Negating Intolerance Debate
Negates the Idea of Indiannes
Syyed Mansoor Agha
In an emotional letter to “Pranab Da” on his last day as President of India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote, “Three years ago, I came to New Delhi as an outsider. The task before me was huge and challenging. In these times, you have always been a father figure and a mentor to me.”…“Your wisdom, guidance and personal warmth have given me greater confidence and strength. That you are a repository of knowledge is well known. Your intellectual prowess has constantly helped my government and me,” Modi said.
Same evening in his last address as President of India to the Nation, “Pranab Da” said, “The soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance. .... The multiplicity in culture, faith and language is what makes India special. We derive our strength from tolerance. It has been part of our collective consciousness for centuries.”
“The capacity for compassion and empathy is the true foundation of our civilization. But every day, we see increased violence around us. At the heart of this violence is the darkness, fear and mistrust. We must free our public discourse from all forms of violence, physical as well as verbal. Only a non-violent society can ensure the participation of all sections of the people, especially the marginalized and the dispossessed in the democratic process. Power of non-violence has to be resurrected to build a compassionate and caring society.”
Let us examine how the very open words of a “father like figure” have been taken by our Honorable Prime Minister and his colleagues in the government. But first let us look into the expressions of the same feelings by Janab Hamid Ansari, just four days before his laying office and the day he relinquished his office of Vice President of India for 10 years.
Quoting Swami Vivekananda, “not only tolerate other religions, but positively embrace them, as truth is the basis of all religions’ he said, “Tolerance is a virtue. It is freedom from bigotry. It is also a pragmatic formula for the functioning of society without conflict between different religions, political ideologies, nationalities, ethnic groups, or other us-versus-them divisions.” Swami Ji stressed, that tolerance”must be coupled with understanding and acceptance.”
Mr. Ansari elaborated, “Moving from tolerance to acceptance is a journey that starts within ourselves; within our own understanding and compassion for people who are different to us and from our recognition and acceptance of the ‘other’ that is the rairon d’etre of democracy. The challenge is to look beyond the stereotypes and preconceptions that prevent us from accepting others.”
The philosopher, academician, diplomat, political figure from a well reputed Nationalist political family Mr. Ansari quoted Israeli scholar Yael Tamir, liberal nationalism, “requires a state of mind characterized by tolerance and respect of diversity for members of one’s own group and for others.’’
He further said, “Hence it is ‘polycentric by definition’ and ‘celebrates the particularity of culture with the universality of human rights, the social and cultural embeddedness of individuals together with their personal autonomy.’
Mrs Tamir had said, ‘the version of nationalism that places cultural commitments at its core is usually perceived as the most conservative and illiberal form of nationalism. It promotes intolerance and arrogant patriotism’. In this background, Mr. Ansari reminded, “The Constitution of India and its Preamble ensure that citizenship irrespective of caste, and creed or ideological affiliation is the sole determinant of Indianness.”
Referring to Gandhi Ji, he said, “Much earlier, Gandhi ji had predicted that democracy would be safeguarded if people ‘have a keen sense of independence, self-respect and their oneness and should insist upon choosing as their representatives only persons as are good and true.’ He further said, “This, be read alongside Ambedkar’s apprehension that absence of equality and fraternity could bring forth ‘a life of contradictions.”
Stressing the need of tolerance and acceptance the then Vice President of India, highlighted the issue of great concern of intolerance and targeted mob-violence. He said, “Continuous dialogue unavoidable. It has to become an essential national virtue to promote harmony transcending sectional diversities. The urgency of giving this a practical shape at national, state and local levels through various suggestions in the public domain is highlighted by enhanced apprehensions of insecurity amongst segments of our citizen body, particularly Dalits, Muslims and Christians.”
In a television interview broadcast on Rajya Sabha TV, a day before he laid down his office, he said, “there was breakdown of Indian values, breakdown of the ability of the authorities... to enforce what should be normal law enforcing work and over all the very fact that (the) Indianness of any citizen being questioned, (and that) is a disturbing thought”.... He also said that the Muslims of India are living with a "feeling of unease" and “a sense of insecurity is creeping in” among them.
In his farewell speech on 10th August he quoted Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, the two times Vice President and the President of India, “A democracy is distinguished by the protection it gives to minorities. A democracy is likely to degenerate into tyranny if it does not allow the Opposition groups to criticise fairly, freely and frankly the policies of the Government.”
