Indian society and culture is known since ancient times for its tolerance and all-encompassing attitude towards all societies, cultures and religions of the world. Unlike Abrahamic religions, Hinduism never attempted to dominate people of other faiths or spread outside the boundaries of the Indian-subcontinent through coercion or evangelism. Indian kings and warriors are not known to conquer in subjugation or destroy other nations and civilizations. At the same time, the Indian civilization proved to be strong enough to survive such attempts of the barbaric Islamic invaders and missionaries as part of the European colonizers during the last millennium. This is evident from the fact that despite concerted Islamic onslaught and colonization for several hundred years, the country still has almost 80% Hindu population with Hinduism as a continuous cultural identity for over four thousand years.
However, during the last two-three years there has been a systematic effort to paint India as an intolerant nation, by particularly attacking the roots of the Indian culture. Some desperate political parties including the legendary Congress, a section of national and international media, self-proclaimed Indian secularists and liberals, and some NGOs are part of this vicious campaign. While the bias of the international media could be well understood, more damaging is when such propaganda comes from the mainstream political and alleged secular brigade of liberals and intellectuals. They often indulge in propaganda and publicity that the continued governance by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with the right wing Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) in the lead is a major threat for the existence and interests of the minorities and the freedom of speech in the country.
Ironically, in a country where almost 80% population comprises of Hindus, one finds people who are apprehensive even with the very mention of the words ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ not because they indeed feel so but because it suits their political or other interests at best. They feel these terms are against the spirit of the secularism in India. Similarly if a Hindu talks about nationalism, they call it ‘Hindu nationalism’ - a threat to minorities, particularly Muslims in India. In fact, an ideal tolerant society would be one where people from various walks of life are not bullied or swayed away with imaginary fears and disinformation by the people or parties with vested interests. Instead, they should be able to freely express their apprehensions, fears and phobias in public platforms leading to rational debates and pragmatic conclusions.
Is Intolerance Growing in Indian Society?
The issue of intolerance is basically a political brainchild of the legendary Congress and the eco-system created by this party in the country during its long reign. Intolerance has become a buzzword for the top Congress leadership since last about two years or so, which they are selectively yet liberally using against their political rival the NDA government to embarrass and defame it, both nationally and internationally. Let us see a few unfortunate incidents and how these have been used politically to link with the alleged growing intolerance as well as caste and communal hatred in the country.
Rohith Vemula Suicide: On 3 August, 2015, Rohith Vemula, an alleged dalit PhD student at the University of Hyderabad, along with a few other student accomplices made demonstration against the death penalty of Yakub Memon, a convicted terrorist involved in the 1993 Bombay bombings. Consequently, the University took disciplinary action suspending them from the academics and also barring from their hostel. Later, Vemula committed suicide in January, 2016 that sparked widespread outrage and protest spearheaded by the opposition parties citing discrimination against a dalit.
Many political parties particularly the Congress plunged into the fray to raise issues like dalit atrocity, intolerance and curtailment of freedom of speech. Following Vemula’s death, the caste controversy also erupted about his dalit status and hence a formal inquiry was ordered by the government. The inquiry revealed that Vemula had arranged a Dalit caste certificate for the University admission and by parentage he actually belonged to other backward classes (OBC). However, among the claims and counter-claims by various interested groups, the cast controversy - dalit or otherwise - refused to die down for long.
The Gandhi scion, the present Congress Party President, visited Hyderabad twice in support of the agitating students and Vemula’s family even participating in the mid-night candle march and protest for the alleged atrocity against the dalit student and curtailment of the freedom of speech. He held Modi Government at the Centre directly responsible for Vemula’s death, growing intolerance and restrictions on the freedom of speech in the country. This was described as an ‘institution murder’ by the likes of Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) supremo and one Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader. The issue was also internationalised by raising it to the forums like the Human Rights Council. While the suicide death of the student is indeed sad and unfortunate, the cause undertaken by him, and the support and colour given by the national party of the status of the Congress to the incident can not be justified by any stretch of imagination.
