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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 46 New Delhi November 3, 2018

Foremost Task before us Today

Saturday 3 November 2018, by SC


As the air quality in the Capital touches “severe” levels with a toxic haze hanging over Delhi with citizens residing in the National Capital Region experiencing burning sensation in the eyes, nose and throat, October 31—an important landmark in our history—has passed off silently across the nation. This year the date marked the 143rd birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who, as the first Union Home Minister of independent India, played such a pivotal role in consolidating the country’s unity in our first years of freedom by merging the princely states into the Indian Union through his persistent, painstaking and steadfast efforts characterised by undiminished zeal. In this context special mention needs to be made of his prompt action to integrate Nizam’s Hyderabad into India thereby frustrating the possibility of the latter’s unilateral declaration of independence that could have sown the seeds of divided India’s second vivisection in the near future.

But to contemporary Indians brought up in an independent state, the real significance of October 31 is linked to the gruesome assassination of Indira Gandhi, the third Prime Minister of this nation since 1947. With the advantage of hindsight it can now be safely concluded that even though she was killed by her Sikh bodyguards incensed over the ‘Operation Bluestar’ at Amritsar’s Golden Temple four-and-a-half months before October 31, 1984, the real motive behind the assassination was to weaken India’s unity and destroy its cohesion so that it was incapable of playing a major role in world affairs. In fact Indira Gandhi was well aware of such a sinister plot by foreign powers, notably the US which, through its infamous secret service, the CIA, was determined to liquidate her. As she told Cuban President Fidel Castro in India in 1973, on learning the tragic news of Chilean head of state Salvador Allende’s assassination by the US authorities, that she herself was the target of a similar conspiracy hatched by Washington to cut short her life. Yet the elements seeking to bring about her departure from the scene could not eventually succeed in their nefarious design to dismember India. A day before her death, addressing a massive public rally in Odisha she had prophetically declared that if she died in harness “every drop of blood in my body will be dedicated to reinforcing the country’s unity”. That is actually what happened notwithstanding the fratricidal violence that rocked the country following her demise. Indira Gandhi, as the founder of this periodical wrote after her passing, “died as she lived—taking danger as her constant companion.... hers was a career crowded with events of unmitigated severity as well as unalloyed glory. Few were her moments of repose, for she... went among the largest segment of India’s ... millions covering the length and breadth of this far- flung country. It was an endless odyssey no other leader of her times has undertaken.”

Sardar Patel was legitimately described as the “iron man of India” due to his contribution in strengthening national unity brooking no resistance whatsoever. Precisely for that very reason, by widening the meanings of democracy and indepen-dence in South Asia through the liberation of the East Pakistani populace from West Pakistani exploitation and the birth of Bangladesh, Indira Gandhi became known as the “iron lady of India”. Except for the brief spell of the Emergency, Indira Gandhi’s governance of India was punctuated by her untiring striving to defend and promote our multireligious identity and pluralist culture that today regrettably is being attacked by petty individuals holding high offices they hardly deserve.

Indeed the clock is being sought to be feverishly turned backwards by the coming to power since 2014 of a dispensation which aims to undermine both our pluralist ethos and communal harmony prejudiced as it is against the minorities, primarily the Muslims and Christians, who are feeling most insecure in present-day India. Headed by PM Narendra Modi, the dispensation may make a bid to invoke the slogan of national cohesion having constructed a huge Statue of Unity dedicated to Sardar Patel on the banks of the Narmada but in effect it is straining every nerve to dismantle every institution built under the inspiration of the Sardar to highlight our inherent unity in diversity. Elements at the Centre and in the States belonging to the ruling party are coming in conflict with the Apex Court of the land both on the issue of women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala and the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. The judiciary has also come within their line of fire for having sought the details of the Rafale deal with France pulling apart the veil of secrecy deliberately raised to conceal the magnitude of the financial transaction involved. The manner of the Central Government’s handling of the CBI and RBI is giving due weightage to the Opposition’s charge that major institutions are under attack under the Modi raj. The Yogi Adityanath Government in UP is on a name-changing spree transforming the iconic city of Allahabad into Prayagraj while Mughalsarai has been renamed after Deen Dayal Upadhyay. Thus all signs of Muslim rule are being discarded as per the norms of Hindutva. At the same time one should not be oblivious of the vicious attacks launched by the so-called fringe elements in the Hindutva camp, who really comprise the mainstream of the Hindu communalists, on reputed rationalists, writers and journalists that resulted in the cold-blooded murders of Narendra Dabholkar, M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Gauri Lankesh. At this very moment Left-wing intellectuals are also under the scanner of the Right-wing government which has branded them as urban Naxalites. Simultaneously mob violence continues to take the lives of innocent Muslims, Dalits and fearless activists holding aloft the banner of free speech.

Those now in power at the Centre and in various States are hell-bent on unveiling an out-and-out fascist regime in case they can return to power in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Hence it is imperative to foil their ulterior designs through secular democratic unity of the public at large that alone can defeat them at the hustings. It is a genuine life and death struggle for us all if we are to protect our Constitution and preserve the idea of India bequeathed to us by our revered freedom fighters.

We need to remove the toxic haze hanging over us and restore the life-giving sunlight which is lately shrouded by the haze. This is the foremost task before us to ensure that the India we fought for and cherish since the dawn of our independence is not corroded as a consequence of the depredations of those who are intent on defiling and changing it beyond recognition.

November 1 S.C.  

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