Actor Aamir Khan’s recent comments on rising intolerance in India have created a storm. Ironically, critics who took umbrage at Khan’s comments are underscoring the actor’s point. If the slightest hint of dissent from populist opinion leads to being branded as a traitor, then we are anything but a tolerant nation.
To Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration’s credit, since taking over power in 2014, he has been able to fulfil many of his political plans. His developmental priorities are also moving in the right direction.
After a decade of unprecedented corruption and poor governance, Modi’s vision of India as an economic superpower and a developed nation by 2020, has captured the imaginations of many.
We must understand, however, that a vibrant and secular democracy is essential for economic progress.
Since the BJP’s return to power, emboldened Hindu hardliners have made their presence felt in dangerous ways.
Just months after the BJP’s rise to power, VHP leader and MP, Sadhvi Prachi suggested that Hindu women should have at least four children to protect the religion.
Early this year, Modi said, “My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the minority or the majority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly.” Strong words indeed, but followed by weak action, if any.
Mobs, emboldened by the government’s decision to enforce a ban on cow slaughter, have attacked Muslims and accused them of consuming beef. While a ban to put an end to animal cruelty would have been laudable, doing so just because
Hindus believe it is sacrilegious is an affront to secularism.
However, the Right-wing groups are not the sole instigators of intolerance. From the post-partition riots to the unprovoked attacks on people from the North-east in Delhi and becoming the first country to ban Salman Rushdie’s Satanic
Verses, India has always been an ethnically fragmented country, covered by a fragile veil of democracy and secularism. Nevertheless, the rise in intolerance when correlated with the rise of the BJP cannot be dismissed as a coincidence.
Most of us support the concept of a secular democracy in the abstract, but we forget that dissent forms the heart of a democracy.
All India needs to do is look at its neighbour, Pakistan to see how decades of religious intolerance has resulted in economic, political and social chaos.
If we would really like to become a developed nation and an economic powerhouse by 2020, we must remember that being a superpower also entails being a tolerant and vibrant democracy.
Ash Murthy is a software engineer
The views expressed are personal