Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the worst victim of the “ideological intolerance” practised by the Congress, Left thinkers and activists, finance minister Arun Jaitley said on Sunday, turning the tables on members of rival parties and the intelligentsia who accuse the government of stoking communal polarisation and muzzling dissent.
Jaitley made the comment in a social media post a day after President Pranab Mukherjee, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and RBI governor Raghuram Rajan all underscored the importance of tolerance and need for coexistence amid rising religious tensions in the country.
The finance minister said while the Modi government was trying to accelerate India’s economic growth, many had never intellectually accepted the idea of the BJP being in power. This, he added, obviously included the Congress, many Left thinkers and activists.
“Over decades they have practised ideological intolerance towards BJP. Since 2002, the Prime Minister himself has been the worst victim of ideological intolerance,” he wrote.
Apart from political rivals, the remarks purportedly referred to over 50 writers, artists and filmmakers who have over the past month returned prestigious awards as well as prominent scientists and thinkers who have signed petitions against the prevailing communal hostilities that they say are being fanned by BJP leaders and fringe groups.
Jaitley’s statements came on a day home minister Rajnath Singh asked artists and intellectuals to meet Modi and suggest ways to resolve the crisis, while wondering why the NDA government and the Prime Minister were being targeted.
“Returning awards is not the right thing,” he said at an event in Varanasi. “I request the writers and scientists to come and meet the Prime Minister and give their suggestions. The Union government will take concrete steps on those.”
Describing as a “stray incident” the mob lynching of a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh over cow slaughter rumours a few weeks ago, Jaitley said India remained a highly tolerant and liberal society.
“Our cultural values have imbibed co-existence,” he said. “India has repeatedly rejected intolerance. It does not respond to provocations.”
His comments drew sharp reactions from the Congress and added to a smash-mouth debate amid concerns of caste and communal polarisation in the wake of 55-year-old Mohammad Ikhlaq’s killing in UP, a spate of violence against rationalists and two Dalit children being burnt alive in Haryana.
The senior BJP leader said the strategy of the protesters was twofold. Firstly, obstruct Parliament and not permit reforms which would bring credit to the Modi government. Secondly, create, by structured and organised propaganda, an environment that there was a social strife in India.
“They wish to project India as an intolerant society. The truth is otherwise,” the minister wrote, days after international credit rating agency Moody’s warned that the country could lose domestic and global credibility if Modi didn’t rein in some of the more right-wing members of his administration. “Perpetrators of this propaganda never allowed alternative viewpoints to grow in either universities, academic institutions or cultural bodies that they have controlled. Their intolerance extends to not accepting an alternative ideological pole.”
Jaitley said Ikhlaq’s killing was both unfortunate and condemnable and maintained that the guilty would be taken to task.
Notwithstanding such aberrations, he said, “It is, therefore, incumbent upon every well-wisher of India and the present Government to make sure that no action or statement of his provides a tool in the hands of those who want to obstruct India’s growth story. The obstructers have a simple plan - if they can’t fight politically, they fight with hostile propaganda.”
The Congress hit back at Jaitley, saying he was out to please his “boss” while dubbing his remarks “ridiculous”.
“Jaitley, he is out to please the boss (Modi)...it does not behove him to talk like this at a time when common man to the President and Moody’s to industrialists, the intellectual class, those who read books and write books, are expressing concerns over the rising atmosphere of intolerance,” said party spokesperson Ajoy Kumar. “Even the US President Obama has talked about this (intolerance).”