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Posted Online on Tuesday 20, September 2005 22:55 IST

National Integration Council – Is it a useful institution? 

By Asghar Ali Engineer

The Milli Gazette (online edition); September 20, 2005

The newly constituted National Integration Council (NIC) held its first meeting on 31st August in Vigyan Bhavan, Delhi. This meeting presided over by the Prime Minister Shri Manmohan Singh took place after a gap of 13 years. The NDA Government led by the BJP was just not interested in communal harmony or national integration. It is quite understandable. Even after the Gujarat carnage of 2002 Mr. Vajpayee did not think it worthwhile to convene its meeting. The BJP thrives on communal ideology so how can it give any importance to such an exercise for better inter-communal relations.

The last meeting of NIC was convened in 1992 just before demolition of Babri Masjid in which Mr. Vajpayee had given assurance that kar seva would be symbolic and Babri Masjid would not be touched. He did not fulfil his promise. Instead some documents now show that Vajpayee had indicated in his speech in Lucknow on 5th December 1992 that the Masjid would be demolished.

Mr. Vajpayee was present on the stage along with two other former Prime Ministers Shri I.K. Gujral and V.P. Singh. However, no one remembered Shri Vajpayee’s speech in the NIC meeting twelve years ago. Ms. Sonia Gandhi also sat through the meeting which lasted from 10 a.m. to 6-30 p.m. Mr. L.K. Advani was also there throughout the meeting. Shri Shivraj Patil, Home Minister conducted the meeting as a convenor. Shri. Lalu Prasad Yadav, Shri Arjun Singh and Shri Paswan also remained present throughout the meeting.

Chief Ministers of all the states too were present including Mr. Narendra Modi. The agenda paper came under criticism from some members. Mr. John Dayal, a member of the council had raised objection to the agenda paper a day before the meeting and issued a statement criticising the agenda on the grounds that it describes Gujarat carnage as ‘riots’ and states conversion as cause of communal tension between Hindus and Christians. This objection was raised by some members before beginning of the meeting also. However, Shri Shivraj Patil said that please ignore the agenda. However, Shri Narendra Modi congratulated the Government for formulating this agenda and stating conversion as the cause of communal tension between Hindus and Christians. It is really unfortunate that the secular government of UPA formulated the agenda in this manner. It shakes the confidence of people in secular credentials of the government. Even if some bureaucrats formulated it this way the Home Minster should scrutinise it properly.

The meeting was inaugurated by Prime Minister Shri Manmohan Singh and his speech was very much appreciated. He said that the first NIC was constituted in 1961 (after Jabalpur riots which had shaken Jawaherlal Nehru). Nehru was very sincere in promoting national integration. Since its constitution and upto 1992 in all 12 meetings were held, P.M. informed. He spelled out purpose of the NIC and importance of national integration. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi made very brief speech and said she is more interested in listening than speaking. She said national integration is part of our common minimum programme of UPA. We are committed to ideological battle against communal forces which seek to destroy our diversity and polarise us. Certain parties promote polarisation and confrontation. There are certain regimes in India which promote communalism. 

Shri A.B. Vajpayee said in his speech that the first NIC was constituted in 1961 and under the leadership of Nehru we committed ourselves to national integration (really?). We should renounce violence (what about Gujarat?) and our mistakes should not break India. He also suggested that political parties should observe a code of conduct (why not make beginning with the BJP which is often found preaching hatred) and Lakshman Rekha should not be crossed (who will control Narendra Modi?). He also said that ekta (unity) is not enough, we should aim at ekatmta (oneness of spirit).

Shri V.P. Singh said that we are meeting after 12 years like the Kumbh Mela. Let us meet every year and meeting should last for two days and resolutions should be adopted and in the next meeting we should evaluate what have we done in last one year. Shri Singh said that the country lives on dreams; our dreams have been broken. We have to rebuild our dreams. Gandhiji gave us dream. We are fortunate to have all great religions in our country but it has become source of conflict for us. There are common values in all religions. We must set up and institute to establish commonalities in all religions.

Shri I.K. Gujral said in his speech that NIC should not work as mere fire-brigade. It should create an atmosphere of unity in the country. Our education system does not breed sprit of unity. We should also organise Bharat Darshan for our school children to breed the spirit of unity. We should also ensure equal rights for women.

