India Today - - INSIDE - ( Aroon Purie)

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.


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