Similarity of concern
The concerns expressed by Hon. Pranab Da as the President of India, the much praised figure by Mr. Modi and alarms raised by Mr. Hamid Ansari as Vice President are on the same wavelength. The gravity of the situation not only felt but publicly expressed should have drawn the honest attention of the authorities. So it was pertinent for the government to sit and find out some balm for immediate relief and a strategy for permanent remedy; but alas the response from head of the government and his picked persons is full of symptoms the illness which needed to be cured.
Bidding farewell to the VP, Mr. Modi instead of allaying fears of Hon. Pranab Da and Mr. Ansari, and taking the opportunity to assure the Minority community of protection from majoritarian onslaught, he took the route of complete denial. As a perfect RSS man, he chose to negate what the former VP underlined in his Bengaluru address on 6 August, and a day before in his TV interview. Whatever denial may be, It is common feeling that “Dalits” and Minorities (Muslims and Christians) are living in present regime with enhanced "feeling of unease" and “a sense of insecurity is creeping in them.” By his uncalled for jibe on the senior intellectual, the P.M. has caused more smoke. He said, “It is possible that there was some restlessness within you as well but from today you will not face that crisis”. “You now have the joy of being liberated, and the opportunity to work, think and speak according to your core beliefs”.
He said Ansari’s life was that of a “career diplomat”, and “You were associated with West Asia for a major part of your career as a diplomat. You spent many years of your life in that circle, in that atmosphere, in that thought, its debate and amid such people. For a major part after your retirement, whether it was in Minority Commission or Aligarh University, you remained in that circle.”
One can read between the lines of Mr. Modi’s remarks, what he wanted to say in these remarks? Obviously he wanted to say you are a Muslim and spent most of the time in between Muslims. So “you now have the joy of being liberated, and the opportunity to work, think and speak according to your core beliefs”. The PM also mentioned of the long association of Ansari’s family with the Congress, which was till 1947 National Movement for the Country’s freedom, Modi seemed to be suggesting that his commitment to secularism is somehow shallow. Honorable Prime Minister had no inkling that Mr. Ansari was Indian High Commissioner in Australia and was permanent representative in UN from January 1993 to January 1995. It was a crucial period for India in international dealings as the reputation was heart by the heinous tragedy in Ayodhya. Hamid Ansari was instrumental at UN to evade tarnishing the image of the country. Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was all praise for him.
Notably Mr. Ansari quoted from Swami Vivekanad, Gandhi Ji, Dr. Ambedkar, a Jewish scholar and Dr. Rad, he did not mention even a single quote from a Muslim intellectual or the religious text, but Modi wanted to impress and to blame the Muslim in him.
The remarks of the VP elect Mr. Naidu were more unfortunate. Instead of reiterating the nation’s commitment to the ideals of the Constitution, Naidu resorted to a pretty sermon, describing India as the most tolerant country in the world. By these utterances the BJP leaders gave duel signals to Indian. To Muslims they are expected to bear with the prevailing atmosphere and not complain. By browbeating Ansari, the BJP has only proved this point. To Hindutva hooligans it is a green signal. You do, we will cover.
But these denials will not help in any way as Shashi Tharoor has wrote, “Pick up or Google any major international newspaper of repute for stories about India in the last couple of months — from the New York Times to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung — and all you find are articles about the Dadri lynching, the murders of three rationalists, writers returning their Sahitya Academy awards, and the irresponsible statements of BJP leaders about everything from Hindu reassertion to the “cleansing” of Western and Muslim cultural influences from India’s ethos. The impression has gained ground that India is now governed by obscurantist and intolerant forces determined to put minorities, rationalists and liberals in their place — somewhere not far from the trash can.” Modi’s rebuttal to Ansari will only add up the unfortunate impression.
Though a section of people have been voicing same concerns since mid-2014, Ansari's views become supremely important to the world for the fact that the post represented. His message would be viewed with certain seriousness outside of India and may potentially be used to blacken our image.
Political analyst Pushpesh Pant rightly said Ansari has, at the risk of being labeled communal, “red-flagged an issue that needs to be red-flagged. Muslims have felt insecure in this country and are insecure right now too.” This defies the slogan “Sabka Saath, Sab ka vikas.” 15 August 2017