The last time a Prime Minister (the late PV Narasimha Rao; in 1992) invoked the word “moratorium” (on problems and conflicts), a mosque was demolished. Twenty-two years on, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about moratorium (on communalism, casteism and violence) from the ramparts of the Red Fort as Rao before him, one was almost overcome with a sense of foreboding. That foreboding was proved correct by a series of subsequent developments, one more shocking than the other, which have roiled the nation like never before in recent memory.
The land of Gandhi is a mute witness to the idea of India being “broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls”, to quote Rabindranath Tagore. Anything, including some of the things we took for granted, is fair game! Consider the visceral reactions from some quarters to food (beef and meat ban), language (Hindi), marriage (love jihad), religious conversion (ghar wapsi)… the list is as endless as it is nauseating.
The unfortunate and shameful incident of the lynching of Mohd Akhlaq in Dadri on the outskirts of Delhi by a mob merely on a suspicion of him having consumed beef is the latest example of a mindless assault on our collective conscience. It is indefensible, reprehensible and contemptible.
It is a manifestation of a deeper malaise, a rot which is setting in. Yet, it cannot be emphasised enough that while the perpetrators of such hate crimes who run amok should be reined in, it behoves of the voices of sanity to refrain from doomsday predictions, scare-mongering and drumming up hysteria and for the media to exercise restraint.
One has heard of colour revolutions around the world; now India has the dubious distinction of adding the colour pink to the lexicon, in a perverse way. The public and media discourse has tended to focus on candidate Modi’s references to the pink (exports of buffalo meat) revolution but what Mr Modi and his followers alike have forgotten and need reminding is what he told Reuters in an interview last year. Asked whether he believes India should have a secular leader, candidate Modi had this to say: “We do believe that… but what is the definition of secularism? For me, my secularism is, India first. I say, the philosophy of my party is ‘Justice to all. Appeasement to (sic) none.’ This is our secularism.” Can Prime Minister Narendra Modi put India, as we have known it, first? Will he ensure justice for all and not appease the rabble-rousers in his party?
Since Mr Modi has not shown a willingness to shed his self-imposed reticence, making his predecessor Manmohan Singh’s silence look golden, I might as well quote Mr Modi back to himself one more time. Replying to a question from India TV about his refusal to wear a skullcap, candidate Modi had said: “Actually a kind of deformity has come in Indian politics where anything can be done for appeasement. My job is to respect all communities, respect the values of all communities […] But I believe that if somebody shows disrespect to another person then he should be given the strictest punishment”. Just about anything is indeed being done to appease the Sangh Parivar’s constituents but at what cost, Mr Prime Minister?
THE WORLD saw Mr Modi break into tears recalling the troubles his nonagenarian mother, Heeraben, went through to bring him up. “In India there are hundreds of thousands of women and mothers who sacrificed their entire lives for their children,” he said at a townhall meeting with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in the United States. Asgari Begum, too, would have made sacrifices for her son Mohd Akhlaq. Unfortunately for her, Akhlaq is no more, as he fell prey to bigots. Will you shed a tear for her, Mr Prime Minister?