Humanism. Tolerance. Reason.

The time has come to detoxify our society of communalism and celebrate the enduring legacy of Gandhi and Nehru to defend national integration

SN Sahu Delhi

There has beenalarming increase incommunal violence in many parts of our country. This is against the very ethos and culture of our country. Our national identity is defined on the strength of diversity. We survive on the strength of our diversity. And we progress on the strength of diversity. India is a land where people professing a variety of religions have a national outlook. Progress and development necessarily generate some social and economic problems. As people become more aware and empowered they assert their rights and demand better amenities. Indeed, such a process sharpens competition among different groups and openly exaggerates the problems we face and multiply the challenges to nation building.

Our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had insightfully said that it would be more difficult and tough to create a just society by employing just means and to create a secular State in a religious society. For the last 61 years we have been able to defend our secular values and secular State to a great extent. However, it is tragic that over the last many decades we have been witnessing separatist, ethnic, communal and political violence in large parts of our country. Naxalism has posed danger to life and property, and our scheme of governance. It seeks to exploit real or perceived feelings of deprivation and neglect in a bid to destroy the democratic process and the State apparatus. It poses one of the gravest threats to our internal security and social solidarity. The Naxal violence has greatly retarded our developmental activities.

Combined with such problems, the menace of terrorism disrupts our social harmony, provoking communal passions and creating a psychosis of fear, insecurity and instability. The recurrent violence targeted against minorities has put pressure on our tolerant ethos and the tradition of peaceful co-existence. The ongoing attacks on minorities in Orissa, Karnataka and some other States tarnish India's image and pollute our composite culture.

Referring to communalism, Jawaharlal Nehru had said: "In its very essence, it is a throwback to a medieval state of mind, medievalhabits and medieval slogans. Let us by all means preserve every single Indian custom and every Indian way of thought; only, let us not go back to something that has no relevance to the modern world."

Today when India is taking its rightful place in the modern world of 21st century and is acknowledged as a major center for commerce and innovation, we need to curb the tendencies which threaten to revive the medieval state of mind. In safeguarding our national integration which we achieved with great difficulty after centuries of struggle, we must take urgent steps to defeat communalism which is a danger to the ideals which define our nationhood and progressive world view. The recent blasts in Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Malegaon and Agartala, Gauwahati, etc. constitute attempts to divide Indian society by spreading communal violence and terrorism. Only recently, separatists in Jammu & Kashmir mobilised the people and tried to subvert our unity and integrity. Thankfully the situation has come under control and we have been able to take measures to address the problem which grew out of proportions.

Our larger goal has always been to respect all faiths, promote development and progress in all parts of our country and protect our unity and integrity. That is why we stress on inclusive growth and equity and justice to all citizens of India. Diverse faiths co-existed in this country for centuries. They have commanded equal respect from our citizens. We are proud of this heritage. However, if forces emerge to weaken our social fabric by excluding one religious group from another we need to fight against that tendency. Nehru in an address to Parliament on August 9, 1950 said that the policy to segregate people on the basis of faith did mean the ruin of India and the annihilation of all that people of India stand for and have stood for. Nehru then emphatically added, "... we will resist such a proposition with all our strength, we will fight in houses, in fields and in market places. It will be fought in the Council Chambers and the streets for we shall not let India be slaughtered at the altar of bigotry."

I think the time has come for all political parties to isolate such forces in the houses, in fields, in market places, on the streets and in the council chambers. In other words what we need is a comprehensive fight which must be launched on the strength of our people and on the strength of common principles of all religions.

 

Swami Vivekananda used to take pride of Hinduism because Hindus built churches for Christians and mosques for Muslims. He stressed on commonalities of all religions to forge unity and understanding among our people. We need to follow that approach to save India from bigotry and narrowness.

We have taken various measures to address the threat to our unity and integrity. There are others who suggest that a more punitive law is required to face the grim situation. We are mindful of the grave danger to the very idea of India. There are political parties which actively promote communal violence and mobilise people on the basis of one particular religion. The ultimate sufferer is our nation. All sections of society suffer on account of communalism, be it majority communalism or minority communalism. Often people take recourse to the communal approach keeping in mind their political interest and the electoral calculus. This is very dangerous.

Dr BR Ambedkar, the principal architect of our Constitution, had said in his last speech in the Constituent Assembly that India would witness the proliferation of several parties. He then cautioned that if political parties put their creeds before the nation, India would lose her independence forever. What is distressing is that many political parties driven by communal passion are putting their creed before the nation. At this critical juncture of our history, we need to eschew our political differences and uphold the ideal of Indian unity which haunted our leaders for several centuries and which we could forge after a prolonged struggle and suffering. The political parties which mobilise people on the basis of religion must examine their strategy taking into account the larger interest of the nation. Without our unity and integrity, our progress and development can never be accelerated.

It is unfortunate that one particular community is targeted and tarnished for the acts of terrorism of some misguided people. It is dangerous to blame any one religion or community for the spread of terrorism in India. It has been said by a counter terrorist expert from Israel that the Indian variety of Islam based on Sufi tradition is the best antidote to the menace of terrorism in the world.

The gathering crisis of communal tension in Orissa, Karnataka, Assam, Maharashtra and many other areas have harmed our stature and image as a modern and forward looking nation. These violent incidents violated the basic tenets of our ancient civilisation and modern tenets of fraternity enshrined in our Constitution. Regional chauvinism and violence against our fellow citizens ina metropolis of our country is a threat to our unity and integrity.

Long years back, while fighting for freedom, Mahatma Gandhi had written: "Religions are meant to tame our savage nature, not to let it lose." By fostering our tolerant ethos and giving opportunities for the full flowering of all religions we can find enduring solution to the present problems of religious fundamentalism. Our national identity is not determined by any particular religion. We are proud of this heritage which nourishes our secular values rooted as much in our composite culture as it is in our constitutional provisions. Let me again use the words of Mahatma Gandhi who had said in 1927: "I do not expect India of my dream to develop one religion, that is, to be wholly Hindu, or wholly Christian, or wholly Musalman; but I want it to be wholly tolerant, with its religions working side by side with one another."

Let us summon our will and strength to rise above our respective religions and parties and political interests to address the challenges faced by India as a whole. In doing so, we will serve the cause of national integration which is the foundation of our progress and the foundation of our very existence. Let us all try to defend our pluralist essence without which we cannot even think and dream of taking our next step.

Our country confronted unprecedented communal violence following the partition of our country. Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of non-violence, was shaken by the hatred and bloodshed. He wrote an article in the Harijan. With his uncanny understanding he wrote that if the right to life of a Muslim could not protected in India then our educational syllabus would also be poisoned.

A few months after we got independence, Nehru made a profound observation, celebrated on the cover of JNU's brochure, a university which is an excellent testimony of vibrant enlightenment, secularism, tolerance and the progressive ethos: "A university stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for progress, for the adventure of ideas and for search for truth. It stands for onward march of the human race towards even higher objectives. If the universities discharge their duty adequately, then it is well with the nation and the people. But if the temple of learning itself becomes a home of narrow bigotry and petty objectives how then will nation prosper and people grow in stature"?

The time has come to detoxify our society and nation of communalism. It can be done by harking back to the legacy of the freedom struggle best represented in the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

The writer is Director, Prime Minister's Office, South Block, Delhi. The views expressed are personal