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Blunting this sharp divide

Elections no longer appear to be the arena of choice between alternative political and ideological directions and policies, writes Sitaram Yechury.

india Updated: Apr 02, 2009 14:50 IST

The recent eruption of communal clashes across the country points towards a serious distortion that threatens to dominate the functioning of parliamentary democracy in India. During the last two decades, since the run-up to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the systematic whipping up of communal polarisation and the consequent electoral dividends appear to buttress the tendency to take recourse to this disastrous route as the main pathway to capture the reins of political power.

Elections no longer appear to be the arena of choice between alternative political and ideological directions and policies.

Increasingly, elections are being reduced as the theatre to garner support through sharpened communal polarisation.

Thus, the future of India, the prosperity of its people, its standing in the comity of nations — in fact, all issues that will determine our future seem to have taken the back seat. Communalism, thus, has emerged as the worst expression of ‘vote-bank’ politics.

As the orgy of bestial attacks against the Christian minority continues unabated in Orissa, Karnataka etc, come the gruesome reports of communal violence in Assam. So far, over 50 lives have been lost and close to 100,000 of people have been forced to flee their homes. The clashes between the ethnic Bodo tribals and the Muslims who are alleged to have illegally migrated are laying the foundations to whip up chauvinistic passions, so often a decisive factor in determining the electoral outcome in the state.

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM), in a severe indictment of the Karnataka government, has said that the BJP-led state government was ‘soft’ on the Bajrang Dal, ignoring ample warnings of impending violence against the Christian minorities. It also notes that after widespread outrage, the Karnataka police had arrested the Bajrang Dal state convenor.

He was, however, released soon on bail. On the contrary, many Christian victims were arrested, refused bail and continue to languish in jails.

The RSS and the Bajrang Dal have now threatened that only those Dalit Christians who covert to Hinduism can return to rebuild their destroyed homes in Kandhamal, Orissa. The allegation of forcible conversions has been the basis for launching these bestial attacks against the tribal Christians. Tribals all over India have their own animistic religious practices.

In Kandhamal, there are two major tribes — the Kandhas and the Dalit Panas. Over the years, sections of the former embraced Hinduism while sections of the latter embraced Christianity. It is the latter that the RSS and its tentacles target in order to consolidate their ‘Hindu vote-bank’.

Unable to defend such atrocities unleashed by his ‘parivar’, L.K. Advani claimed that he has a soft corner for Christians as he studied in a missionary school in Karachi. In the same breath, he repeated his favourite pastime of calling for a ‘national debate’ on religious conversions. This is a perfidious argument. If animist tribals embrace Hinduism, then it is not ‘conversion’. However, if they embrace Christianity or any other religion, then it is ‘religious conversion’.

Moreover, Advani has also called for an ‘inter-religious dialogue’ to strengthen ‘Indian-ness’.

However, his RSS and BJP have all along maintained that Hinduism alone qualifies as a religion while all others are only sects. This is amplified in their demand to replace ‘dharma nirpekshata’ in our Constitution with ‘panth nirpekshata’. Will Advani seek an inter-religious dialogue where all religions are treated on a par?

Such sharpening of communal polarisation for political gains only feeds terroristic response from the other side. By now, it is a prominent part of public discourse that the recent spate of terrorist attacks has also, as one of its contributors, the real and perceived injustice felt by the religious minorities in the country. While terrorism is simply unacceptable and must be combated, this needs to be done on the basis of impeccable impartiality by the organs of the State. Terrorism knows no religion. It is simply anti-national.

The recent spate of terrorist attacks in Muslim-dominated areas has raised genuine suspicions of a Hindu hard-line response to some Muslim terrorist actions. The recent bomb attack in Malegaon, where four Muslims were killed in a locality crowded with people who had broken their Ramzan fast, buttresses such suspicions. When the media questioned the police wheth-
er Hindu hard-liners were suspected, Maharashtra’s additional director general of the police (law and order) said, “At this stage, we cannot rule out the possibility.”

Police investigations in the past few years have noted the involvement of the Bajrang Dal or other RSS tentacles in various bomb blasts across the country — in 2003, in Parbani, Jalna and in Jalgaon districts of Maharashtra; in 2005, in the Mau district of Uttar Pradesh; in 2006, in Nanded; in January 2008, at the RSS office in Tenkasi, Tirunelveli; in August 2008, in Kanpur etc. Internal security of our country can be strengthened only when all such cases are also probed impartially and with the same degree of intensity.

While the attempt to whip up communal polarisation to derive political benefit at the cost of the country and the blood of its people must be defeated, efforts to combat terrorism and strengthen internal security must be conducted with utmost impartiality.

The National Integration Council convened on October 13 must take effective steps to maintain the secular democratic character of India and work towards ridding this distortion from our system.

(Sitaram Yechury is a Rajya Sabha MP and a member of the CPI(M) Politburo)