By PAWAN KHERA
When the by-election results were coming out, when Pentagon was releasing a report exposing Chinese incursion in Arunachal Pradesh, when India was tumbling down on the Global Hunger Index, our constitutional values were getting redefined and our civilisational wisdom was getting undermined by a bunch of lumpens who belong to the ‘wrong-wing’ ecosystem.
By raking up the issue of namaz at public places in Gurugram, some 35-odd kilometres from the Prime Minister’s residence, Modi’s foot soldiers were trampling upon something we as a country have been proud of.
Attempts to ‘Other’ the Minority Have Grown Louder
Allegations of obstruction of public spaces for religious activities is not a new issue for our social discourse. Mature multicultural societies deal with such issues not by force but by discussion, consensus and mutual accommodation.
The state does not become a mute bystander, allowing non-state actors to take the law in their hands to further the polarising agenda of the ruling dispensation.
Attempts to ‘other’ the minority have only grown louder ever since the wrong-wing has acquired electoral muscle. The tendency to make every contentious issue into an ‘either/or’ issue has been the hallmark of the wrong-wing across the world.
‘Yesterday’s Fringe is Today’s State’
Mutual coexistence does not figure in their scheme of things for the simple reason that their raison d’etre is to discover or invent fault lines and thrive in them. These are forces that prefer confrontation over consultation.
I remember the awestruck faces in Germany when I discussed the ease with which different communities lived and practised their faiths in India. We grew up viewing each other with interest – a healthy curiosity – but never with a sense of insecurity, fear or worse, hatred.
The process of demonising Muslims has reached proportions that have far-reaching implications on the way we live and are viewed by the world.
From COVID-19 to mehndi (henna) artists to the humble fruit-seller, the othering of Muslims can no longer be treated as a fringe desperately seeking relevance. It has now not only been mainstreamed but has full-fledged state protection and patronage. Truth be told, yesterday’s fringe is today’s state.
Barring festivals, Hindus do not even have a practice of community worship. Sikhs, Muslims and Christians do.
‘The New Maximum City’ Has Minimum Tolerance
Gurugram, which likes to call itself “the new maximum city,” has shown minimum tolerance towards a practice of temporarily using public places for worship. There are 10 mosques catering to half a million Muslim population of Gurugram. Muslims congregate for community prayers on Fridays. They have done so for centuries. The designated spots where Muslims assemble for Friday namaz have been in the eye of a rapidly brewing storm in this so-called cosmopolitan city that is rumoured to have the most happening nightlife in the entire National Capital Region (NCR).
Some wrong-wing leaders out to make it big within their brotherhood took it upon themselves to threaten and browbeat the local administration into cancelling permission for namaz in several spots, including the much-talked-about Sector 12A. This Friday, they assembled at that very spot to perform Govardhan Puja, thereby rendering a very profound festival into a tool of ‘controlling’ the ‘other’.
State-Sponsored Animosity is on Rise
The state actively helped this outfit and allowed it to perform the Puja. Thus, a perfectly cohesive understanding between communities is sought to be getting replaced with state-sponsored animosity; thus, a festival that brings back such fond memories of joy and celebration has been reduced to be used against other religions; thus, our media and we as politicians will get drawn in the either/or paradigm, instead of forcing the government to respond to the rising hunger and unemployment in the country.
Who does this benefit? Elections will be fought, won and lost. What we are on the verge of losing is this very time-tested Indian response to inter-community conflicts.
Gurugram will show whether we are ready to let a handful of lumpens determine the course of our religion and our politics, or if we will fight back and save the soul of India.
(The writer is former political secretary to Sheila Dikshit, and is currently National Spokesperson, Congress party. He tweets @Pawankhera.
This article first appeared in The Quint