It is particularly dispiriting to see that soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi reaffirmed his faith in democratic values at Paris, some of his NDA colleagues and affiliates in the Sangh parivar were advertising their appalling views for all to witness.
Addressing Unesco on April 10, Mr Modi stated that his government “will ensure that every citizen, of every faith, culture and creed has an equal place in our society”.
He said the strength of every nation “is determined by joined hands of every citizen” and noted that progress should be judged “not just by the cold statistics of growth, but by the warm glow of belief and hope on human faces”.
His colleagues evidently do not agree.
The PM’s message was undercut by a series of outrageous comments from important figures in the Sangh parivar. Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, writing in the party mouthpiece Saamana, used extremely offensive language against political opponents and openly argued for taking away the voting rights of the Muslims, because they ‘play vote bank politics’.
BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj called for a strict family planning law and said those avoiding sterilisation should not have the right to vote.
And on April 11, Sadhvi Deva Thakur, vice-president of the Hindu Mahasabha, called for imposition of Emergency and forcible sterilisation of Muslims and Christians so that “they can’t increase their numbers”.
The sadhvi also suggested that idols of Hindu gods and goddesses be installed in mosques and churches.
These are very grave developments — only those who have an utter disregard for India’s future will ignore them.
The Shiv Sena may be insecure about losing ground to the BJP in Maharashtra but attempting to recover support by targeting minorities is unacceptable. Mr Raut’s comments, alongside those of Sakshi Maharaj and the sadhvi, are forms of hate speech that are liable for prosecution in many democratic societies.
But owing to India’s institutional weaknesses, charges in such instances are either rarely filed or are not cases followed through owing to the political clout of the offenders.
In the end, such rhetoric achieves the purposes for which it was spouted — to poison minds, generate local tensions and sharpen political preferences in favour of those projecting themselves as protectors of groups.
What is particularly worrying is that this is the new normal. Shocking statements circulate in the public sphere without sustained censure. The intelligentsia and the news cycle take an interest for a while and move on to the next spectacle while minorities absorb the implications and feel perpetually threatened and intimidated.
The government’s development rhetoric does not sit easily with the lack of attention to the social divides that are being actively created.