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Published in the 1-15 Mar 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

India shining, communal darkness
By Asghar Ali Engineer

The media blitzkrieg launched by the NDA Government showing India Shining may not be illegal, as the Prime Minister maintains. But certainly is immoral as crores of rupees of public money are being spent on it and it is certainly not merely to inform the public for the ‘achievements’ of the NDA Government but to win forthcoming elections. The NDA Government is trying to convince Indian public that India is shining under its rule (or misrule?)

Is India Shining? Well it all depends on how one looks at it. Even from economic perspective such claim is totally untenable. In a country where millions are unemployed, hundreds are committing suicide because of poverty and hunger to the extent of even killing their families and millions of children drop out from school before reaching even 5th standard how can one claim India is shining? Just because few members of middle class are making it good under globalisation? Just because few millionaires have become billionaires? Just because some politicians of ruling NDA are able to amass enviable wealth unscrupulously?

But we are more concerned here with communal situation under NDA than economic situation. India despite its bewildering diversity has remained united thanks to our commitment to secular polity. Secularism in India means that state remain neutral to all religions and see that religious majority does not reduce our democracy to majoritarianism and minorities are protected and are free to follow their religion without any let and hindrance. 

However India has suffered very badly on this score under NDA. India can politically shine only if its secular polity is not tampered with. Can India shine politically when its main ruling party remains tied to organisations like RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal, which are avowedly anti-minorities? No less a person than the Prime Minister of India said in the crowd of RSS and BJP supporters in Straten Island in USA that ‘RSS is my soul’. Can there be any doubt about BJP’s active connection with the RSS? Mr. L.K.Advani personally attends the RSS rally in Khaki chaddi and gives salute to RSS flag. And he does so when he is Home Minister of India. What message will it send to the police force? Will police force then be able to control communal violence impartially?

The Congress regime did not have any brilliant record of communal peace in the 45 years of its rule. No one disputes this. But its leaders did not have allegiance to the RSS, much less VHP and Bajrang Dal. They did not stuff premier research bodies like the ICHR and ICSSR (Indian Council of Historical Research and Indian Council of Social Science Research) with those who openly deride secularism. These two premier research bodies were controlled during the congress rule by those academics whose secular credentials were never in doubt. 

But after the NDA came to power under overall control of the BJP these premier organisations were captured by the RSS and VHP supporters. It is a great tragedy that such research bodies in social sciences be controlled by those who are avowed opponents of secularism. Even moderate BJP person like the late Prof. M.L.Sondhi was not tolerated and the Human Resources Ministry removed him from chairmanship of the ICSSR. If these organisations are controlled by avowed opponents of secularism what direction social sciences would take? Social sciences are the very basis of intellectual life of the country. It cannot be allowed to be controlled by those who are opponents of our constitutional values. They are making all efforts to undermine the secular values of the Indian constitution. How India can remain secular under such dispensation?
The British rulers distorted our history in order to divide us which, ultimately resulted in division of our country. These textbooks are being changed for the worse during the NDA dispensation. The so-called secular parties supporting the NDA, and keeping the BJP in power are also party to these serious attempts to undermine our secular values. The children are growing with a sense of hatred towards minority communities. Thus it is not only hate politics but also hate education and there is social environment of hatred and polarisation as never before during 56 years of independence.

It was the BJP leadership, which raised the controversy about secularism in early eighties describing it as western concept unsuitable for Indian culture and Indian society and then dubbed it as ‘pseudo-secularism’ and based on ‘appeasement of minorities’. A high pitched propaganda was carried out on these grounds to cultivate Hindu vote bank thus seriously damaging inter-community relations.

It was certainly result of such high- pitched hate propaganda that communal carnage like in Gujarat could occur which put the entire country to shame in the comity of nations. The Ramjanambhoomi matter was raised by the BJP during nineties to win elections and the BJP came to power ultimately on this hate propaganda and now it has worked out a clever strategy to perpetuate the controversy. While the BJP keeps on saying that construction of Ram temple is not on NDA agenda, the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal keep the issue of temple construction alive and they raise this issue with much more vehemence whenever elections are due in any state of in the Centre.

This time the Prime Minister himself initiated his election campaign from Ayodhya and again promising that ‘give us five more years and the temple will be constructed.’ How can a ‘secular’ government promise people to construct a temple or a mosque? And when Shankaracharya of Puri tried to intervene and established contacts with the Muslim Personal Law Board to solve the issue through dialogue and it was about to be resolved the RSS and VHP chiefs stormed the Shakaracharya’s place. They forced him to retreat so that temple issue remains alive and exploitable for votes. 
Also, the issue of Uniform Civil Code, which is purely secular issue and pertaining to gender justice was communalised by the BJP by adopting as ‘Hindutva Agenda’. What an irony? And do the Hindutva leaders believe in gender justice? Are they ready to give equal rights to women? All of us know that a secular issue like UCC was communalised by the BJP leaders only to create anti-minority feelings among the Hindus and to damage harmonious relations between the two communities. Earlier all women organisations were demanding UCC but once it became Hindutva agenda it was given up by all secular women’s organisations.

And by the way any party which feels proud of its ‘Hindutva agenda and proclaim it publicly can be elected to run a secular state? Can the secular constitution be safe in the hands of a party with the Hindutva agenda? Can India politically shine under a Hindutva party? Can there be communal peace under it. The BJP used to claim that when it comes to power there are no communal riots. What happened in Gujarat under its rule is now a history. It will make all secularists and humanists shudder forever. The Gujarat came close to fascists and Nazis of Germany.

The BJP has been in power since 1999. There was not a single year under it that did not witness communal violence. According to our research based on news paper reports and other sources number of riots took place every year. In the year 1999, 52 riots took place in which 43 people were killed and 248 injured. In the year 2000, 24 riots occurred in which 91 people were killed and 165 injured. In the year 2001, 27 riots erupted in which 56 were killed and 158 injured. In the year 2002, 28 communal riots were recorded (including Gujarat) in which 1173 persons lost their lives and 2272 were injured (unofficially in Gujarat alone more than 2000 people were killed according to private counts). And in the year 2003, 67 riots took place in which 58 people were killed and 611 were injured.

How truthful is the claim of the BJP that no communal violence occurs when it is in power? It is true these riots took place in those states also where the BJP was not in power but it has overall responsibility in the country and in most of these riots its family organisations like the RSS/VHP/Bajrang Dal were involved. There was not a single year, which was riot free under the NDA rule led by the BJP.

Now we have reports from Madhya Pradesh that under the BJP Chief Minister Ms. Uma Bharti a RSS Pracharak has been appointed as her adviser with cabinet rank. She has also set up a Hanuman temple in the courtyard of her chief ministerial bungalow. Is secularism shining or communal darkness intensifying? Where will all this end? Can anyone ever expect that India can remain secular under the leadership of Sangh Parivar? The BJP is an ideological child of the RSS and has always refused to sever its umbilical chord from its ideological mother.

When dual membership controversy arose in 1978 (and Mr.George Fernandese, now with BJP along with Raj Narayan and Madhu Limaye had raised it) the Jansangh members resigned from the Janata Party bringing down Morarji Desai Government rather than resigning from the RSS. And RSS has consistently refused to give up its Hindu Rashtra concept, which is in direct confrontation with the concept of secular India.

Those who think that India can politically shine only if secularism goes strong can never accept the NDA rule in which the BJP is a dominant partner, let alone if the BJP wins majority of its own. And the day BJP wins majority of its own all steps will be taken to convert India into Hindu Rashtra, even if it is not possible for them to repeat Gujarat like situation throughout the country. Then India will never shine again. 

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