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Mainstream, VOL LV No 13 New Delhi March 18, 2017

Today’s Imperative

Sunday 19 March 2017, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

The time has come when we can no longer afford to indulge in mutual recrimination. The time has come for us to hang our heads in shame.

What has happened at Moradabad is a blot on our patriotism. No amount of quibbling, finding fault with each other, can save us from the ignominy of having to face a situation in which citizens of this country were shot dead by the police for the crime of belonging to a minority community. It is an indication of the magnitude of corrosion of our political life that the guardians of law and order should themselves have turned communal.

Many arguments have appeared in the last few weeks to show that the minority community itself has turned recalcitrant. But these provide no justification whatsoever for brazen attempts at scaring it into a sense of insecurity. If any citizen of our Republic has to face the prospect of his or her life and living being in utter jeopardy because of his or her belonging to a particular community, it not only brings disgrace to the nation but destroys the very democratic fabric of the Republic itself.

It is not a question of hidden hands not being there. Agents provocateur galore are active today in many parts of the country, from the Valley of Kashmir to the hills and plains of the North-East. Saudi funds have no doubt poured in, as have resources of different kinds from Pakistani agencies, since they are mere surro-gates of the mightier power or powers whose rulers have long been engaged in creating destabilisation in our country because this nation, its government and its people have remained unbending before the frowning of those mighty powers. But all this can hardly provide an alibi for our own negligence at home.

What has been attempted recently in Kashmir brings out clearly the sinister designs of far-flung transnational agencies not only to unleash anarchy but a state of virtual civil war. Sheikh Abdullah’s prompt action in snuffing it out has not only saved Kashmir but has shown how swift and firm handling of even the most difficult situation can defuse it. In this background, the rather intemperate attacks on Sheikh Abdullah by some of the local leaders claiming to be secular only a few weeks before, bring out their infantile short-sightedness in gauging the explosive situation in the Valley.

It is matter of gravest concern for our demo-cracy that the police in UP, particularly in Moradabad, should have misbehaved as they did. For quite some time past, the blatant irregularities in the conduct of the UP Police—at Baghpat, for instance—have been shielded by politicians beholden to the very same police for petty partisan gains. No doubt this has embol-dened the police to the point of forgetting their primary role as the protector of the public. Added to this is the undeniable reality that in some of the States in the Hindi belt, the police force itself has been subjected to the infection of communal malignancy. The Prime Minister is right in warning against maligning different arms of the administration, and yet it will be playing into the hands of the communalist forces themselves, Hindu and Muslim, if the grave misconduct of the police in Moradabad and such other places does not attract swift and exemplary punishment.

Indira Gandhi carried conviction with a vast section of her countrymen when she rebuked the Janata Government for its failure to protect different communities. But if the police under the Janata Raj were party to a pogrom against Mulsims in Aligarh, the police under her government have shown no better record at Moradabad. It would be a betrayal of the electoral mandate she has won twice over this year if she cannot put down with a heavy hand any manifestation of communalism in any section of the administration.

The media too have a responsibility which they have yet to fulfil. It is not a mere question of asserting the right to publish how many are hit from which community or even unearthing the hidden hands behind communal tensions, however important that may be. Overriding everything else, there must be constant reiteration of the citizen’s right to be protected and respected. It is ignoble on the part of the Fourth Estate to be patronising to the minority community, or to harp on the separate identity of any community. No self-respecting Muslim would like to be patted, or treated as somebody apart. It was shocking to learn that over the government-owned radio, a distinguished journalist talked about the separate identity of the Muslims—that they are different in the way they look, dress, eat worship and believe.

Let it not be forgotten in the heat and dust of the tension-charged atmosphere of today how much India with her rich culture owes to Islam, to those who are its votaries. The magnificent river of India’s great civilisation is fed by many a stream of which Islam has been one of the mainsprings. It is precisely for this reason that our national leaders refused to accept the proposition that the partition of the country effected in 1947 was along communal principles, and rejected the notorious two-nation theory.

In fact, what we have been witnessing today, this alienation of the Muslim community—acquiesced in, if not connived at, by many of the leaders of public opinion in this country—is the pernicious legacy of the partition of India. Thirty-three years after that black spot in India’s history, even today many look upon a Muslim as a stranger in this, his own land, while many a Muslim is forced to look upon Pakistan as his or her haven. There could be no worse commentary on Indian democracy. It is not a question of offering protection to a minority community, it is a question of recognising it as an integral part of the nation, its members as patriots in their own right, and whose fore-fathers had joined hands in building the rich civilisation of which every Indian is proud. Let us not dissect a Muslim as an alien, because that would amount to dispossessing the Indian nation of one of its vital components. There can be no India without the Muslim being a part of it.

We look down upon the rulers of Pakistan not because they are Muslims, but because they have trampled upon democracy in their own country and permitted their country to be subservient to foreign-power overlordship. A Badshah Khan or a Sheikh Mujib could never be an alien in this land.

Moradabad should shake up every patriotic Indian. No party, no individual worker claiming to be Indian can escape responsibility for what has happened there and what a still happening at many of the tension-spots in northern India.

No doubt it is part of the parliamentary game that the Opposition parties should try to exploit every shortcoming of the government, and hold up before the public all its sins of omission and commission. At the same time, every party has a responsibility to the people of India, a sacred national trust. It would be betraying that trust if it did not fight with its own resources, however limited these may be, any danger to the common national well-being. The menace of communalism today is creeping into even educated circles. Many of these are not stirred by the enormity of communal hatred destroying our national fabric.

Administrative measures, however well-meant and effective, cannot cope with this menacing phenomenon. The frightening problem of Muslim alienation can be solved only by a sustained mass campaign. It is a measure of the bankruptcy of our political life today that the national leaders of no political party have cared to go and camp in Moradabad in the way Gandhiji used to do in much more difficult circumstances. Noakhali, Bihar and Calcutta were no stunts on his part, they were part of a crusade for nation-building, staking his own life for the protection of his fellow-citizens. The brassworker at Moradabad or the teacher at Aligarh cannot function only under police protection even if the police force is purged of the virus of communalism. With all the tall talk about defending national integration, where are the leaders to undertake the crusade?

Much is heard nowadays about youth power and scores of seminars and symposia have been called to discuss the urgency of consolidating national integration. But here is a live case where the dynamics of the urge for national integration can be tested out on the spot. Is it not a shame that no national level youth organisation has so far deemed it necessary, its sacred task, to go to the areas of communal pogroms in large groups to undertake relief work, to help the fear-stricken by living with them, restore normalcy and in the process educate themselves about the urgency of national integration?

Our value-system has been shattered, and it is time we thought of a genuine cultural revolution to lift this nation of six hundred million out of the morass of demoralisation to a realisation of its own greatness. As the first step towards such a cultural revolution, the fight against communalism in all its ugly manifestations, overt and covert, needs to be taken up.

Towards that objective of nation-building, Mainstream once again dedicates itself as it completes eighteen years of its modest but purposeful existence, and steps into the nineteenth.

(‘Editor’s Notebook’, Mainstream, Eighteenth Annual Number, September 7, 1980)