Epidemic of hate raging among us, dissent being ruthlessly stifled; we can't let this go on: Sonia Gandhi
An apocalypse of hate, bigotry and untruth is engulfing our country. If we don’t stop it now, it will, if it already hasn't, damage our society beyond repair, Congress president Sonia Gandhi writes
Does India have to be in a state of permanent polarization? The ruling establishment clearly wants the citizens of India to believe that such an environment is in their best interest. Whether it is dress, food, faith, festivals or language Indian are sought to be pitted against Indians and the forces of discord are given every encouragement—overt and covert. History—both ancient and contemporary—is continuously sought to be interpreted to promote prejudice animosity and vengeance. It is a travesty that instead of utilizing our resources for creating a bright, new future for the country and engaging young minds in productive ventures, time and valuable assets are being used up in attempts to refashion the present in terms of an imagined past.
There is much talk from the Prime Minister of acknowledging India’s multiple diversities. But the harsh reality is that under his ruling dispensation, the rich diversity that has defined and enriched our society for centuries are, being manipulated to divide us and, worse, to harden and get more firmly entrenched.
It is now well accepted that we must sustain high economic growth to create wealth that can be redistributed, raise living standards and most of all generate revenues needed for social welfare programmes and provide adequate employment opportunities for our youth. But the worsening environment of social illiberalism and bigotry, the spread of hatred and divisiveness shakes the very foundations of economic growth. It is no surprise that some bold corporate executives have been speaking out against what is being orchestrated in Karnataka amongst the most entrepreneurially dynamic of our states. There has been a predictable backlash in the social media against these courageous voices. But the concerns are widely shared – and very real. It is no secret that a strikingly increasing number of our business persons are declaring themselves as non-resident Indians in the past few years.
The rising chorus of hatred, the unconcealed instigation of aggression and even crimes against the minorities is a far departure from the accommodating, syncretic traditions in our society. Shared celebrations of festivals, good neighbourly relationships between communities of different faiths, the pervasive intermingling of faith and belief in the arts, cinema and everyday life – of which there are examples by the thousands – are a proud and durable characteristic of our society through the ages. To undermine this for narrow political gain is to undermine the composite and syncretic foundations of Indian society and nationhood.
There is something else more insidious that is part of this new, grand divisive plan to keep India in a state of permanent frenzy. All dissent and opinion that is opposed to the ideology of those in power is sought to be ruthlessly stifled. Political opponents are targeted and the full might of the state machinery is unleashed against them. Activists are threatened and sought to be silenced. Social media particularly is utilized to propagate 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 Modi Government has started the practice of celebrating November 26th as Constitution Day to mark the adoption of our Constitution by the Constituent Assembly that day in 1949. But it pays obeisance to the Constitution while systematically emasculating every institution. This is sheer hypocrisy.
How exclusive we will want to be seen globally will depend crucially on how inclusive we become at home — not through slogans but through actual actions. What prevents the Prime Minister from coming down unambiguously and publicly against hate speech from whatever quarter it emanates? Repeat offenders roam free, and there is no restraint on their use of incendiary 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 prosecutable statements.
Vigourous debates, discussions and virtually any form of interaction where an alternate point of view is welcomed has become a thing of the past and we are all the poorer for it. Even the academia, once respected for encouraging fresh thought processes, is under a scanner for interacting with counterparts from other parts of the world. As vilification of faiths and condemnation of entire communities has become the norm, it is becoming commonplace to see divisive politics affecting not just the workplace - we now see it entering neighbourhoods and indeed people’s homes. Never before has this country seen hatred at the basis of the day to day choices that are made by our citizens.
This wonderful land of ours has been home to and celebrated heterogeneity, multiplicity and creativity and has given birth to great minds and personalities whose works have been read and acknowledged the world over. The hitherto liberal environment, and the spirit of inclusivity, accommodation and tolerance, has played a critical role in making all this possible. A closed society that encourages straightjacketed thinking can hardly expect to be one where fresh ideas flow from. A brow-beaten mind is hardly likely to be a fertile or innovative one.
An apocalypse of hatred, bigotry, intolerance and untruth is engulfing our country today. If we don’t stop it now, it will – if it already hasn’t – damage our society beyond repair. We simply cannot and must not allow this to go on. We as a people cannot stand by and watch as peace and pluralism are sacrificed at the altar of bogus nationalism. Let us contain this raging fire, this tsunami of hate that has been unleashed before all that has been so painstakingly built by past generations is razed to the ground. Over a century ago, the poet of Indian nationalism gave the world his immortal Gitanjali of which perhaps the 35th verse has become the most celebrated and most quoted. Gurudev Tagore’s prayer, with its seminal lines starting, “Where the mind is without fear….” is all the more relevant and has heightened resonance today.
Published: 16 Apr 2022, 1:00 PM