JNU Students’ Sedition Row: On 9 February 2016, a group of JNU students organized an event protesting the execution of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri terrorist convicted in the 2001 Parliament attack and Maqbool Bhat, another Kashmiri terrorist and co-founder of Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Earlier, despite refusal of permission by the University administration apprehending the nature of event proposed in the garb of a cultural evening, photo and art exhibition. Allegedly, during the event several anti-India slogans were raised apart from provocative speeches against the alleged extra-judicial killings of the ibid Kashmiri terrorists and right of self-determination for Kashmiris.
The event invited a protest from a rival group of students in the campus with pro-India slogans and nationalist fervour. Following the episode, the University administration initiated disciplinary action and police registered a case of sedition arresting a few suspects including Kanhaiya Kumar, the erstwhile student leader and president of the students’ union in JNU with leftist leanings. What could have been normally dealt with as the students’ indiscipline and unrest problem and amicably settled by the University administration, the event suddenly became a national agenda and university campus a hotbed for the political parties’ battle ground exchanging verbal allegations and abuse.
The Communist parties and few other opposition parties taking side with the controversial student leaders blamed the government at the Centre for the action of the authorities in the campus citing it an attempt of the BJP to push its Hindu nationalist agenda. Later, the Congress president (then vice-president) took lead and joined the agitating students at the JNU to express his Party’s solidarity with their cause and take the battle to the President House. He even met the President of India along with several party MPs over the JNU row complaining against the BJP government at the Centre against the growing intolerance and targeting students in various parts of the country by supressing their right of expression and speech.
Here a handful of JNU students, in the name of the freedom of speech and expression, openly sided with the convicted terrorists involved in heinous crimes and consequently prosecuted and punished by the Supreme Court after following the due procedure settled under the law on the charges of murder and waging war against the nation besides raising anti-India slogans. What could be more unfortunate and regretful if some elements express their intent to break/breach the nation in thousand parts and the top leader(s) of the oldest national party and leftists joins hands with them justifying their action as the freedom of speech and expression. Political leaders might do it keeping an eye on harvesting intended benefits for the party but there could not be more shameful and damaging act than attempting to support and encourage the elements working against the sovereignty and integrity of the nation.
Gauri Lankesh Murder: Gauri Lankesh, an Indian journalist-turned-activist from Bangalore was killed by unknown assailants On 5 September 2017 near her house. The murder was condemned by people from various walks of life including the BJP and Congress. However, it was given a political colour very soon by the ruling Congress organising a ‘state funeral with gun salute for the journalist’ and the national leadership inciting the widespread protests all across India making allegations that this was yet another casualty due to BJP’s agenda of spreading hatred and intolerance.
Gauri Lankesh, an editor of a local Kannada magazine, was well known for her left-leaning ideology besides being a staunch critic of right-wing parties and politics. She was prosecuted, sentenced to six-months jail term by a local court and currently was on bail in a defamation suit against some state BJP leaders. The Congress-led Karnataka government had appointed her as a member of a committee in November 2014 aimed at convincing the Naxalites to give up violence and surrender. Her bitter conflict with own brother was well known due to her alleged support and sympathy to the naxalite movement. One line of thinking is that she had antagonized some hardline naxal leaders too who thought her initiative on behalf of the government for the truce and surrender had weakened the naxalite movement.
She was well known for her leftist ideology and allegedly considered activists like Jignesh Mevani, Kanhaiya Kumar, Umer Khalid and Shela Rashid Shora as her adopted children. The Gandhi scion and other Congress leaders raised a needle of suspicion towards the right wing Party for her murder possibly keeping in view the history of her political ideology and the defamation case involving state BJP leaders. The murder mystery of the journalist has not yet been solved. It is unfortunate and completely unacceptable that without any evidence or lead, a national party and their sympathisers go on misleading public opinion against the federal government in the name of intolerance and freedom of expression.
