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Let’s not change the narrative from ‘Sabka Saath’ to ‘We and They’

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Mr. Narendra Modi was overwhelmingly elected with much hope from a nation that had collectively fallen into a state of depression due to the ‘non-performance’ and other shortcomings of the UPA dispensation. Now, just 18 months later, millions watch in dismay at the several conflicting signals emerging from within BJP on contentious matters, leaving people to draw their own conclusions.

A case in point would be the recent rush to comment on Bollywood star Aamir Khan’s stance on intolerance in India. For example, within a span of just a day, three different versions have emanated from the BJP ranks. First, Mukhtar Naqvi says Aamir Khan isn’t going anywhere (“In fact, we won’t let him go.”). Second, Yogi Adityanath says Aamir Khan can go wherever he likes (“In this way at least our population will decrease.”). Third, Shahnawaz Khan says at a hurriedly called press conference that Aamir Khan’s statement is political and motivated (“Who’s advising you, Khan Saab?”).

Consider the path that events post-May 2014 have taken. The fringe elements and motormouths  went into overdrive, airing dubious declarations on multiple issues with the more prominent among them – Yogi Adityanath, Sakshi Maharaj, and Sadhvi Prachi – and add in the Sangeet Soms and Giriraj Singhs, crossing barriers of prudent public utterances with an impunity that no Indian born after independence may have seen.  When the nation expected the man of the moment, Prime Minister Modi, to step in and nip this burgeoning menace right in the bud, they were dismayed to find total silence from him. BJP spokespersons went around from one TV channel debate to another, pompously outshouting other debaters and offering unconvincing answers, and even questioning the integrity and nationalism of all dissenters. To such levels had their arrogance grown resting on the assurance that they were now in ‘ruling’ mode and there was a lot they could ‘do’ before having to re-compose themselves into ‘pre-election’ mode. Even the defeats in the Delhi and Bihar polls didn’t shake them out of their hubris.

If in view of all this, many members of our society felt that things were getting alarmingly out of hand and not enough was being done to rein in the motormouths, and these celebrated and nationally awarded intellectuals decided to record their protest in the only manner they were capable of, to draw maximum attention while being democratic, what was the need to condemn their action like was done? Why jump to question their motives instead of looking for possible merit in their protest? Why put forth petty arguments of timing and whataboutery to the action they’ve chosen in the present context? If people are representing to a government on the prevailing undesirable situation, hoping for solutions, isn’t it but obvious that it will be “political”? So why condemn it for being political? Is politics bad? Condemnable? And who’s saying it? Every spokesperson – official or otherwise – of our political ruling dispensation!

When people are pointing out to a government that there is growing intolerance in society and emergent steps are needed to quell it, a prudent dispensation must first and foremost look into the merit of such claims especially when there’s such a large diverse group of serious thinkers of our country making them. If there is substance in their representations, these must be addressed immediately.

Why? Because we, the common people of Indian society, are all at risk of serious harm when radical elements get an unimpeded run to act as per their free whims.  These ‘free minds’ will imagine different levels of licence and liberty depending on their individual intelligence and on their capabilities to whip up spontaneous mob hysteria.

A poster shot of the 1986 TV serial "Tamas"
A poster shot of the 1986 TV serial “Tamas”

One has only to imagine the fear of the person whose door is being smashed by a mob out to kill him (e.g. the Dadri incident, and also what all migrants faced during India’s partition, which is well depicted in Govind Nihalani’s 1986 TV serial ‘Tamas’). And then imagine also members of a community who live in constant fear that at any moment they could be next. Even imagine the fear of people who are at risk just for their ethnic looks (remember that some Sikhs in the US were attacked post 9/11, being mistaken for Muslims).  Jeffrey Archer’s short story ‘The Perfect Murder’ from his book ‘A Twist in the Tale’ poignantly describes the terrifying emotions experienced by a man hiding from someone, at every sound or movement outside his home. The hundred deaths he experiences in that air of fear. One has to be able to gauge this first, to at all begin to address the problem.

It does not pay to be smug about such things. That “it can’t affect us, surely?” In 1994 India suffered a deadly pneumonic plague epidemic which started in Surat, Gujarat, and spread to a few more states. In fact, such was the dread of the disease among the people of Surat that as per Wikipedia some 3,00,000 residents migrated from the city in a span of just 2 days. Then, as awareness of the disease grew and the rich and powerful people learned that it was a disease communicable through the air, and it wasn’t just the poor but they too who could be affected, did they raise a big hue and cry for immediate steps to be taken arrest the epidemic.

Such is the galvanizing power of fear.

Some of our country’s celebrities, intellectuals, and thinkers have seen a case for drawing the government’s attention to the problem of growing intolerance. They are from society as a whole – the society that forms the nation that Mr. Modi is the Prime Minister of. Our society, our Prime Minister. It is in everyone’s interest that such matters are addressed appropriately. For once things get out of hand, what initially appear as sporadic bush-fires will grow into one another to form one huge inferno that could engulf all – even the rich and powerful.

It seemed in May 2014 that the only way the UPA could get back into serious contention in national politics would be for the NDA to forfeit their mandate, which in turn didn’t seem likely to happen. The people who voted for you Mr.Modi are still hopeful, though some are shaken. Let not this “we-they” attitude towards dissenters spoil your vision. “Sabka Saath” is better any day.

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