B L Saraf
Two developments of immense value came to be noticed in the past couple of weeks which will, truly, have a soothing effect on the raised tempers and may relieve people of the COVID induced physical and mental fatigue. They will bode well for the country. First, it were the courts that came to the rescue of beleaguered citizen and showed a way forward . It started with Tamil Nadu High Court seriously calling in question the wisdom of Election Commission to allow huge election gatherings in West Bengal Assembly election when Pandemic was at the peak. It was followed by the Delhi High Court in granting bail to three student activists charged under UAPA for having taken part in anti CAA agitation. In an order of far reaching consequences the court observed that the state cannot suppress dissent or right to protest in its anxiety to maintain law and order .
Then, the Supreme Court struck a massive blow for people who had to suffer the deadly ailment on account of flawed vaccine policy and inadequate medical facilities. The Court directed Centre to procure vaccine and then distribute it among states for vaccinating the people as per the devised protocol. In its order dated 30 4 21 the court described it a ” rational method of proceeding in the manner, “consistent with the right of life (which included right to good health ) .” However the most significant order of the court was to direct the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA ) to pay compensation to the dependents of those who succumbed to the Corona Virus. The NDMA was asked to frame guidelines in this regard and, in consultation with the Central Government, fix the amount to be paid as the compensation . Importance of the welfare of people was emphasized by none other than the CJI himself who said that it is the people not the territory that makes a nation .
Then came the most significant development of a great consequence. Mohan Bhagwat ,the RSS Chief , extended his outreach to the Muslims of the country . Speaking in an event ‘ Hindustani First ” organized by Muslim Rashtriya Manch in Gaziabad UP he said that those who indulge in lynching are against Hindutua :that there may be differences in worship and lifestyle but Hindu and Muslims are one -not different and our belief should be to live together to strengthen the nation. Mohan Bhagwat added that we live in democracy which does not permit dominance of one religion over the other, “dominance has to be of Indians .” Indeed , a huge statement from a person who matters most in the current political scene of the country and is heard with respect, by all .
While RSS Chief obliquely admonished those in the majority community who indulge in lynching ,he told common Muslim not to get “trapped in the cycle of fear that Islam is in danger .” Mohan Bhagwat referred to the Constitution many a time during his address to emphasize the point that the document nowhere talks about Hindus only.His reference to Haldi Ghati battle of 1574 was a telling one and recalled history that while Mughuls were fighting Rajputs many Muslims were on the side of Maharana Pratap and the Mughal army was led by a Rajput , Raja Man Singh. It is a remarkable that th RSS Chief has sought to downplay the religious divide and foregrounded national identity together with emphasis on rule of law. This is an acknowledgement of multi- culturalism that defines idea of India. It has come at a time when nation is paying heavily for caste and creed division. We have to reduce the cost of social strife. More so, at a time when threat of deadly 3rd wave of CARONA is looming larges on the horizon. Polarization doesn’t pay , dialogue is must for removing misgivings .
The RSS Chief has ,in many ways, stated the obvious that generally Indians respect religious diversity and see a virtue in it. According to the recent survey conducted by Pew Research Centre ( Religion in India : Tolerance and Segregation) most Indians respect religious diversity and see it as a benefit than a liability. They express commitment to the religious tolerance. Survey revealed the fact that 84% of the Indians believed that respecting all religions is very important to being truly Indian and 80% said respecting other religions is the notable part of their religious identity.
Some observers tend to read Bhagwat’s speech in the context of electoral challenges the BJP is likely to encounter in coming months. Some analysts would like to put this statement in the contextual frame of evolving strategies. Because, for variety of reasons, many liberal Hindus and a significant section of middle class, who voted for PM Narendra Modi in the state and national elections held so far, are shifting preferences. Besides that, the RSS would not like Muslims to align en block with opposition parties in UP which is going to the polls in 2022 and upset the BJP’s apple cart. The voting pattern of communities in recently held West Bengal election may have made people more wiser. Whatever be the reason, Mohan Bhagwat’s words are welcome as this will help restore much needed sanity, tolerance and a sense of accommodation within the society. It may rein in fringe elements with the majority community and , also ,make the misguided elements in the minority community think twice before falling prey to the cross border machinations .
Whatever be the reason, Mohan Bhagwat’s statement must be read with sincerity and in the spirit it is made. It deserves attention and respect. It may not be a Perestroika moment for the RSS but certainly it is a step towards that . This is encouraging that Muslim intelligentsia has by and large welcomed the statement . It is as important for them as it is for the majority community to shed prejudices, keep channels of mutual dialogue open and avoid polarizing rhetoric.
(The author is former Principal District and Sessions Judge )
B L Saraf