Prophet row: Turn the page - Hindustan Times
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Prophet row: Turn the page

ByHT Editorial
Jun 12, 2022 08:14 PM IST

The government, political parties and community leaders need to come together to appeal for calm, repair fraying communal relations and ensure administrative responses, while being tough and quick, are also fair

A controversy over ill-advised remarks by two Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokespersons on Prophet Mohammed has kept the country on the boil for two weeks now, sparked a wave of condemnation from Muslim-majority nations and resulted in sweeping protests across major Indian cities, some violent clashes and the loss of two lives. The political, diplomatic and social ramifications of the remarks, and their aftermath, have been far-reaching and deepened a sense of alienation among sections of Muslims. Regrettable as the incident was, this newspaper believes it is now time to turn the page. The government, political parties and community leaders need to come together to appeal for calm, repair fraying communal relations and ensure administrative responses, while being tough and quick, are also fair (and seen as such). To this end, a three-pronged response is required.

Security personnel patrols on a street after violence erupted between police and protesters over a comment on Prophet Mohammed, Howrah, June 11, 2022 (REUTERS) PREMIUM
Security personnel patrols on a street after violence erupted between police and protesters over a comment on Prophet Mohammed, Howrah, June 11, 2022 (REUTERS)

First, political parties must invest energy and capital in ensuring that any form of hate speech or extremist rhetoric is not incentivised or seen as a way to get noticed among the ranks. In a multi-cultural society such as India, divisive words will always carry short-term political rewards but as the external fallout has shown, threaten to strike at the foundations of India’s democratic project and tarnish the country’s standing in the world. This also drives a wedge among communities, creating hurdles for economic and social progress and distractions at a time the country faces formidable economic, health, education and foreign policy challenges. Two, community leaders must appeal to their more impressionable constituents to not be swayed by rhetoric that seeks to sow seeds of discord and rancour, or issue open or barely disguised calls to violence. Faith leaders, particularly, must be alert to forestall such attempts by demagogues to radicalise young minds and see people with different beliefs as a dangerous other.

And three, the administration must be tough but reasonable in its response to the fury unleashed by the row. Destruction of property or violence cannot be condoned, nor can be the loss of life or death threats, but all action against such incidents must be in accordance with the law and established procedure. Bypassing deliberative processes that are designed to ensure fairness and opportunity to the accused are not only dangerous for the health of India’s criminal justice system but also create a perception of selective action and arbitrariness that germinate further resentment and strife. Public spectacles such as demolishing houses may have popular support but will ultimately hurt the pursuit of lasting peace. To ensure the life of dignity and respect promised in the Constitution, the country has to urgently come together.

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