I hold a Padma Bhushan and I have no intention of returning it! A careful analysis of intolerance in society can be traced to caste, religion, gender and culture. Caste intolerance in terms of atrocities against Dalits is shamefully not new. One cannot forget the Thevar-Dalit fights in Tamil Nadu or the Ranvir and other sena-organised atrocities in the north. In terms of religion, is not global terrorism by and large traced to jihadist movements? Are not many terror attacks in India a fallout of the same jihadist movement? In such a case the intellectuals would assume a lofty position that a terrorist has no religion, but if a Hindu group is implicated, no time is lost in labelling it Hindu terrorism. Rape is a manifestation of gender intolerance.
From the December 16 Delhi gangrape case to labelling Delhi as the rape capital, how many intellectuals have returned their awards? Fringe elements indulging in shocking moral policing in terms of dress code or man-woman relationships are hyped as a national onslaught on personal freedom of choice. None of these, including a ban on eating beef (I am a strict vegetarian), are acceptable in a modern society. But, are the intellectuals selective in choosing the events and time for the hype on intolerance?
The major concern is that the target seems to be the central government, in particular Prime Minister Narendra Modi, irrespective of where the incidents have taken place. It is a fact that there were those who could never accept Modi
as prime minister, vilifying him for the Godhra riots. But, the fact remains that he was voted to office by the people of this country and has established a great rapport with the youth. He wants to take the country through the development path and has received tremendous welcome abroad and has initiated unprecedented moves such as Swachh Bharat and Make in India with far-reaching implications. It is difficult to link someone with such progressive thinking for development to giving tacit approval for an environment of intolerance, which will only defeat his own dream.
Why should not a group of intellectuals with misgivings meet Modi rather than resorting to returning awards and then expecting him to meet them to assuage their feelings? As a scientist I do have problems with the science-support policy of the government, but I am prepared to debate and write to put across my point.
Modi pays the price for being articulate. Everybody expects him to respond to every event and whenever he responds it is ‘too little, too late’. I feel the hype on intolerance created by politicians, some intellectuals and the visual media frenzy is not good for the country to reach the goals of development. It will project a poor image of India and can affect investments.
G Padmanaban is former director, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
The views expressed are personal