This column is being filed on the 84th anniversary of the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. It is, indeed, ironic to see blazing full-page colour advertisements in national dailies announcing that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will flag off the memorial meeting at Hussainiwala, Punjab. Functioning as the political arm of the RSS, this Modi government is patronising the fast degenerating atmosphere of the spread of communal poison leading to increased physical attacks against minority religious personalities and places of worship. The latest is the recent attack on a church in Navi Mumbai, closely following the recent despicable rape of a septuagenarian nun of the Convent of Jesus and Mary at Ranaghat in the Nadia district of West Bengal. By now it has become common that no perpetrators of such crimes are promptly arrested.
Recollect that India’s first deputy prime minister and home minister Sardar Vallabhai Patel, soon after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, had penned a communiqué announcing the banning of the RSS by saying, “The objectionable and harmful activities of the Sangh (RSS) have, however, continued unabated and the cult of violence sponsored and inspired by the activities of the Sangh has claimed many victims. The latest and the most precious to fall was Gandhiji himself.” The atmosphere in the country, today, unless prevented by the unity of all Indian patriots who cherish the secular democratic foundations of our Republic, is fast degenerating on these lines.
The reasons for such a degenerating atmosphere are not far to see. At the recent Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha, the highest decision-making authority of the RSS, held in Nagpur, between March 14 and 16, a decision was taken to carry forward the communal agenda in a multi-pronged manner. Through such a campaign, this conclave called for the expansion of the RSS to reach from its 54,000 villages today to all the 650,000 villages in the country. Top BJP leaders attending this meeting included its president Amit Shah and VHP chief Praveen Togadia.
The RSS has unequivocally declared at this meet, once again, that there are no religious minorities in India. According to it, all Indians are ‘culturally, nationally and DNA-wise Hindus’. National dailies report that the ghar wapsi campaign is the ‘thrust area’ of the RSS today.
Attributing to sources, the media reported that the RSS chief had said that the British had started conversions in India since the 14th century (sic) and now that “people want to come back to Hinduism, swayamsewaks have to help that happen.”
In contrast, the National United Christian Forum representing the leadership of the church in India has issued a statement on March 18, saying that Indian Christians “rejoice in India’s ancient and rich diversity of cultures, languages, religions and ethnicities…The cultural DNA of India of pluralism and diversity is being threatened…. A nation of cultural homogeneity is an impossibility.”
It is precisely such efforts to create “a nation of cultural homogeneity” that the RSS is seeking today. Aggressive pursuit of the hardcore Hindutva agenda by sharpening communal polarisation is the means that they have adopted. This is generating a dangerous atmosphere in the country.
This agenda is unfolding. The Modi government spokesmen have announced the pressing for stronger anti-cattle slaughter laws in all states while pursuing the legislative route in the states ruled by the BJP. The Maharashtra government has recommended penal action against those found eating beef.
The RSS conclave justified the crass opportunism shown by the BJP in joining a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir. However, it continues to say that it remains opposed to Article 370 and is waiting for the time to ensure that this happens. The RSS joint general secretary declared, after this conclave that, “[The] RSS’ stand on Article 370 has not changed; we will never compromise on it. We want the situation to improve. If the situation does not improve, then we will decide”. The potential threat hidden in this statement is unmistakable.
It is, indeed, ironic that Modi and, hence, the RSS should be observing the martyrdom day of Bhagat Singh who unequivocally and openly declared that he was an atheist and propagated the harmonious co-existence of people belonging to all religious faiths and atheists in India. Responding to a query by a freedom fighter and co-prisoner in the Lahore Central Jail (1930-31), Singh explained why he is an atheist and said that he will “stand like a man with an erect head to the last, even on the gallows”. Singh’s martyrdom is inseparable from his commitment for the socialist transformation of all Indians. Remember, it was he who gave the slogan of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ to our national freedom struggle.
Modi marking this martyrdom is ironic also in the sense that while the PMO occasionally tweets the PM’s non-public utterances urging the ‘spirit of tolerance’, the PM brazenly refused to give any assurance to Parliament that action, as prescribed by the existing Indian Penal Code, will be taken against Cabinet ministers and BJP MPs for their vicious communal statements. Religious tolerance is, of course, necessary. However, this alone is not sufficient to preserve and strengthen secularism. This can only happen when the constitutional guarantee of equality of people belonging to all religious faiths is ensured in letter and spirit. It is this equality that Modi refuses to guarantee as it runs contrary to the RSS project of transforming our secular democratic Republic into a rabidly intolerant ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
This is the dual agenda pursued by the Modi government: Patronising the sharpening of communal polarisation and brazenly advancing economic policies that permit, both, foreign and domestic corporates to maximise profit at the expense of the vast majority of our people and through the indiscriminate loot of our resources.
(Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed by the author are personal.)