The government’s decision to convene a meeting on October 13 of the National Integration Council (NIC) after more than three years is clearly aimed at allowing political bosses and leaders of civil society vent their feelings regarding the worsening communal situation in the country. Significantly, the meeting is being held just four days before the Parliament session and could pave the agenda for the next Lok Sabha elections likely to be held this winter.
The UPA is desperate to have its secular credentials re-established. This, despite several other political entities, including the Left, vying for that space. Current allies like the Samajwadi Party, too, are keen to get back their Muslim votebank.
Being a member of the NIC since it was re-constituted in 2005, I have often wondered why the government did not deem it proper to call its meeting when things had started deteriorating. Acts of terrorism were threatening to create an emotional divide between the two major communities. And now violence against Christians has set regions in several states on fire.
It is true that law and order is a state subject. But the Centre has certain responsibilities it cannot absolve itself from. India has been threatened like never before and the threat is from within as much as it is from outside. It is not only the communal elements that are responsible but also casteist and regional ones.
There are no first among equals, neither from the majority community or from the minorities. This has to be understood by our politicians who go in for votebank politics and start appeasing one community at the expense of the other.
What has to be avoided at all cost at such a meeting is not to turn it into a forum for scoring brownie points. Politics can be debated in Parliament and during elections. This, however, is an opportunity to save this nation from disintegrating. So it needs to be emphasised that challenges before the country are at various levels and each has to be understood in order to be resolved.
For instance, the fight against terrorism should not get reduced to a drive against Muslims simply because those arrested happen to be from that community. At the same time, Muslims must understand that the rule of law will prevail and no one doubts their patriotism, but those responsible for acts of terror have to be punished.
Similarly, attacks on Christians were highly condemnable and those responsible for them must be dealt with sternly. Outfits like the Bajrang Dal must be made to understand that lumpen behaviour is unacceptable and if they persist they shall be punished. The timing of the attacks is linked with the coming polls and the Sangh Parivar wants to polarise society for its own gains.
But, unfortunately, issues are likely to remain unresolved even after the NIC meeting. Castetists and communalists have always worked together and might do so again. Each benefits from the other. National parties like the Congress will have to bear the brunt as they can’t take strident positions. But the Congress has to pay a price if it goes to bed with caste-based parties that rake up inverse communalism. The association gives such forces legitimacy — as VP Singh and the Left’s association with the BJP had in 1989-90.
I won’t be present at Monday’s meeting as I’m in London. But I will very much want this meeting to succeed for the sake of India. Political parties must ensure that the country is above politics. Between us.