February 08, 2015



US President Barrack Obama's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast late last week where he said that the Father of the Nation - M K Gandhi would be unhappy with incidents of religious intolerance that have taken place in the past, have certainly not gone well with a large number of Indians. Considering America's own dismal record in terms of racial discrimination, it would serve the US better if they stop preaching the world and concentrate on addressing the concerns plaguing the so-called 'open' American society. Whatever be Obama's 'real' motives in making a reference to India in his speech, there is no denying that acts of religious intolerance in the country have been on the rise ever since the BJP led NDA government came to power in May last year. Of course, there have been riots too when the Congress was in power; how can one forget the massacre of nearly 3,000 Sikhs in the capital following the assassination of late PM Indira Gandhi. But then, hitting out at the INC or asking the US to 'mind its own business' will certainly not justify the recent spate of attacks on churches in Delhi or the much hyped 'Ghar Wapasi' programmes organized by right wing groups to re-convert Muslims and Christians back to Hinduism.

What frightens me the most is the 'not-so-dignified' silence of PM Narendra Modi on this issue. Sometime back when the UPA was in power and the country was headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh, the BJP had accused him of not speaking regularly to either the media or the public. In fact, in many of his election rallies prior to the General Polls, Modi had referred to the then incumbent PM as 'Maun-mohan' Singh for failing to speak up as his colleagues in the cabinet were making money by 'selling' the country's natural resources. However, today, as some members of the BJP and its ideological allies in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal are threatening the very secular fabric of the country, Modi seems to find no time to clear the air by publically reprimand the likes of Sakshi Maharaj and Sadhvi Niranjan. I mean, come on, he has time to speak about Cleanliness, Drug Abuse and Women's Empowerment. I am not trying to belittle these issues but then isn't growing religious intolerance a topic that needs to be addressed at the earliest. After all, secularism is one of the most vital tenets that our culture is based upon and any attack on our plurality is an attack on the 'Idea of India'. And then, with the PM himself being accused of failing to protect the minorities during the Godhra riots in 2002, it is important that Modi leaves no scope for the Opposition to target his own personal credentials.

For a nation that is home to people following numerous faiths, the religious diversity in our society is one of our greatest strengths. It is in our best interest to make sure that all kinds of minorities in our nation - religious, social or linguistic are protected and are allowed to follow their customs and traditions. In the present context, for this to happen, the PM needs to make some time out of his busy schedule and speak to the masses so that the country is sure what its leadership thinks. Of course, many would say that this will be only a symbolic gesture, but then, symbolism is important, isn't it? Our PM has launched a wonderful initiative by addressing the country via the radio as a part of his 'Mann ki Baat'. It will be great if our PM speaks about communalism in the next installment of this programme. Mr Modi, are you listening?