As the tempo of electioneering in five states including the bellwether Uttar Pradesh (pop.215 million), which will be electing their legislative assembly representatives before March 10, gathers momentum, there’s rising responsibility for leaders of all political parties — especially the ruling BJP at the Centre with a massive majority in Parliament — to come down hard on inflammatory religious and caste hate speech. Somewhat belatedly, the Uttarakhand police (a BJP-ruled state) has initiated criminal proceedings against Hindu extremists who on December 17 called for the extermination of the country’s 200 million-strong Muslim minority. Moreover in several states including BJP-ruled Gujarat and Karnataka, violent sangh parivar (‘Hindu family’) vigilantes are disrupting church services of the Christian minority.
There are well-established provisions of the Indian Penal Code (ss. 153-A, 495 etc) which proscribe stirring up religious and caste antagonisms within the public. Therefore, the national interest demands that individuals who inflame and incite hatred, violence and contempt against fellow citizens on religious and other identity grounds are promptly prosecuted and awarded exemplary punishment. At a time when the economy is struggling to rebound following several waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, the country doesn’t need communal riots and civic insurrection to interrupt the revival process.
On a broader canvas, it’s a shame that on the eve of our 75th anniversary as a free and independent nation vivisected on grounds of religion, India is regressing into religious communalism and identity politics. Instead of moving forward and evolving into the secular and compassionate society envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi and leaders of the freedom movement, Indian society seems to be reversing into medievalism when religious identity of citizens determined their place in the social order.
The BJP leadership’s position on minorities is to end ‘appeasement’, i.e, create a level playing field for all. Although ex facie, this seems a reasonable objective, on deeper reflection it’s questionable. It’s axiomatic that religious and other minorities are disadvantaged in matters relating to employment, state benefits and social acceptance vis-a-vis the majority community. Therefore, there’s nothing objectionable in practising affirmative action in favour of minorities. Indeed the Constitution of India drafted by highly learned and visionary individuals over half a century ago is mindful of minority rights and positive discrimination, because its authors were aware of the importance of co-opting minority communities into the national development effort.
Against this backdrop, the highly divisive electoral campaign based on 80-20 electoral arithmetic being conducted by the BJP in UP — and the deafening silence of the party’s leadership at the Centre including prime minister Narendra Modi — is condemnable and fraught with danger. Hate-speech disseminators need to be speedily arrested, tried and awarded exemplary sentences in the cause of national unity and harmony.
Also read: Delhi: Emerging election issue