A virus is raging among us

Should India be in a state of permanent polarization? The ruling establishment clearly wants Indian citizens to believe that such an environment is in their best interests. Whether it is clothing, food, faith, feasting or language, the Indians are wanted to be opposed to the Indians and the forces of discord are given every encouragement, manifesto and secret. History – both ancient and contemporary – is continually sought out for interpretation to promote prejudice, animosity and revenge. It is a travesty that instead of using our resources to create a bright new future for the country and engaging young minds in productive endeavours, valuable time and assets are being used to attempt to reshape the present in terms of an imaginary past.

The Prime Minister talks a lot about recognizing India’s multiple diversities. But the stark reality is that under this ruling regime, the rich diversities that have defined and enriched our society for centuries are being manipulated to divide us and, even worse, to harden fault lines and make them more firmly entrenched.

It is now well accepted that we must maintain high economic growth to create wealth that can be redistributed, to raise the standard of living and, above all, to generate the income necessary for social protection programs and to provide adequate employment opportunities for our young people. But the worsening environment of social illiberalism and bigotry, the spread of hatred and division, is shaking the very foundations of economic growth. It is no surprise that some bold business leaders have spoken out against what is being orchestrated in Karnataka, among the most entrepreneurially dynamic states. There was a predictable backlash on social media against these brave voices. But the concerns are widely shared – and very real. It is no secret that an increasing number of our business people have declared themselves as non-resident Indians in recent years.

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The growing chorus of hatred, the undisguised incitement to aggression and even the crimes against minorities are far from the accommodating and syncretic traditions of our society. Shared holiday celebrations, good neighborly relations between communities of different faiths, the pervasive intermingling of faith and belief in the arts, movies and daily life, examples of which number in the thousands, are hallmarks proud and enduring of our company through the ages. . To undermine this for narrow political gain is to undermine the composite and syncretic foundations of Indian society and nation.

There is something more insidious in this grand plan of division to keep India in a permanent state of frenzy. Any dissent and opinion that opposes the ideology of those in power is sought to be ruthlessly suppressed. Political opponents are targeted and the full power of the state apparatus is unleashed against them. Activists are threatened and seek to be silenced. Social media, in particular, is used to spread what can only be described as lies and venom. Fear, deception and intimidation have become the pillars of the so-called “maximum governance, minimum government” strategy. The Narendra Modi government started celebrating November 26 as Constitution Day to mark the adoption of our Constitution by the Constituent Assembly in 1949. But it respects the Constitution while systematically emasculating all institutions. This is pure hypocrisy.

How special we are seen globally will crucially depend on how inclusive we become at home – not through slogans but through real action. What prevents the Prime Minister from speaking out unambiguously and publicly against hate speech, wherever it emanates? Repeat offenders roam freely and nothing limits their use of inflammatory and provocative language. Indeed, they seem to enjoy some sort of official patronage at different levels and that is why they get away with atrocious and actionable statements.

Vigorous debates, discussions and virtually any form of interaction where an alternative point of view is welcome are now a thing of the past and we are all poorer for it. Even academia, once respected for encouraging new thought processes, is under the scanner to interact with its counterparts in other parts of the world. As the vilification of religions and the condemnation of entire communities become the norm, it is becoming commonplace to see divisive policies not only affecting the workplace, but also penetrating neighborhoods and even people’s homes. Never before has this country seen hate as the basis of the daily choices our citizens make.

This marvelous land of ours has welcomed and celebrated heterogeneity, multiplicity and creativity and has given birth to great minds and personalities whose works have been read and recognized throughout the world. The hitherto liberal environment and the spirit of inclusiveness, accommodation and tolerance have been instrumental in making all of this possible. A closed society that encourages strict thinking can hardly expect to be a society where new ideas flow. An intimidated mind is unlikely to be fertile or innovative.

An apocalypse of hatred, bigotry, intolerance and untruth overwhelms our country today. If we don’t stop it now, it will cause irreparable damage to our society, if it hasn’t already. We simply cannot and must not allow this to continue. As a people, we cannot sit idly by while peace and pluralism are sacrificed on the altar of false nationalism.

Let us contain this raging fire, this tsunami of hatred that was unleashed before all that was so painstakingly built by past generations was razed to the ground. More than a century ago, the poet of Indian nationalism gave the world his immortal Gitanjali whose 35th verse has become perhaps the most famous and quoted. Gurudev Tagore’s prayer, with its seminal lines, “Where the mind is fearless…”, is all the more relevant and has increased resonance today.

This column first appeared in the print edition of April 16, 2022 under the title “A virus is raging”. The writer is chairman of the Congress party

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