By Zoya Rasul

 

Intolerance is perhaps the most prominent buzz word in media and social platforms these days. There are examples and voices which highlight the fear that our country, known and credited for being a vibrant multi-cultural mosaic, is being painted by one brush, usually in the hands of ones who are in authority or majority.

Public figures from various fields have expressed their concerns – in different ways, on different platforms. Their dissent conveys two major things. One, we have the liberty to say things we feel or want to, no matter if it miffs the State (or its supporters on social media), we still can. Two, they understand such acts of intolerance are not widespread on an alarming level, yet they are finding it imperative to speak up. While the former reinstates the belief in democratic principles and advantage that we as Indians enjoy, it is the latter which demands more elaboration. And air-time too.

The counter-question which is often posed is – Why dissent now? There are no running riots. There have been acts of intolerance since almost ever. So why now? While the political aspirations and inclinations of dissenters can’t be predicted, to blame every one pointing towards rising intolerance as motivated is not only unjust, it also contradicts the democratic fabric of our country which we all hold so dear and high. The times we live in today are different than any other time when any similar incidents of intolerance or fanaticism because of the government at the center.

The resounding mandate which stormed the Narendra Modi led NDA into power had one critical plank – Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas, a slogan which echoed in almost every pre-poll rally of PM Modi. The slogan is about inclusion, fostering the feeling that the government is for everybody and that the nation belongs to every citizen, irrespective of the religion, region or ideology. But the stoic silence of the PM, someone who is hailed as one of the most astute communicators in Indian politics, contributes a major chunk to the answer to ‘Why now’ question.  His silence trivializes his idea of inclusion. His selective speak on issues, where he rarely misses to tweet to world leaders on their birthdays or other events  but never wrote to condemn what happened in Dadri (lynching of AKhlaq) or Haryana (Dalit children burnt alive), is disappointing and baffling, to say the least. Does he not realize that his silence will embolden the fringe, or is it a calculated political decision? Or it is really not required of a PM to speak on everything that happens in the country.

Why it is important to protest now is also established by the pattern of such acts of intolerance. Apart from calling such actions ‘condemnable’ and ‘unfortunate’, there has not been an exemplary action taken against the perpetrators. Be it one of the BJP’s leader openly saying that Muslims can stay in India only if they acknowledge their Hindu ancestry, or BJP lawmaker asking those who want to eat beef to go to Pakistan (basically means an anti-national certificate) or abusing those who are not Ram-bhakts ; these statements and others, have largely gone unchallenged and to top it they continue to enjoy their position in the party. There is a fear that the so-called fringe is now being mainstreamed, that its presence can be felt more than before and it is influencing and encouraging more such people who believe in fragmenting the society.

What is required is stern action, which unfortunately, is not happening.

What should be clear is that one can’t play a coin with two faces at their convenience – one of development, growth and other of polarization. Both of these are contradictory faces, development can’t be holistic if it has colours of discrimination and communalization can never be an ingredient of growth story. The government should fully embrace their development agenda, something which brought them to the helm of political power and any diverging act should be discouraged.

More than protecting the country from getting divided, something difficult for a nation with roots as strong as India, the government should follow a strict and mince-no-words approach towards intolerance for their own good. For a nation which can vote-in a party for change and hope can also vote it out if they feel that their idea of India is being challenged.

Zoya Rasul is an independent journalist and writer.