Democratic India has to have a national identity

The Preamble to the Constitution of India describes maintenance of ‘unity and integrity of the nation’ as its prime objective. Reference to India being a Union of States is for defining the pattern of governance that the Constitution was to lay down in its text. It is strange that the world’s largest democracy born in 1947 could not – for reasons of internal politics – define the ‘idea of India’ in spite of this country’s deeply inclusive civilisational past and allowed the concept to remain vague, debatable and uncertain in terms of the nationalist values it was supposed to invoke amongst its citizens. Citizens of a free nation had every right to connect with their collective recall of history that inculcated in them a sense of oneness rooted in the shared happy and unhappy memories.

The political complexities flowing out of the traumatic division of India on communal lines built into the process of Independence itself and the approach of the Congress as the first ruling party of India, of presenting the democratic dispensation here as a contrast to Islamic Pakistan by ‘disowning’ any cultural heritage of the Hindu majority in India, created an amorphous kind of polity that was to open the way for putting the Muslim minority on a special footing for its numbers. All of this produced an unnatural environ for governance that seemed to run against the first democratic principle of ‘one man one vote’ followed in India from day one of the enforcement of Indian Constitution in 1950.

Our Constitution was inherently secular in as much as it drew no lines amongst the citizens in providing equal opportunities and equal protection of law to them but the Congress -apparently out of a sense of political insecurity – amended the Preamble in 1976 to introduce the adjective ‘secular’ for the State primarily to retain the loyalty of Muslim minority for the party. With the gradual but steady rise of BJP as a democratic party, Indian politics was clearly marked by a growing consciousness among other parties that in a situation of acute divide of the majority community due to politics of caste, language and region, the solid support of the Muslim minority was the only possible match winner in elections. There was no going back on this realpolitik which produced a competition among non- BJP parties in the advocacy for the ‘Muslim cause’

Early on, a narrative of majoritarianism, authoritarianism and anti- minority bias was built against Modi government by the opposition groups in concert with anti-BJP lobbies at home and abroad. The country has currently become prone to the politics of communal violence. India is only too familiar with the communal problem that afflicted this country for decades after Independence primarily because the Ulema and the elite guiding the minority community continued with their policy of projecting religious identity into politics, to claim a share of power on that basis and in the process got the ‘secular’ parties ruling then, to humour the Muslim minority in every possible way for its electoral numbers. The anti-Modi political parties in concert with leaders of the minority community, are selectively responding to cases of communal violence – blaming it all on the present leadership at the Centre. This is the same psyche that led them even to absolve Pakistan of any share of responsibility for perpetrating faith-based terrorism in Kashmir. They have run out of ideas on how to politically contest Modi’s leadership – Prime Minister Modi’s rapid rise as a world leader on the strength of the handling of international relations by him, was perhaps propelling the opposition to start running him down on the domestic front more and more.

Politics of condoning violence is a cause of great concern from the point of view of national security. Law and order is a state subject and therefore in any case of communally motivated violence-regardless of which side provoked it- the focus has to be on the accountability of the state government- not on settling scores with the Centre. Time has come for the state governments to live up to their autonomous role of preventing any mass violence with rigorous measures. Since communally sensitive Police Stations were already identified there should be no laxity on the part of the state Police in taking comprehensive preventive measures there- the DM and SP should be held directly responsible for ensuring the same. The Centre has a certain responsibility of monitoring the performance of officers of IAS and IPS- who were recruited, trained and allotted to states by it- and this should be put to an effective use at this juncture.

Unlike other crimes, communally motivated violence tends to get prolonged producing a cycle of action and reaction, makes it easy for the agents of the external adversary to dig in their heels and adds to the vulnerability of other sensitive areas. Serious notice has to be taken of the brazenness of Pakistan in declaring in its recently announced National Security doctrine that the ‘pro- Hindutva policies of Modi government had put the safety of India’s Muslims in jeopardy’. While the former Prime Minister of Pakistan- Imran Khan- put India-Pakistan relations in the Hindu-Muslim framework, his successor – Shehbaz Sharif – has done no better by talking of Kashmir as the core issue between the two countries and alleging that ‘Kashmiri’s blood was turning the valley red’. Pakistan’s game of causing internal destabilisation in India by instigating communal conflicts here is in the open now and the Intelligence set up of this country has the added challenge of detecting agent provocateurs recruited by ISI for that purpose. There is learning from the experience of recent years when communal militancy proved to be the route for the rise of terrorism and the spread of radicalisation. Indian Mujahideen (IM) emerging out of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) proved the point.