Mr. L.K. Advani said that we are proud that our Constitution did not use the word secularism but we were committed to sarva dharma sambhava (equal respect for all religions). It is at the core of our values. We even accepted Charvak and called him a rishi. Pakistan surrendered 500 Al-Qaida terrorists. We are proud that there is not single Muslim terrorist in India. It is because of our secular democracy. In democracy dialogue is most important. Any narrow mindedness should be rejected. Sweet words often violated by the BJP. Mr. Advani himself needs to practice what he is preaching.

Shri Lalu Prasad yadav said there are caste injustices which must be removed. Who keeps alive Ayodhya and Mathura. In such atmosphere how can we ensure national integration. Communalism is the greatest danger for the country. We have to fight communal forces with determination.

Mr. Dayanidhi Maran, the Central Minister of D.M.K. maintained that states should have full autonomy and DMK is firmly opposed to uniform civil code. It will destroy spirit of communal harmony. The minorities should have all the opportunities and feel secure. The Muslim and Christian dalits should be given reservations to remove sense of injustice from their minds. 

Mr. Ram Jethmalani, the noted advocate said that without just society you cannot promote national integration. For poor it means nothing. I am all for pampering minorities. Minorities should not feel insecure. Without that national integration has no meaning. I have all admiration for the Prophet of Islam. He said one who walks in the path of knowledge walks in the path of God and that ink of a scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr. Very inspiring words indeed, Shri Jethmalani said.

Mr. Prakash Karat of CPM said that NIC is meeting after a long gap and for the first time after the UPA Government was formed must give a call for restoring and strengthening the secular principles in all spheres of the state and its institutions. In the recent period systematic pogrom was conducted against minority community in Gujarat after the Godhra train incident. It will be unwise to ignore the meaning of such mass violence with State sponsorship for the future of communal harmony and national unity of the country. The NIC should draw lessons from this horrific event. The first step should be to ensure justice for those who suffered in this violence. The perpetrators of the crimes have not been punished yet. The Central Government has responsibility to pursue the matter. If we look back at the history of communal violence in the country, we find that seldom do the organizers and perpetrators of communal violence get brought to trial and justice rendered. In discussing the prevention of communal violence, a system of accountability of the administration and official dealing with law and order must also be ensured.

Though it is good news that incidents of communal violence have gone down but reports of low intensity violence and targeted attacks against the minorities in states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Orissa are coming. Organisations like VHP, Bajrang Dal and host of outfits with a majority communal outlook are targeting both Christians and Muslims. In recent years, the communalisations of educational system has been introduced in the textbooks and obscurantist and regressive ideas incorporated in the syllabus. Beginning with NCERT measures have to be taken to revise textbooks and educational material.

Mr. Paswan pointed out that our country is surrounded by minorities such as in North East, Punjab, Kashmir. They must feel secure, if country is to feel secure. He also said why conversion should be banned. Who converts – dalits who were treated with contempt? Why should they not convert? Where there is dirty nullah there will be mosquitoes. No use killing only mosquitoes, remove dirty water and mosquitoes will vanish. 

Sita Ram Yechuri of CPM criticised Vajpayee for suggesting ekatmata instead of ekta. Ekta assumes diversity whereas ekatmata assumes assimilation. BJP believes in assimilation, not in unity. Also we should not use word ‘panth nirpeksha for secularism but dharma nirpeksh. Panth nirpeksha suggests that only Hinduism is dharma and all other religions are panths. This is not acceptable.

I said that NIC should not become mere talking shop. It should take concrete decisions and before the meeting concrete suggestions should be invited from members, these suggestions should be screened and common ones eliminated and rest should be discussed and suggestions adopted and implemented in time bound programme. I also said that we cannot promote national integration if the guilty in the riots go unpunished. In Hashimpura, Meerut, 32 youth were shot dead and their bodies thrown into canal by the PAC jawans in 1987 and yet not a single PAC jawan has been punished. The Srikrishna Commission report has still not been implemented. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra is sitting here. What has he done to implement it? How can then minorities have confidence in law and order machinery?

The Prime Minister offered concluding remarks in the end and the meeting came to a close. [Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai]
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