It was about four months ago when out of the blue the siege mentality of ‘intolerance’ took shape leaving one to wonder what was all the fuss about. The ascension of Modi government in May 2014 was for a combination of reasons a major historical occurrence in terms of the hope of results-oriented development and a break with the lethargy, corruption and paralysis of the immediate past. For the voters, mostly in the age group of 35 and above and accounting for 60 per cent of the population, what mattered was corruption-free bureaucracy and fast track policy decisions. And as for the underprivileged and have nots a greater access to social welfare net, jobs for the young and accountable governance alone mattered in exercising their vote.
It was a vote more for Modi than the BJP as he had the political sense, encouraged by his own administrative experience in Gujarat, to realize that what the country needed was not polemics but welfare oriented growth.
Let it be granted that the economy the Modi government inherited was corruption-laden and burdened by an inept bureaucracy. The government had to face poor monsoon in 2014 initially with its attendant social repercussions but managed to recover in 2015 with levy-free railway budget and the Union Budget with a lot of promises for the infrastructure, manufacturing and other areas. In between came some noteworthy insurance schemes for the poor, Beti bachao Beti Padao, Smart cities, Swach Bharat and the recent gold deposit plan which are all designed to show a directional track rather than a smokescreen. Wedged into this is of course the visits of the Prime Minister to 30 odd countries besides vital Summits auguring a huge flow of investment, both potential and realized, that was thrust towards realizing a growth rate of 7.5 p.c. in 2015-16. Topping it all is the decision on FDI in 15 sectors including defence, civil aviation, insurance, banking etc. on which the Opposition would not raise a finger for the simple reason that they too favoured it.
Against such a backdrop is the pertinent question baffling the Opposition as to what it could do to regain eroding political space when the horrendous Dadri episode happened. It turned out to be a vehicle of reascension for them. What they failed to realize however was that the socalled ‘intolerance’ bandied about was nearly structural, inbuilt into the socio-cultural mosaic the country found itself in since 1947. Similar atrocities were witnessed down the years – 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Hashimpura, Bhagalpur, Babri demolition, Muzaffarnagar and capping it all was the Emergency – but public memory, always myopic, took it in its stride.
Writers and intellectuals went on as if all was well with the world. Suddenly Sahitya Academy award winner Nayantara Sahgal , a scion of the Gandhi family, woke up to find the world topsy-turvy and was desperate to set it right. Not to be left behind were the stream of writers who wanted a finger in the spotlight by returning the awards which were given not by the government but by a literary institution to honour them. If honour and freedom were the leit motif for their protest then what left them silent when all those incidences of intolerance were happening under their nose as manifestations of structural imbalance?
Beyond all this whiff of euphoria is the inescapable fact of the demographic profile that could well be the harbinger of an evolving social change – the youth in the age group of 18-35 who constitute around 60 per cent of the population and want to break out of the caste-religion syndrome that has become the raison de tar of vote bank manipulation. They want no more stereotyped rhetoric or clichéd issues that have left the country where it is today.
Strangely attacks on the church that dated Delhi polls vanished later and ‘intolerance’ debate surfaced coincidentally before the polls in Bihar. Surmises do not sell in political dictionary though they surface now and then to shape events. Equally strangely this country has been highly tolerant of ‘intolerance’ for many years but should it be extended to (mis)governance as well?