Akhlaq Mob killing: In September 2015, a case of mob lynching was reported from Bisara village, Dadri, Uttar Pradesh wherein one Muslim man named Akhlaq was beaten to death and his son injured on the suspicion of slaughtering a cow-calf for the beef consumption on Eid-ul-Adha. Cow slaughter is banned in Uttar Pradesh and many Hindus venerate and protect cow and its progeny since ancient times. While police acted promptly to apprehend culprits and the state government announced a compensation of rupees twenty lakhs to the family, the Congress, left and some other opposition parties made it an issue of intolerance and communal hatred against the government at the Centre.
Thanks to the vicious campaign of the Congress, other opposition parties and self-proclaimed secularists and liberals, the incident became international news putting the BJP government on dock and defensive at the Centre with several Sahitya Akademi and other national awardees proceeding to return their awards against the alleged rise in communal violence and intolerance. Ironically, through this commotion the fact was completely ignored or forgotten that the incidents was essentially an isolated and localised event involving local population and the culprits had been promptly dealt with by the law and order machinery under the jurisdiction of the state government without any religious bias. It is grossly unfair that for any localised communal violence or unfortunate event, the government at the Centre is blamed while the matter falls under the law and order jurisdiction of the state government.
Kasganj Communal Violence: Recently, a Tiranga Yatra (flag parade) on the occasion of Republic Day on 26 January 2018 was attacked in Kasganj, Agra of UP by a Muslim mob. The ensuing stone pelting, arson and firing led to one person named Chandan Gupta dead, one seriously injured and property (vehicles and shops) put on fire. The incident has been differently reported by different press and media sources. However, it appears that some Hindu youths on motorbikes were conducting a flag rally on the Republic Day. In Baddu Nagar of the Kasganj town, they had some altercation with a group of Muslims about the mode and route of the rally. With the ensuing slogan shouting and outrage, the yatra youth had to abandon their bikes, run away for safety only to return subsequently again to confront rivals.
Apart from the bikes in rally, dozens of other vehicles and property was also damaged in the mob violence. It took few days for the administration and police to control and restore peace in the communally charged localities. While the police is still apprehending culprits and investigating the case, the political parties have taken no time to take sides and arrive at conclusions as per convenience. While the Congress and Samajwadi Party (a known minority sympathiser) have blamed the BJP government for the failure of the law and order and inciting trouble, the latter has even gone to the extent of blaming Hindu groups for the alleged murder of the Hindu youth. The police are of view that the youth was killed from the gun fire from a house belonging to a Muslim family. Now a special investigating team has been constituted to hold an inquiry in the incident and the parliamentary affair minister has made a statement in the State Assembly that the Kasganj violence could have been avoided if the passage to the yatra was not blocked by the people assembled at the site en route.
These are only a few events where even without waiting for any clear lead to emerge or preliminary investigation from the law and order authorities, the political parties particularly the Congress has preferred to blame the government at the Centre citing intolerance and/or curtailment of the freedom of speech and expression. Incidentally, except for the Kasganj violence every incident reported above has occurred under the jurisdiction of other than the BJP government. The Congress and like-minded parties claim that these events are the result of Hindutva agenda of the BJP government at the Centre which is promoting intolerance and communal hatred, and curtailing the freedom of the speech and expression.
In fact such intense and vicious has been the propaganda, nationally and internationally, that the dozens of academicians, authors and artists returned their awards in protest against policies of the BJP government at the Centre. A poet Ashok Vajpeyi returned his D.Litt degree awarded to him by the University of Hyderabad in protest against the circumstances which led to the death of Vemula. An open letter was written to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hyderabad by over 120 worldwide academics, "expressing their shock and anguish" at Rohith Vemula suicide. Consequent to the Congress protests, several writers, artists and filmmakers returned awards given by the government to protest against events such as the murder of M Kalburgi, a writer and scholar, the Dadri lynching case and the agitation by the FTII students – that were viewed as the acts of intolerance.
