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Mainstream, VOL LV No 33 New Delhi August 5, 2017

Relevant Concerns and Pertinent Queries

Saturday 5 August 2017, by SC


Several developments in the domestic sphere have attracted wide attention of late. These include the Reserve Bank of India’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) lowering its policy interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point, cutting subsidy on such an item as cooking fuel (LPG) now that oil prices are low (though the concerned Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas has clarified that the “subsidy will not be cut down, it will only be rationalised”), the exit of Arvind Panagariya, Vice-Chairman of Niti Aayog, from the body as he is returning to teaching at Columbia University.

However, these are of partial importance compared to more significant issues that have hit the headlines. Over a hundred armed forces veterans have, in an open letter, reiterated their “common commitment to the Constitution of India” and expressed their “dismay at the divisiveness gripping our country”, adding: “We stand with the ‘Not In My Name’ campaign that mobilised thousands of citizens across the country to protest against the current climate of fear, intimidation, hate and suspicion.”

According to the open letter,

The Armed Forces stand for “Unity in Diversity”. Differences in religion, language, caste, culture or any other marker of belonging have not mattered to the cohesion of the Armed Forces, and servicemen of different backgrounds have fought shoulder to shoulder in the defence of our nation, as they continue to do today. Throughout our service, a sense of openness, justice and fair play guided our actions. We are one family. Our heritage is like the multi-coloured quilt that is India, and we cherish this vibrant diversity.

However, what is happening in our country today strikes at all that the Armed Forces, and indeed our Constitution, stand for. We are witness to unprecedented attacks on society at large by the relentless vigilantism of self-appointed protectors of Hinduism. We condemn the targeting of Muslims and Dalits. We condemn the clampdowns on free speech by attacks on media outlets, civil society groups, universities, journalists and scholars, through a campaign of branding them antinational and unleashing violence against them while the State looks away.

We can no longer look away. We would be doing a disservice to our country if we do not stand up and speak for the liberal and secular values that our Constitution espouses. Our diversity is our greatest strength. Dissent is not treason; in fact, it is the essence of democracy.

We urge the powers that be at the Centre and in the States to take note of our concerns and urgently act to uphold our Constitution, both in letter and in spirit.

On July 26 Ram Nath Kovind was sworn in as the 14th President of the country. As is well known, he belongs to the BJP now ruling India but his real identity is that he is an integral part of the RSS; that organisation therefore has, for the first time, placed one of its members as the head of state (even if he joined the Sangh as late as in the early 1990s). The significance of this cannot be overemphasised. The President is duty-bound to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution which declares India as a “Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic” whereas the RSS’ avowed aim is to transform the country into a Hindu Rashtra. How would President Kovind reconcile these irreconcilables?—that is a moot question.

Nitish Kumar’s volte face to leave the UPA and join the NDA led by the BJP PM is still being discussed in various quarters. As distinguished academic Ashutosh Varshney has observed, Nitish’s “act of pragmatism” will have a long-term effect: “the idea that the Muslim vote can be rendered irrelevant“ in both UP and Bihar; thereby he raises pertinent queries: does Nitish think that in both Bihar and UP election victories can be ensured with the votes of upper castes, sections of OBCs and parts of the Dalits leaving out the Muslims wholesale? Wouldn’t then the BJP move from dominance to hegemony?

These relevant concerns and pertinent queries cannot possibly be dismissed as inconsequential.

August 3 S.C.

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