At present the internal security scene in India is potentially disturbed because of the revival of the historical disputes India had inherited in 1947 – mainly revolving round the destruction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, Kashi Vishwanath temple at Varanasi and the Krishna Janamsthan temple at Mathura. Construction of mosques there in an apparent pursuit of the Islamic mandate of subjugating idol worshippers during the Mughal period of Indian history and earlier – provoked strong Hindu sentiments on the issue that even took the form of a national movement. To stall that, Narsimha Rao government in its wisdom passed the Places of Worship Act in Parliament in July 1991 putting a lid on the disputes at Varanasi and Mathura while exempting Ayodhya from its application. An Act of Parliament can always be contested before the higher judiciary and this is happening now in regard to the 1991 legislation.

The question is whether the Hindu’s sense of continued hurt due to a dark chapter of Mughal history justified corrective action in Independent India and whether it was logical for the leadership of the minority community here to identify itself with the doings of a bigoted ruler like Aurangzeb? Both Hindus and Muslims – at least the bulk of the latter represented by Deobandis- had condemned the colonial British rule in India. Why was then this divergence in responding to the infamous side of the earlier Muslim invadors? It is possible that Partition of India forced in the name of Islam, made the leaders of Indian Muslims cling to any links that religion provided to them with these outside rulers and with Pakistan. This however, will only aggravate the situation. Exclusivism of a religion that led it to ‘reject’ other faiths, had to be first worked on by the community’s own leadership. The impression of faith-based separatism had to be remedied so that an inevitable backlash resulting from it could be minimised.

By voluntarily showing an approach of accommodation towards the mass sentiment of Hindus in respect of these particular places of worship that connected with the Hindu Gods, Muslim leaders could have demanded that a closure be put on these unhappy historical memories and thus helped to take the country beyond them, on to the path of ‘development for all’. People of all communities after all had the same concerns of the common man regarding livelihood and betterment of his children. This however, may not necessarily happen considering that many of the Minority leaders for their own narrow politics had even questioned the word ‘nationalism’ and went to the extent of interpreting the gesture of saluting the national flag and standing up during the national anthem as an imposition on Muslims.

Unless good sense prevails, the country will be in for an uncompromisingly tough response of the State against mass violence on communal lines. Projection of religious identity into politics is bad enough but asserting the exclusivism of faith in socio-cultural sphere is equally harmful for communal harmony. In any case the democratic sovereign State where the political executive did not carry a denominational stamp, had in the final analysis, the locus standi to intervene effectively even in a situation of religious conflict – in the wider public interest.

Disturbances on the domestic front are attracting attention at a time when India has emerged as a major voice in international relations and the leadership of Prime Minister Modi is on the rise at the global stage in giving a push both to conflict resolution and economic development. New initiatives to take India’s relations forward, particularly in our neighbourhood -with Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Mauritius – have complemented Modi’s foreign policy and added to India’s stature notwithstanding the hostile attitude of the Sino-Pak axis towards this country. Internal trouble makers working in league with India’s adversaries have to be put down with a sense of urgency because no democracy could function with problems of domestic violence at hand. It needs to be mentioned here that India’s policy on Ukraine-Russia military conflict had worked well – guided as it was by the nation’s enlightened self interest, considerations for world peace and impartiality towards both sides. A UN-sponsored body of interlocutors including those from India could help with multi-prong negotiations to work out a framework of possible agreement in which concerns of both parties and their supporters would be squarely addressed. This is the need of the hour judging from the fact that India held its ground on the issue even at the recent Quad summit at Tokyo.

(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)




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