Congress and Intolerance Card
As for the leftist parties in India, their contribution to the Indian society and nation is next to nought. Instead of being product of any Indian movement or revolution, they are simply an offshoot of the communist movement in Russia and China. During the freedom movement, they supported British because Russia was a British ally during the Second World War. Their leaning in 1962 war with China is no more a secret and even now they are known for their appreciation and support to China despite her aggressive stand and enemy like conduct towards the country. Hence when they are found to support anti-national activities or seditious slogans of the misguided students in JNU, Kashmiri separatists and Rohit Vemula or stand for the leftist Gauri Lankesh, it doesn’t come as surprise but when the legendary Congress, with significant contribution in nation building, is also found on the same side, it is indeed surprising and a cause of concern.
The way the Congress has been reacting to isolated events, it is no more a secret now that it is not only blissfully ignorant of the ground realities but also constantly showing a dismal performance as the main opposition to the NDA government. If the events and their reaction during the last three years are of any indication, rather than constructively engaging themselves with the government in their role as opposition, they have constantly stooped to newer low levels through their constant obstructive behaviour in the Parliament and outside. In their overwhelming zeal to oppose every move of the NDA government, at times they appear to be working against the interests of the nation itself. Endorsing the actions of antinational sentiments of some misguided youth in the JNU and holding a secret rendezvous with the Chinese ambassador during the heightened tensions and war-like situation between India and China during the Doklam Imbroglio are only some such illustrations.
Ironically, the Congress leadership constantly blame the present Prime Minister and his party for intolerance and spreading communal hatred while they themselves appear to be indulging in such crude acts with no shame attched. The recent elections in Gujarat are a case in point where the Congress forged alliance with three different leaders purely on cast considerations and a false promise of reservation to a certain community. Besides the election campaign was linked with their leader’s frequent temple visits while avoiding even a single minority shrine visit with party leaders publicly declaring him as janeyu-dhari pandit and Shiva devotee. All this looked so strange because the Congress traditionally claim to be a true secular party inclined towards the cause and welfare of minorities, particularly Muslims since independence.
The Congress party and their supporters try to justify their subversive activities in the Parliament and outside with the argument that the BJP was also resorting to obstructionism when the former was in power. Firstly this ‘eye for an eye’ vengeance attitude is not a healthy sign of a national party, and then the grounds for criticism are too frivolous and messy. The Congress had given their adversaries mega scams to talk about like Coal-gate, 2G/3G Scam, Common Wealth Scam and kickbacks in defence deals, while the NDA government has not given any chance for a genuine criticism on corruption in the government so far. In one case of the Rafael deal for the acquisition of the fifth generation fighter aircrafts in an inter-governmental deal with France, the Congress leadership is groping in the dark by raising trivial issues forgetting the fact that they themselves kept pending deal on various pretext for a very long period thereby compromising vital security needs of the Indian Air Force with powerful potential adversaries on both eastern and western frontiers of the country.
If the Congress is really serious about the national interests and see a vital role for self, then they should conduct responsibly as a healthy opposition, through indulging in constructive criticism while presenting alternative policy formulations where they are in disagreement with the government. The electorate is now wise enough to learn what action and policies of a party or government are in the best interests of the people and nation. So clearly they are not likely to be enamoured or influenced with the negative role played by the Congress; instead, they would like to learn as to what policies and agenda a party would offer for the holistic development and progress of the country. The Congress party's strategy for the last three years has been simply to embarrass and make uncomfortable the government by thrashing them on intolerance and communal hatred based on the isolated events. And there too they appear to have been quite selective, partial and biased. For instance, if the victim is from a minority or dalit class, the Congress would ensure that the same is instantly linked to the intolerance and every attempt is made to embarrass the government, nationally and internationally. On the other hand, if the victim(s) is a Hindu the same is simply ignored or dismissed as a case of the failure of the law and order machinery of the government.
