Exclusivism deepens cultural divide, leads to communal confrontation

In a democratic dispensation a citizen lives in three dimensions – personal, socio-cultural and political. Religion, mode of worship, food, health and family care – all fall in the personal domain and the democratic state grants an almost total freedom of choice there.
Religion defines the relationship of a person with his or her God while culture determines the quality of the individual’s social interaction – with religion hopefully making a positive contribution to it.
All religions enjoin upon a man to be at his best behaviour with others in the society. Politics is the sphere of existence where the citizen understands the importance of ‘one man one vote’ as the ultimate equality of the right to choose one’s rulers through a ballot regardless of caste, creed and gender.
In the Indian context, community leaders – particularly those practising ‘minority politics’ out of vested interest – refused to acknowledge the built-in secularism that the principles of ‘development for all’, ‘equal protection of law for everybody within our legal system’ and prohibition on the elected political executive carrying a denominational stamp, clearly established in this country’s governance.
Any specific instance where these democratic fundamentals were not being followed can be strongly protested by citizens – the concerned state government rather than the Centre should be the target of agitation if a differential of treatment was noticed on the law and order front by way of inadequacy of action against elements taking law into their hands for communal reasons.
Steadily, however, many forces in the opposition aided by certain lobbies in India and abroad – the latter clearly playing politics by proxy – have built a narrative ever since the BJP secured a large majority of its own in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and more so after the return of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power in 2019, that the country is sliding into authoritarianism, majoritarianism and a systemic disregard of religious minorities.
Prime Minister Modi arrived on the national scene primarily because his image of integrity and reputation for strong governance looked like a contrast to the earlier regimes in the eyes of the people in general – the opposition was free to take him on in matters of policy but it decided to run him down by raising the ‘pro-Hindu’ character of BJP and using it as the means of garnering minority votes in a familiar replay of old domestic politics.
Practising realpolitik, the opposition parties increasingly realised that in a situation where the majority community was a highly divided entity, solid support of the large Muslim minority could be a match winner – this was carried to a point where some backlash was also created.
In the recent Assembly elections, BJP reaffirmed its political strength but Uttar Pradesh also illustrated how block voting by Muslims benefitted the Samajwadi Party reducing other non- BJP parties to a rump.
In what certainly was a legacy of Partition, the tradition of Ulema and the communally motivated elite guiding the politics of the Muslim minority continued unabated keeping up the Hindu-Muslim divide and projecting religion into politics by demanding a proportional share of power for the Muslim minority at the national apex.
This was no different from the political separatism that had led to the division of the country on communal lines in 1947. The fall-out of Partition riots in which a million people died saw communal violence erupting every now and then in different parts of India over several decades after Independence, but the character of ‘minority politics’ in the country remained unchanged.
Why should the minorities not be led also by leaders of other communities in a secular India? Even in peace committee meetings held after such riots, politics of communal divide was in full play. In a particular case of a serious riot in a North Indian state in late Seventies, the communal leaders felt deflated when a suggestion was made at the Peace Committee meeting – being held in a highly-tense environ – that the Hindus should choose Muslim members of the Committee and Muslims should select the Hindu members.
What is happening is that religious exclusivism earlier injected in politics is now being extended to the socio-cultural sphere as well – this is a cause for concern because revival of aggressive confrontation on festive occasions is increasingly in evidence once more.
After the controversies around wearing of Hijab in class rooms, right to offer Namaz at public places and even the practice of showing respect to national flag and national anthem, violence on occasions of religious processions is raising its head again – the matter needs immediate attention of Central and state governments as forces might be in operation to destabilise the internal scene.
It is easy to precipitate communal violence on religious occasions, particularly on the issue of route of the processions – India has a history of this happening – because political elements are often ahead of the Police in planning such a mischief.
In the recent months at least three new dimensions of threat to India’s security have become centre stage and their cumulative impact calls for a review of our strategy of response. First, the atmosphere of communal discord in the country – attributable to a divisive domestic politics – is getting hardened because Pakistan’s advocacy for protection of Muslim minority here is now a part of that country’s India policy. There is likelihood of Pak ISI stepping up recruitment of agents to provoke communal violence at a time when the Ulema and communally motivated elite are fouling up the environment for their political interests.
Secondly, the new regime in Pakistan has lost no time in declaring that Indo-Pak peace is dependent on a solution being found for the ‘Kashmir dispute’ – with Shehbaz Sharif talking of ‘Valley turning red with Kashmiri’s blood’.
The change of regime in Pakistan has put that country on the US side of the fence creating possibilities of Pakistan again becoming a beneficiary of the American proclivity of making a distinction between ‘good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists’ as was happening in the past.
The US can again put focus only on Islamic radical outfits which are anti-US and not be bothered too much about ISI-trained militants that targeted only India. This is totally unacceptable to India.
Meanwhile, the Kashmir situation is facing an aggravation because of ‘lone wolves’ enlisted by Pakistan. The current happenings in Kashmir are further deepening the Hindu-Muslim divide in the country as the adversaries are intent on fishing in the domestic troubled waters here.
Finally, the new Prime Minister of Pakistan has hailed the economic benefits accruing from the Sino-Pak strategic alliance, which makes it clear that this axis will be turned more and more against India without Pakistan running into a problem with the US on this score.
There may be new attempts to cause trouble here – in Northeast, Kashmir, Punjab and elsewhere – and intensify recruitment of radicalised elements for terror activity.
Eruption of violence linked to religious processions can become a cascading phenomenon – this country is familiar with the challenge faced by the local authorities in preventing it.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh has rightly called upon his administration to focus on letting only authorised processions move along prescribed routes. There is sanctity about a procession – not necessarily about the route – but it is also to be made clear that leaders of Muslim minority could not demand a blanket ban on a Hindu procession passing in front of a mosque located on the defined route.
Local Police has to be on top of the situation in putting down firmly any objectionable behaviour from either side. Socio-cultural exclusivism is the issue here and this cannot be encouraged in today’s times.
National agencies had kept track of organised plans to foment violence but the situation demands an immediate up-gradation of the Thana Police in communally sensitive pockets – these are all mapped out already.
Major Police Stations in vulnerable areas should be headed by a Dy SP who could also act as the Circle Officer for one or two adjoining Thanas. He should have a contingent of Armed Police stationed at his station. These Thanas should have strong Intelligence units keeping track of undesirable elements and their doings in lanes and Mohallas.
Preventive arrests should become an important instrument for pre-empting violence. Also, it should be re-emphasised that no major communal riot is instantaneous – it is always the culmination of a brewing trouble that should never escape the notice of an efficient local administration.
It is a matter of great satisfaction that Prime Minister Modi is totally committed to the National Police Mission in which technology would pay a crucial role. Threats to Internal Security permeating to the grass-roots like terrorism, instigated communal violence and operations of drug pedlars require a further integration of Central agencies with state and district intelligence units through a system of designated ‘nodal officers’.
Police is now the first responder to these threats and this specialised function goes beyond the maintenance of law and order. State administration has to move in the direction of preparing the Police for handling these enlarged responsibilities – without losing time.

(The writer is a former Director of Intelligence Bureau. The Views are personal)

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