Eminent jurist Fali Nariman hit out at the Narendra Modi government on Friday calling it 'majoritarian', and also expressed the view that Hinduism is losing its tolerance.
Arguing that the ‘Hindu tradition of tolerance is showing strain’, he said, “My apprehension is Hinduism is changing its benign face because…it is believed and proudly proclaimed by a few ,and not contradicted by those at the top, that it is because of their faith and belief that Hindus have been now put in the driving seat of governance.”
Nariman made this remark at a routine annual lecture organised by the National Commission of Minorities. Sparks flew, as the eminent jurist, chosing to be "unpopular rather than untruthful", highlighted increasing instances of hate speech, and indicated that Commission was failing to discharge its responsibility.
Minister of Minority Affairs, Najma Heptullah, responded by respecting Nariman’s right to hold his views, but claimed that the government and Prime Minister Modi were committed to safeguarding the rights and liberty of all minorities.
In his lecture, Nariman said he "welcomed" but also "feared" the strong majoritarian government in power at the centre.
Outlining the varied ways in which regimes dealt with minorities – either through forceful suppression and eradication, coercive or hostile toleration, voluntary or involuntary assimilation – Nariman highlighted that India’s founding fathers had chosen a liberal path, of "affirmative action for protection and preservation".
Yet, he said minorities were at "crossroads today" because "the body set up by parliament to protect minorities has omitted to take effective steps to protect them". He noted the almost daily "tirades" by individuals and groups against citizens belonging to a religious minority and agreed with the criticism that the government at the centre had done nothing to stop these tirades.
But saying governments will do what they do to advance their political interests, Nariman pointed to the role of the Commission. “The main task of the commission is protecting interests of the minorities. And how does one protect interests of a minority…who are on a daily basis lampooned and ridiculed and spoken against in derogatory language?”
He implored the NCM to use provisions of the law to initiate action against those indulging in hate speech. “A majoritarian government is elected and exists mainly on the vote of the majoritarian community..The Commission is an independent statutory body.”
Heptullah said that everyone had a right to have an opinion, and the right to like or dislike other people’s opinions. But she went out of her way to assure that the government was committed to minority interests. “There was even apprehension that if BJP came to power, if Modi became PM, the Ministry of Minority Affairs would be abolished. Nothing could be further from truth,” she said.
She said she had asked the PM what he would like her to do after taking charge, and Modi had told her to implement manifesto promises for minorities. “He also said with a lot of anguish that even after 60 years, Muslim community was deprived of basic rights of a citizen – these rights included education, shelter, security of a job, security of life.”
Modi, she said, had told her that it was her responsibility to create confidence among minorities that the government cares for them as much as it cares for the minority. “This is my guiding principle.” The minister also referred to the Sachar committee report to underline the backwardness among Muslims.
Nariman was also critical of the judiciary and said earlier, the courts had shown special solicitude for minorities regarded minority rights as preferred freedoms. “Minority rights are still regarded by the courts as fundamental rights, but, and I say this with regret, they are no longer regarded by the Judges of today as preferred freedoms.” he said.