The open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, penned by 49 celebrities protesting ‘rising intolerance’ and, in particular, what they define as a war cry -- ‘Jai Shri Ram’ -- is a boon for the Bharatiya Janata Party.
It is also an indication that little has been learnt.
We live in an age where major acts of terror have been preceded by the chant of ‘Allah hu Akbar’. Now imagine if someone were to pen a letter in the same vein, referring to this chant as a ‘war cry’, which it is intended to be for Islamists whose aim it is to establish a caliphate. The accusations of Islamophobia and bigotry would be immediate.
It would be an argument worth considering because the framing of these chants as an indictment of a peaceful majority would only serve to deracinate and further divide communities.
However, in this instance, this bigotry and political attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been cloaked with ‘concern’. A ‘concern’ which is lacking, or at least not on display, when crimes of intolerance impact other religious groups, more specifically Hindus.
The scientist Dr Anand Ranganathan has listed out, on Twitter, the crimes against Hindus which were motivated by religious intolerance in the last few months. This listing is indicative of the fact that we fail to acknowledge that Hindus, despite being in the majority, are victims of this violence in our country just like other religious groups are.
Our country and indeed the Hindu faith are known for religious tolerance. Hindus have spent centuries under foreign and Islamic rule and survived despite the oppression. Neither have they attempted to convert others to the Hindu faith.
The Jews, persecuted the world over, found sanctuary and dignity in India centuries ago. Whilst our neighbours Bangladesh and Pakistan show a reduction in minorities, India has seen a growth in numbers. But all of this isn’t enough to restrain those intent on defaming the country and Hindus.
Any rise in intolerance must be checked, but when the purpose is reparation and conciliation then the conversation has to be framed in more inclusive terms: one that addresses the grievances of all the parties involved.
The need to constantly cast one group as victims and another as oppressor in the face of facts that undermine and deny this premise creates further dissonance in society. It then becomes an act that isn’t conciliatory but inflammatory.
That is exactly what has happened due to this latest missive to the PM by 49 ‘eminent citizens’. It yet again chooses to highlight the victimhood of select groups and undermines the injustice to others.
And that is why the BJP benefits.
As it launched its second term in power with ‘sabka vishwas’ and outreach to marginalised and minority communities, its detractors are singing from an old hymn sheet, one which has failed to deliver.
Whilst the BJP is going forth with inclusiveness, these celebrities, quite clearly of a Leftist persuasion, are steeped in identity politics that grants victimhood to specific groups and denies it to others.
It is also unsurprising that terms like ‘anti national’, ‘urban Naxal’, et cetera make an appearance in the letter. After all, the mainstream narrative has slipped away from those who, till moments ago, were referring to people who spoke for Hindus as ‘bigots’ and ‘communal’ for merely doing so.
Name-calling is to be discouraged in civil discourse but when decades have been spent delegitimising and accusing others of bigotry and communalism just by association, forget by speech, then the tit-for-tat syndrome finds a place. And that is where we are today.
Whilst everyone is entitled to express their concerns to the prime minister of the country, it would be worth noting that the signatories, who hail mostly from West Bengal, have done little to highlight the atrocities being committed in the state that range from lynchings, political violence, voter intimidation and arbitrary arrests over free speech.
Law and order does come under the state government, in which case they would have to address these concerns to their chief minister, who may not be as tolerant of dissent as the prime minister is.
Maybe the writers could have added a few ‘cc’s’ to the letter but that would take courage.
Advaita Kala is an author, screenwriter and a columnist.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.