”
Romain Rolland, the French scholar, while talking about India said:
“If there is one place on the face of earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India.”
After India gained independence, Nehru ensured that both the communities lived peacefully. Except for stray incidents, one never came across any incident of communal disharmony. All this changed when Indira Gandhi became the prime minister. India saw one of the worst riots in 1984 when over 3,000 members of the Sikh community were massacred to avenge the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguard. It was the first time the complicity of the ruling party came to the fore in the dastardly attacks against a particular community. However, the Delhi police, who could have prevented the massacre by taking effective steps, chose to be mute bystanders. It was the members of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who came to the rescue of the Sikhs, and if it wasn’t for their help, thousands of Sikhs would have lost their lives.
Similarly, the killings of innocent Kashmiri pundits and displacement of over 100,000 Kashmiri Hindus also happened during the Congress watch. The Congress did nothing to protect them.
The first sign of communal disharmony took place between Hindus and Muslims after the Babri Masjid demolition during the Congress government. In spite of the intelligence reports that some fundamental groups would converge at Ayodhya, the birth place of Lord Ram, where Babri Masjid is also situated, to demolish the mosque, the Congress government did little to prevent the demolition. As a backlash, thousands of people belonging to both the communities lost their lives. Matters between both the communities have not been same. In fact, to avenge the demolition, an Indian mujahideen was formed, and we have seen many incidents of terrorist activities since then. Fortunately, over the years, the Hindus and Muslims have come to realise the futility of adopting a confrontational approach, which did them no good, except bringing misery to both the communities.
It is in this context that the so-called secular forces put all the blame of isolated incidents, including the unfortunate killing of Akhlaq, who was falsely charged for keeping beef in his house, is seen as a deliberate attempt by vested interests to discredit Modi.
It is true that the hateful rhetoric of a few BJP politicians, unfortunately, has gone unchecked, giving one the impression that has the official sanction. Such a feeling is far from the truth as Modi won the elections on a ‘development plank’, and his slogan, ‘Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’ (Together with all, development for all) caught the attention of people across caste and religion. It would be grossly unfair to accuse Modi alone for all the wrongs happening in the society today.
It is true that we have lately been seeing few incidents of intolerance in the country. But many such incidents, like smearing ink on Sudheendra Kulkarni’s face, cancellation of Ghulam Ali’s concert in Mumbai, protests against book launch by Khursheed Kasuri, are the handiwork of some zealots belonging to Shiv Sena, and not the BJP. Even in the case of the unfortunate murder of Akhlaq, the finger of suspicion points out to few fringe elements, and not directly to BJP.
Any dispassionate analysis would reveal that there were more than 50 communal incidents during the Congress regime against the Gujarat riots. Another riot took place in 2013 in Muzaffarnagar, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where 42 Muslims and 20 Hindus were killed, engineered by few fringe elements. The non-BJP ruled state government and the Congress government were found ineffectual in bringing the perpetrators to book. In 2012, riots broke out in Kokrajhar in Assam which took the lives of 77 people, and around 70,000 people from about 500 villages were uprooted from their homes. The riots took place between the local tribal community and Bengali-speaking Muslims of the region, mainly immigrants who had come from Bangladesh. Once again, the riots happened in a Congress-ruled state. The attempt of the Congress leaders to demonise Narendra Modi smacks of jealousy of his getting a clear mandate in the last elections.
As communal harmony is a prerequisite for economic development, the Modi government should take immediate steps to reign in some of the ministers and members of the party, who have the habit of putting their foot into their mouth. Their hateful rhetoric is adversely affecting the image of India. The recent rout of BJP in the recently held Bihar elections is a testimony to the secular credentials of Hindus, who have out-rightly rejected divisive politics. Modi has repeatedly been saying that he wants to see people from all communities to prosper in India. In spite of his unpopularity in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Modi has announced INR Rs80, 000 crores for the development of the state.
However, in order to demonstrate to Muslims and Christians that he genuinely believes in the welfare, he must take immediate steps to deal firmly with his errant ministers, and a few hotheads in his party. This will go a long way to assuage their feelings, instead of keeping silent. He should also learn from the Bihar elections that the divisive politics will no longer succeed in India.
I sincerely hope the success of the last elections does not go to Modi’s head, as there is a chance of slipping into a delusion of invincibility. I would caution Modi by quoting a beautiful poem on the subject by Habib Jalib:
“Tumse pehle wo jo ek shaks yaha takht nasheen tha
Usko bhi apna khuda hone ka ithna hi yakeen tha
Koi thehra ho jo logon ki mukabil tho batao
Wo kaha hei, ke jinhe naaz apne tayeen tha!”
(The one before you who were enthroned
Also had the illusions of being our God
The ones who stood by the people will tell
How the proud and arrogant, all, fell!)