(Mani Shankar Aiyar is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha.)
The 56-inch mountain has at long last heaved - and produced the proverbial mouse.
After eight months of maun vrata over issues of religious tension, Narendra Modi has now disclosed that his "government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith" and "will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly".
Excellent - except that this is what he should have said - and done - at the Shah Alam refugee camp in Ahmedabad in 2002 when an anti-Muslim pogrom was taking place under his watch. There was neither a word of sympathy then, nor any action to establish that his Government was with the victims, not the perpetrators. Indeed, it was not until he was compelled to accompany Prime Minister Vajpayee to the Shah Alam camp a full month later that he even made his first visit to the camp. And when, finally, a word of sympathy came from him a decade or so later, it was to compare the murdered, injured and looted Muslims to a puppy dog accidently coming under the wheels of a car.
Nor is this the first time Modi has declared that he "strongly condemn(s) State violence". He had said it before to the BJP's Parliamentary Party. But with what result? Only the filthy statements from those he selected to represent his Party in the Lok Sabha and adorn his Council of Ministers. Perhaps he cannot deprive Sakshi Maharaj of his seat but by what standards does he continue to include Sadhvi Jyoti among his Ministers? In the behavior of a whole cohort of his most ardent supporters, there is no indication that "equal respect for all religions" is in their "DNA". If they do not have that in their DNA - as manifestly they do not- what are they doing sitting beside and behind him in Parliament?
And talking of Parliament, why did Modi so adamantly refuse to come to the Rajya Sabha and say exactly what he did to the Syrian Christians? The Opposition was demanding no more. They wanted him to unequivocally declare on the floor of the sacred precincts of Parliament that he "consider(ed) the freedom to have, to retain and to adopt, a religion or belief (as) a personal choice of a citizen". He did not because he was afraid of being questioned about the gap between such an oral declaration and the ugly effects of ghar waapsi, love jihad and election-oriented riots strewed around him.
"Spiritualism", said Modi, "is rooted in India's heritage". Of course it is. But it is a spiritualism that derives from India being a confluence of virtually every religion the world has or has known. Compare any page of Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery of India and Modi's speech, and the gap becomes glaring between a truly profound understanding of India's numerous spiritual traditions and Modi's one-way street. For Modi to affirm, however, that important religions have gone into the making of India's contemporary spiritual heritage would be to deny Savarkar's fundamental proposition that only those Indians are genuine Indians who regard India as not only their "pitrubhoomi" but also their "punyabhoomi". That is precisely why he spoke of "Mother India" having given "birth to many religious and spiritual streams" but completely ignored the many religions and spiritual streams that have come into India, that have been imported into our cultures and civilization over and over again. Consider the contrast between Modi's boast that "some of them (religions born in India) have even travelled beyond Indian borders" with sidelining the religions born outside India but which have travelled into India, crossing Indian borders and becoming part and parcel of our composite Hindu and non-Hindu heritage. Modi's speech privileges those religions born within India over those whose origins lie elsewhere. That is not the Hindu tradition. It is Hindutva at its most naked.
Let us not forget that when Modi presented a copy of the Gita to the Emperor of Japan, he sneered that "secularists" back home would object. That is to totally misunderstand "secularism". Secularism is not about being anti-Hindu or anti-Gita. We secularists regard the Gita as integral to not just the Hindu Way of Life, but the Indian Way of Life. We would also applaud Modi presenting a copy of the Holy Quran, printed at the Darul Uloom, to Prime Minister Koirala when he next visits Kathmandu; or of Dara Shikoh's Persian translation of the Upanishads to Nawaz Sharif were Modi to ever meet Sharif again; or even a copy of the Torah printed in Jew Town, Kochi to the Israeli President: that would be to give full expression to India's pluralism. It is in the active celebration of all of its faiths and beliefs, in rejoicing that all things Indian are not only Hindu, in bringing together all Indians instead of sequestering some of them in khaki half-pants in Nagpur, that the true spirit of India lies.
The time now is for Modi to fulfill - particularly with respect to his own Sangh Parivar and associated outfits - that he really will "act strongly in this regard."
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