The growing cult of intolerance


– Patricia Mukhim

It is unbecoming of someone holding a constitutional post such as that of a Governor to display a blatantly communal mindset. But this has happened in Assam, perhaps because of the anxiety to garner votes.

Consider this: On Sunday November 22, PB Acharya, Governor of Nagaland and Assam stated at a book launch function at Guwahati that, 'Hindustan is for Hindus' and qualified his obnoxious statement by later stating that the name of a single Bangladeshi should not be included in the updating of the National Register for Citizens (NRC). Earlier the Prime Minister himself had said that all Hindus who have come in from Bangladesh would be welcome to reside in Assam. Acharya's exact words were "Hindustan is for Hindus. There is nothing wrong with that. Hindus from different countries can stay here. They cannot be outsiders. There is nothing to be feared about that. But how to accommodate them is a big question and we should think about that."

First of all, Governors although they are appointed by the political party in power are not expected to carry ideology like a coat of arms. Governor Acharya has done this time without number and with apologies to none. He does not waste a moment to regale his listeners about the BJP and its prime minister at every public function. He did it at a function of the Rotary Club of Guwahati held earlier this year at the Radisson Blu Hotel. Clearly Acharya has not transcended his party affiliation despite occupying a constitutional post which does not allow an open display of undiluted fervour for any political party. This is what's problematic about seating RSS functionaries in important constitutional posts and in pushing them to head academic institutions.

The growing intolerance towards diversity of religion, race, culture, thoughts and ideas in recent times makes you wonder if it was a travesty of history that some of us belong to this country called India since we are neither Hindus, nor of Aryan or Dravidian descent. I say this with responsibility and do not in the least harbour the seeds of secessionism. We were brought up to believe that this is a great country with a rich civilisation and one that embraces all religions and cultures. All this has suddenly changed since May 2014. The aspiration for development has turned awry. Not a day passes without some personality or the other belonging to the conglomerate of cadres that are drenched in the cult of Hindutva and which claim to have brought the present Narendra Modi government to power, saying something disdainful about those who do not subscribe to their ideological trend.

Not too many moons ago, Swapan Dasgupta that right wing intellectual had said in an article that the CPI(M) is the most anti-diluvian of the Stalinist parties to grace bourgeois democracy. He labelled the Left leaning intelligentsia as one that 'revelled in the celebration of morbidity and cussed militancy and practitioners of banality.' Swapan further accused Jyoti Basu of reducing a once vibrant centre of cosmopolitanism (West Bengal) into a provincial backwater regulated by puffed up petty tyrants in local coordination committees. Is a similar situation not unfolding itself not just in the national capital but in different regions of this country today? Dasgupta goes a step further in stating then that, "Public discourse has been moulded to fit into an ideological structure. Heretics have bought one way tickets out of Kolkata….". The question to ask Dasgupta today is, "Where will those of us who do not subscribe to any ideology – right, left or centre get a one way ticket to? Is this not our country? And have we no right to our own beliefs, philosophies cultures and histories?

More implicitly, is the RSS ideology not anti-diluvian and steeped in intolerance? And is this RSS not running the country with its remote control while the Prime Minister maintains a studied silence on these shenanigans? And is it not a fact that ultra-nationalism is today celebrated and given place of pride? Look at the recently retired army general turned politician, VK Singh. He was at the helm of the Indian army and joined the BJP not even a year after his retirement; fought the 2014 election and won. VK Singh could not have developed a love for right wing philosophy suddenly after hanging his boots. It must have been an intrinsic part of his consciousness and guided his decisions even then. Today he is an important minister of the Modi Government and we hear his despicable comments (equating dalits with dogs) on a whole range of issues. While the sadhus and sadhvis of the Sangh Parivar can be expected to utter blasphemies that divide the nation, you don't expect a former army general to be so politically incorrect and to then take recourse to the excuse that this country has been too tolerant of 'minorities.' What is this if not divisive politics?

Then you have the example of the former Union Home Secretary, RK Singh. He too joined the BJP immediately on retirement, fought and won the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Imagine the Home Secretary of the country already nurturing a narrow, partisan mindset while in office and perhaps taking important decisions for this country that are coloured by that regressive, prejudiced outlook!

I am not one who believes in returning awards to raise a protest against the growing cult of intolerance. It is also my firm belief that writers, artists, film directors actors, singers et al can use their respective medium to highlight what they feel strongly about. Those who act can do so through the medium of cinema. This will also become part of history and remind us of a time in our lives when a Muslim person was killed, not for eating beef, but because someone suspected that he had beef in his cupboard. And that other writers and intellectuals too were done in because they believed in alternative philosophies!

This is also a time in history when even Governors have forgotten their constitutional obligations and the oath they have taken to rise above what Tagore calls the "narrow domestic walls" of one-dimensional thinking. An India that forgets the many histories; the diverse cultures and the rich tapestry of humanity that make up this great nation is sure to splinter into destructive atoms.