While intolerance is a serious issue and every conscious person should be concerned about it but it’s assessment should also be based on rational and logical considerations. Like I mentioned in the foregoing paragraph, the religion or cast of the victim should not be selectively used to define acts of intolerance or injustice done to a person. Also for any isolated unfortunate event in any part of the country, one cannot crucify the federal government all the time. Unfortunately, this has become the new trend and modus oparandi of the Congress for some time now. As if the Congress leaders cannot find anything else to talk or offer to the people, they time and again revert to same old narrative of intolerance and communal hatred. While focusing on the negativities all the time, the party is not showing any resolve to focus on real issues of poverty, backwardness, inclusive growth and development, and innovative solutions of the problems faced by the country.
Intolerance is indeed a serious issue in certain areas that is posing a serious threat to the identity and integrity of the nation. For instance, the acts of some ‘cow vigilante’ are indeed a cause of concern that every government and opposition should be concerned with and willing to address it in correct perspective. Instead, there has been a tendency in a section of media and politicians to create controversy and sensation by linking even a personal rivalry and quarrel with it. At the same time, showing disrespect to national anthem, national symbols and legacies of the Indian culture by certain individuals and communities is also an act of intolerance which is equally disturbing and cannot be undermined and ignored. Any society and religion cannot be above the nation and laws of the land, and a party with national stature should not try to defend or justify such violators. Besides, any political party, group or individual should not have selective approach on tolerance and try to see events in two different perspectives and lenses based on own ease and convenience.
However, despite its serious nature and importance, the Congress's obsession with the intolerance is entirely reactive based on opposing anything for which the Modi government or BJP stands for. Ironically, the recently implemented the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in the country would not have been possible without the support of the Congress in the Upper House of the Parliament and after supporting the legislation, they have been opposing it tooth and nail and gone to the extent of ridiculing it as the “Gabbar Singh Tax” after the legendary dacoit of a famous Bollywood movie of 1970s. Such gimmicks and overtures of the Congress are quite confusing even for many of its staunch supporters who are baffled as to what does the Congress actually stand for.
In their scheme of things, the secularism is a foundation and fundamental need of the country, and therefore the issue of intolerance take precedence over the economic and other developmental issues. So the real paradox is that while the poor and deprived classes of the Indian society understand the vision of the economic progress as the vital key for the social development but the Congress is blissfully happy with their stand against the intolerance in the interest of their brand of secularism and democracy. This downfall is likely to continue and take them to more lowly ebbs unless they do introspection in time and change to restore internal party democracy and leadership in the deserving hands instead of the continuing dynastic rule.
Intolerance in Western Countries
The author has often seen the international press and media like BBC, CNN and some other world fame periodicals taking disproportionate interest in even isolated incidents giving a colour of communalism or cast violence to vindicate the theory of intolerance domestically used by the left-centric and leftist politicians, organizations and so-called liberals and rationalists. The truth is Hindus have never persecuted people of other faiths, and ridiculed or drawn cartoons of Prophet Muhammad or Jesus Christ in bad light as has been done in the Western Europe at times to hurt sentiments of Muslims, Christians and other communities. The reason is very simple the Hinduism has never taught its followers to hurt anybody’s religious sentiments irrespective of the person belonging to any community. Hinduism has never made distinction between the believers and non-believers and Hindu Gods are not known to tell believers to convert or kill non-believers of the other faiths. As a matter of fact, these “intolerant” Hindus respect all religions of the world and even gleefully participate in the religious festivals of the other communities.
