By DC Pathak
September 3, 2014
The issue of communal violence is once again attracting attention. A turbulent domestic scene - created primarily by the projection of religion into politics - is keeping the progress of democratic India stunted. This has gone on for far too long.
With the advent of a new dispensation that calls for the 'development of all' and the creed of 'nation first', time has come for all sane Indians to examine the roots of the communal problem and be upfront about doing something to deal with it. We need to create a peaceful environ that is necessary for growth. India has several religious minorities but the malady of communal conflicts here seems to revolve round the Hindu-Muslim divide. India's democratic polity puts no disabilities on Muslims in exercising every freedom granted by the Constitution to the citizens.
Why does this problem exist then? The matter needs to be examined in the Indian setting.
India is the only major country whose independence was accompanied by a near vertical division of the nation on communal lines - something that caused unprecedented killing of people in communal violence. In India freedom brought with it the indelible memory of this horror creating an intrinsic intolerance of each other on both sides. Consequently riots were provoked for petty causes at different locations.
This pattern prevailed till the 1980s by which time the recall of Partition riots had faded substantially. However, the legacy seemed to have now given way to communal politics at home that led the parties to appeal to Muslim voters for their numbers and encourage the largest minority to start considering itself as a separate 'political' resource.
It is relevant to note that post-Independence, India had witnessed some intense regional and linguistic separatism too - the movement for Dravidsthan in the mid-sixties being a telling illustration - but the democratic process over time was able to assimilate all of that in the national mainstream.
Why did communal separatism then not yield to democratic assimilation? The Indian political context as it shaped up after Independence throws some light on this.
India opted for a democratic rule where the State would not make any discrimination on the basis of religion whereas Pakistan not only declared itself as an Islamic State but also proceeded to start meddling with the internal affairs of India by pretending to espouse the cause of Indian Muslims. Only a few years back when Gen Pervez Musharraf, former President of Pakistan, in his address at the annual conclave, - organised by a leading Indian media house at Delhi - started talking of the condition of Indian Muslims, a mild interruption from a Muslim in the audience asking him to leave Muslims alone, made the visiting speaker angry. Somewhere the unsolicited attention from Pakistan only puts our Muslim minority in avoidable awkwardness before others.
This was required to be strongly rebuffed by the elite that politically leads the community in India. On the other hand, in Jammu and Kashmir for instance, leaders of the mainstream parties are one with the separatists in advocating that Pakistan has to have a say in the future of this Muslim majority state.
Moreover, while it might be considered understandable that the Ulema - the religious leaders, insist on Islam embracing all aspects of life including social, economic and political, the political leadership of Muslims is expected to draw a line between the socio-economic aspirations of the community and its political rights which have to be the same for all citizens in a democracy.
Caste reservations are already causing divisions within the majority. They cannot validate any demand for religious-based reservations as this would lead to politics of 'communal empowerment' that India once suffered from. The Constitution gave special rights to minority communities to establish educational institutions of their own to enable them to make up for any backwardness that came in the way of their competing with others.
In a democratic setting there are three domains of life of a citizen - 'religious' that defines the personal sphere of relationship of anybody with his or her God, 'social' that encourages harmonious relations with other citizens, and 'political' that gives the same freedom to everybody to elect the rulers of the country. If the leadership of the community allows religion to create socio-political 'exclusivism' it is not democratic. We have examples of Muslim leaders successfully leading the Hindus politically.
Unfortunately even a secular facet of national life like economic growth is being given a communal tag through such expressions as 'inclusive' development. Development always relates to an area or a sector and it never includes or excludes a community.
While the nation hopes practitioners of communal politics will refrain from their game, the State must deal firmly with violence resulting from it - making full use of the strict laws available. There is always a period of incubation of tension before a riot breaks out and this should enable the authorities to lay their hands on the individuals behind the mischief on either side. The law punishes anybody who questions the national loyalty of a community as such.
Handling communal discord is the direct responsibility of the local administration. Centre should take a dim view of any failures there. The citizen of any community is focused on earning a livelihood and wants effective and impartial intervention from the police. The strategic culture of India gives freedom of worship to every citizen and does not encourage flaunting of supremacy of one God over the other. It respects those who create wealth through legitimate means.
Finally, it considers the nation - and the whole world - as one family. India is the same political entity for all her citizens and all communities will do well to stand for 'India first' in their conscience.
DC Pathak is former Director, Intelligence Bureau