In contrast to what Gandhi envisioned, the gulf between the two communities in India has been made wide and deep
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed eight years in office (May 30 2022), there are claims and counter-claims about the performance of his regime. Modi supporters are very happy that during this period India has made great leaps in all areas of development.
Opponents of the government have highlighted that there have been massive setbacks due to demonetization, a sudden Covid lockdown led to mass migrations under adverse situations, record rise in unemployment, worsening of farmers’ plight and steep increase in prices of commodities besides a falling rupee. There are increasing acts of communal violence peaking in the Delhi riots of 2020 but also growing discord between two major religious communities.
While overall the spiral of violence is on the rise, there is a qualitative worsening of the same. Communal incidents in Uttar Pradesh had increased 47 percent from 133 in 2014 to 195 in 2017. According to another 2017 Huffington Post report, India was ranked fourth in the world in 2015 – after Syria, Nigeria and Iraq – for the highest social hostilities involving religion.
This trend has continued in following years.
The ‘hate other’ (read Muslims and Christians) has become the new normal. The achievements are being shown in the form of building of Ram Temple in Ayodhya, Kashi Corridor and revival of issues like Mathura, Taj Mahal, Jama Masjid and Baba Budan Giri in Karnataka. Globally India has slipped down on different indices: democracy, freedom of religion, freedom of press, hunger and happiness to name the few. But Modi claims he is working in to build an India of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel’s dream. This needs to be seriously questioned.
Sardar Patel was an ardent follower of Gandhi and told Jawaharlal Nehru that they both had learned politics at the feet of their mentor. One of Gandhi’s dictum was that in making of the policies what should be paramount is keep in mind the needs and betterment of last man in the line. What we are witnessing is that those standing in the front rows are growing abysmally with most social resources under their belt, while those in the last lines are suffering the pangs of deprivation.
There are many aspects of the decline in the freedoms, freedom of expression being one of these. Many intellectuals and activists are being incarcerated while those making hate speeches are roaming free confident that they are safe and secure despite calling for murders and launching genocide against the minorities. Interestingly, the victim community is being projected as the culprits.
The central theme of Gandhi in his marathon efforts was Hindu-Muslim unity. This became a serious matter of concern in later period of his life. Starting from association with the Khilafat movement to his travails in Bengal, this was the central direction of his commitment to build an India based on its diversity and pluralism, Hindu-Muslim unity was the core of his concern. It was this which underlined his fast unto death in Delhi where he put the unity aspect as the major demand.
In contrast to what Gandhi envisioned the gulf between the two communities in India has been made wide and deep; though this process became prominent with the Ram temple agitation in Ayodhya, the policies during the last eight years has deepened the gulf. Gandhi reprimanded the communal elements in both the communities and sought commitment to amity and non-violence. What is happening today is a process contrary to this.
Religion is mixed with the state policies. Gandhi was an ardent ‘sanatani’ Hindu and wanted to keep state away from dictates of religion. “"In India, for whose fashioning I have worked all my life, every man enjoys equality of status, whatever his religion is. The state is bound to be wholly secular", and, "religion is not the test of nationality but is a personal matter between man and God, and," religion is a personal affair of each individual, it must not be mixed up with politics or national affairs" (Harijan August 31, 1947)
Patel outlawed RSS
Sardar Patel, India's first Deputy Prime Minister, was very concerned about rising hate in society and this is what led him to ban the RSS in the aftermath of Gandhi’s assassination. Patel wrote: “All their speeches were full of communal poison… As a final result of that poison; the country had to suffer the sacrifice of Gandhiji.”
Currently hate is becoming worse by the day, and this is seen in speeches and innuendos from the top. “If there was an Aurangzeb, Shivaji also emerged,” Modi said in his constituency Varanasi late last year. Those down below and around his ideology-politics take it further through Dharam Sansads and social media. They enjoy virtual impunity.
At the three-day Dharam Sansad held in Haridwar in December 2021 speeches peaked with a call for genocide in presence of prominent BJP leaders. Modi kept a silence on this. It is no wonder that with such an atmosphere of insecurity among minorities, on one side the Muslim communal elements get a boost but majority of them writhe in pain and insecurity.
Gregory Stenton, the President of Genocide Watch, says India is already on the 8th spot, in the scale of 10 of genocide. What would have been the response of Gandhi and Sardar Patel on this scenario? Just using their names as a shield cannot hide the painful realities of society.
(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Center for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views are personal.)