Colouring texts

When the Modi government was required to resolutely defend secularism and reiterate its commitment to the constitution, its External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was seen alongside VHP’s Ashok Singhal calling for national recognition for the Gita. (Image: Reuters)

When the Modi government was required to resolutely defend secularism and reiterate its commitment to the constitution, its External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was seen alongside VHP’s Ashok Singhal calling for national recognition for the Gita. (Image: Reuters)

Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj recently propped up the idea of making the Hindu scripture Gita, India’s national book. This is not the first time that Swaraj has demanded so. In December 2011, when a court in Siberia, Russia was considering a ban on Gita then too Swaraj as Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian parliament, echoed a similar viewpoint.

The statement could not have been more badly timed. Just days before, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti had made a hateful remark which led to an impasse in parliament. Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned her remarks, no action was taken against the hate-spewing Sadhvi.

The targeting of minorities has sharply increased ever since the BJP government came to power at the centre. In the capital city of New Delhi, riots in Trilokpuri area led to the imposition of curfew. Few weeks back, St. Sebastian Church was burnt down in the north-eastern region of the city. Instead of assuring the minorities of safety, BJP leaders are busy making controversial remarks like the Taj Mahal being a Hindu temple. Swaraj’s comments concerning the Gita are highly irresponsible.

The developments over the past few months have indeed created a suspicion in the minds of the people. Prior to the elections, the BJP sought to underplay the Hindutva card. But post elections, their real intentions have emerged on the fore. While the focus should be on development and championing industrial growth, attempts are being made to re-write history in the favour of right-wingers.

Politics is about creating the appropriate perception.

Many scholars have argued that the Gita is not a religious book but a discourse on philosophy with universal application. But this argument cannot be used as a justification to give it the status of a national book. The adherents of other faiths are bound to argue as to why does the government not recognize the universal essence of the teachings enunciated in religious books like Bible, Guru Granth Sahib and Quran?

Sectarian recognitions are bound to alienate minorities. Pakistan was born in 1947 as an “Islamic country”. At that time, the founders of Pakistan had assured the minorities of equality and freedom of religion. The “Islamic” tag was in no way supposed to hurt the rights of the minorities. Has that promise been upheld? Not only has the population of minorities steeply fallen, the state has institutionalized persecution of minorities. This was done by means of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan which declared Ahmadis as “non Muslims”. The writing on the wall is clear. Symbolic sectarian gestures pave the way for greater communal advances in the future.

A small demand concerning the Gita may set off dangerous precedents. In an op-ed piece for DNA, Subramian Swamy had suggested that India be declared as a Hindu Rashtra, a nation for the Hindus and those whose ancestors were Hindus. He went on to state that non-Hindus who did not recognize their Hindu ancestry should be stripped of their voting rights. This venomous piece of writing led to Swamy’s dismissal from Harvard but it continues to hold contemporary relevance.

If symbolic demands are given into, it would embolden the more radical Hindutva leaders like Swamy to call for fulfilment of their other outrageous needs. This is indeed a critical stage for Indian democracy. The Bharatiya Janata Party has for the very first time managed to win a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha. The test for BJP lies in resisting constitutional erosion. If Modi wants to deliver then he will not only have to clampdown on those from within his party who are trying to disturb the constitutional balance but also create a much larger public impression which doesn’t show this government as dancing to the tunes of the RSS.

http://www.kashmirlife.net/colouring-texts-issue-42-vol-06-71191/

(This article was originally published in Kashmir Life.)

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Biased governance

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Newspaper clipping from Khaleej Times

In July 2012, the state government of Gujarat had cited Article 27 of the Indian Constitution before the Supreme Court to claim that it was not liable to pay for reconstruction of religious monuments as the constitution forbade the government “from imposing tax for promotion of a religion”.

This is in response to the news report titled ‘Damage to Muslim shrines violation of minority rights’ (KT, November 28). The Gujarat government’s attitude towards payment of compensation for reparation of religious monuments destroyed during the 2002 Gujarat riots (numbering over 500 and mostly belonging to the Muslim community) has once again exposed its communal nature.

In July 2012, the state government of Gujarat had cited Article 27 of the Indian Constitution before the Supreme Court to claim that it was not liable to pay for reconstruction of religious monuments as the constitution forbade the government “from imposing tax for promotion of a religion”.

At present, the state government has offered to pay a minuscule amount of Rs50,000 for each monument, which has been categorically rejected by the Islamic Relief Committee, Gujarat. Ironically, Gujarat government’s former chief minister and current Prime Minister Narendra Modi had once proudly announced at a rally held on September 9, 2002, that his government had sanctioned Rs80 million for the development of the Bahucharaji Devi Temple.

When flash floods struck Uttarakhand in June 2013, Modi stepped out of his ambit and requested the then chief minister Vijay Bahuguna to give the task of the reconstruction of Kedarnath Temple to the Gujarat government.

While the Gujarat government maintains a benevolent attitude towards Hindu temples by sanctioning funds and voluntarily offering reconstruction, it has been highly biased in its duty towards Islamic monuments. However, this should not come as a surprise to anyone because the history of Bharatiya Janata Party is well known.

The political rise of the BJP is courtesy its role in the demolition of Babri Mosque in Ayodhya where they seek to construct a grand temple.

With the BJP in power at the Centre, the safety of minorities is definitely under suspicion. The communal riots in New Delhi’s Trilokpuri area and the burning down of the St. Sebastian Church in the city are a testimony to the growing communal unrest under the BJP regime.

http://www.khaleejtimes.com/kt-letter-display.asp?xfile=data/letters/2014/December/letters_December15.xml&section=letters

(This article was originally published in Khaleej Times.)