FROM THE EDITOR- IN- CHIEF
Iam often asked what I see as the biggest threat to India. It is not our sclerotic political leadership or the distorted economy or the crony capitalism or the endemic corruption or widening gap between the rich and the poor. It is sectarian violence. If you have 180 million people, which constitutes 14 per cent of the population, alienated from the mainstream, it will endanger the very idea of us as a nation. Unfortunately, it is an undercurrent which runs in the country and it seems that every time we think we have overcome the petty communal divisions that have sullied our history at regular intervals, the bloody past returns to haunt us. The communal riots that have already claimed 40 lives in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, barely 130 km from New Delhi, are not just a disturbing reminder of the post- Babri Masjid violence of 1992 and post- Godhra killings of 2002, but also a dangerous forewarning of what could lie ahead.
The tectonic plates that sit together, not always seamlessly, to create the idea of a secular India, are once again in motion. The Muzaffarnagar riots are not a solitary incident. Reports of other disturbances have been reported from across the country over the last few months. The frequency of these incidents seems to be increasing proportionally as we inch closer to the next General Elections. And the reason behind these mundane and purely local events taking on a larger, communal hue is because of the role played by politicians desperate to solidify their traditional constituencies through the politics of hatred.
Ironically, this is happening at a time when— unlike Ayodhya and Godhra— there is no big- ticket religious dispute to settle. As those incidents are becoming irrelevant for a new generation of voters who are unaware or not bothered by the happenings of the past, political parties are preying on the innate undercurrents of tension between communities. By raking up these issues again, they are pitting citizen against citizen, particularly in states where a sizeable Muslim population can have an impact on election results.
There are approximately 70 seats across India which have a ‘ decisive’ Muslim vote share of more than 20 per cent, and another 150 seats where they have more than 10 per cent of the vote share. In states such as Maharashtra, UP, Bihar and Gujarat, where BJP has a strong presence and is looking to gain further, a clear pro- Muslim stand by Congress, SP, BSP, RJD or JD( U) can polarise the Muslims in their favour. At the same time, any such polarisation automatically triggers a counter- polarisation among Hindu voters for BJP. What we are seeing in Uttar Pradesh is a manifestation of this tug of war.
Our cover story, put together by Deputy Editor Kunal Pradhan, with inputs from bureaus across the country, looks at the politics of division in the run- up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. From Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s skull cap to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s hijab to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s remark about the “burqa of secularism”, it attempts to illustrate how deeply communal the political environment has become. Deputy Editor Sandeep Unnithan, who travelled to Muzaffarnagar in the aftermath of the riots, felt that the fear and uncertainty hanging over an otherwise prosperous small town was almost tangible. “It was like a war zone. The buildings looked deserted but fearful residents would peep out occasionally,” says Unnithan.
A country proud of its unity in diversity must not get hijacked by selfserving politicians who use religion to divide the people of India by practising the politics of hate and fear. I believe the people of India have moved on and they should banish such politicians in the coming elections to the dustbin of history where they belong.
OUR MARCH 2002 COVER