There have been occasion when Hindus have reacted or fought back but if one deeply looks into the causes in an objective and unbiased manner, most of the time one would find that the reaction was in self-defence when their own creed or existence was endangered through violation of others. The author consciously does not want to cite specific incidents to hurt or remind bad memories but it would be in the knowledge of every conscious person how in some countries of the Western Europe at occasions people have depicted prophets and religious symbols of other communities in poor light and contemptuous way creating outrage. Even in India, when the likes of Amir Khan and MF Hussain insulted Hinduism in the name of artistic expression, people reacted more as Indians rather than Hindus which is evident from the facts that a large section of Hindus themselves defended and offered support and solace to them on such occasions.
There is not a single instance reported in India where a person has been detained at a port or put to disproportionate frisking violating human dignity just because the name has a certain connotation like ‘Khan’ or ‘Kalam’ or the person is wearing ‘turban’ suggesting a certain origin. Is it not a fact that our own renowned actors and leaders like Shahrukh Khan and ex-President Abdul Kalam have been inflicted with such treatment in the Western countries time and again. Is it not an act of religious or cultural intolerance?
In the latter half of the twentieth century, there have been numerous instances and even racial movements discriminating people on the basis of their colour and race. Though number has declined now but such instances are still reported off and on. We often hear the instances and even state intervention in stopping people from wearing hijab, pagri or other religious symbols and artefacts. Even the State is interfering by imposing restrictions on wearing Burqas in the public and Headscarves in the schools. Are not these instances of outright intolerance? In India, irrespective of cast, creed or religion, everyone is free to wear any dress, religious symbol or artefact according to will or faith without any intervention from the state or majority community. The Indian Constitution has gone to another extreme of allowing minorities to have own personal laws.
Many Western countries are obsessed with Islamophobia. Whenever there is a terror attack or some incident occurs involving any Muslim, anti-Islamic statements are spewed and even anti-Islamic rallies are taken out. India has no such history: with such a vast population of various communities, communal riots and unfortunate incidents do take place but such events are rare where it is taken as a pretext for opposing a religion. The trouble is with a section of politicians, media and pseudo-secularists who disproportionately publicise and paint issues in furtherance of their own vested interests. Talking of the minorities, the population of Christians in India is comparable with that of Hindus in UK and USA. While Christmas is a public holiday in India and Hindus participate in the festival with zeal and fanfare, there is no such tradition of holiday or acknowledgement of the Hindus festivals in these predominantly Christian countries.
While the Abrahamic religions, particularly Islam and even Christianity, are known for their intolerance towards people of other religions and attempts for their conversion through coercion and evangelism, India has a glorious past of welcoming and offering shelter to the persecuted communities in the world such as Zoroastrians, Jews, Tibetan Buddhists and early Christians from Syria and other places. An Israeli head of the state is on record acknowledging that India has been the only country where the Jews have always found themselves welcome and safe. Hinduism has a basic faith and values debate and differences of opinion; hence it does find difficulty in accepting good tenets and teachings of other religions and their peaceful co-existence while it does oppose forced conversions.
Intolerance is Indeed Growing, But...
It is a fact that the discreet and selective interpretation of secularism and democracy by successive governments under the Congress rule gave enough reasons for discontent and hurt psyche of the Indian masses among the majority Hindu community which has been so often taken for granted by the government during all these years. Now many such people are demanding their due and rights as enshrined in the Constitution. They are angree against the policy of appeasement, and pressing demand for their due place and recognition of theer contribution in the Indian society.
Therefore, intolerance has grown against the pseudo-secularism and biased religious views of the Congress and other like-minded political parties and people. Majority people are now not ready to tolerate politics, parties and leaders who incite caste and religious sentiments to attract electorate. Majority people are vehemently opposed to the section of the press and media which is part of the eco-system created over a long period of the Congress misrule and still trying to justify and carry out their agenda. People are rejecting politicians and religious leaders who spread negativity and fear among the common public in furtherance of their selfish interests. They are opposing the political parties, organisations and individuals with anti-India sentiments working against the national interests. Peace loving and patriotic Indians are now not ready to tolerate elements that spread terrorism or support terrorism.