Two developments of immense value have been noticed over the past two weeks that will, truly, have a calming effect on high anger and may relieve people of the physical and mental fatigue induced by COVID. They will bode well for the country. First, it was the courts that came to the rescue of the besieged citizens and showed the way forward. It all started when the High Court of Tamil Nadu seriously questioned the wisdom of the Election Commission to allow huge electoral rallies in the West Bengal Assembly elections when the pandemic was at its peak. It was followed by the Delhi High Court in granting bail to three student activists indicted under the UAPA for participating in an anti-CAA unrest. In an order with far-reaching consequences, the court observed that the state cannot suppress dissent or the right to protest in its concern to maintain public order.
Then the Supreme Court dealt a blow to those who had to suffer from the deadly disease due to a flawed vaccine policy and inadequate medical facilities. The Court ordered the Center to procure the vaccine and then distribute it to states to immunize the population according to the designed protocol. In its order dated 4/30/21, the court described it as a “rational method of proceeding in the manner,” consistent with the right to life (which included the right to good health) “. However, the most important court order was to order the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to pay compensation to the dependents of those who have succumbed to the Corona virus. NDMA was invited to formulate guidelines in this regard and, in consultation with the central government, to set the amount to be paid as compensation. The importance of the well – being of the people was underlined by none other than the CJI itself which declared that it is the people and not the territory which make a nation.
Then came the most significant development of a great consequence. Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the RSS, has extended his action to the country’s Muslims. Speaking at a “Hindustani First” event organized by Muslim Rashtriya Manch in Gaziabad UP, he said those who engage in lynching are against Hindoutua: being to live together to strengthen the nation. Mohan Bhagwat added that we live in a democracy which does not allow the domination of one religion over another, “the domination must be that of the Indians”. Indeed, a huge statement from a person who matters most in the current political scene of the country and who is heard with respect, by all.
While the RSS leader indirectly berated those in the majority community who indulge in lynching, he told ordinary Muslims not to be “trapped in the cycle of fear that Islam is in danger”. Mohan Bhagwat referred to the Constitution several times during his speech to stress that the document nowhere speaks only of Hindus. His reference to the Battle of Haldi Ghati of 1574 was revealing and recalled the story that while the Mughuls were fighting the Rajputs, many Muslims were on the side of Maharana Pratap and the Mughal army was led by a Rajput, Raja Man Singh. It is remarkable that the leader of the RSS sought to minimize the religious division and national identity at the forefront by emphasizing the rule of law. It is a recognition of multiculturalism that defines the idea of India. It has come at a time when the nation is paying heavily for the division of castes and beliefs. We must reduce the cost of social conflict. More so, at a time when the threat of a deadly third wave of CARONA looms on the horizon. Polarization does not pay, dialogue is essential to remove apprehensions.
The leader of the RSS has, in many ways, stated the obvious that Indians generally respect religious diversity and see it as a virtue. According to the recent survey by the Pew Research Center (Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation), most Indians respect religious diversity and see it as an advantage rather than a handicap. They express their attachment to religious tolerance. The survey revealed that 84% of Indians believe that respect for all religions is very important to be truly Indian and 80% said respect for other religions is the notable part of their religious identity.
Some observers tend to read Bhagwat’s speech in the context of the electoral challenges that the BJP is likely to face in the coming months. Some analysts would like to place this statement in the context of evolving strategies. Because, for various reasons, many liberal Hindus and a significant part of the middle class, who voted for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the national and national elections held so far, are changing their preferences. Moreover, the RSS does not want Muslims to align themselves en bloc with the opposition parties of the UP, which will go to the polls in 2022 and upset the BJP apple cart. The community voting model in the recent West Bengal elections may have made people wiser. Whatever the reason, Mohan Bhagwat’s words are welcome as they will help restore sanity, tolerance and a sense of accommodation in society. This can curb marginal elements of the majority community and, also, make stray elements of the minority community think twice before falling prey to cross-border machinations.
Whatever the reason, Mohan Bhagwat’s statement should be read with sincerity and in the spirit in which it is made. He deserves attention and respect. It may not be a Perestroika moment for RSS, but it is certainly a step in that direction. It is encouraging that the Muslim intelligentsia on the whole welcomed the declaration. It is as important for them as for the majority community to get rid of prejudices, to keep open the channels of mutual dialogue and to avoid polarizing rhetoric.
(The author is the former chief district and session judge)