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How Gandhian values have become 'casualty' in India under majoritarian BJP rule

By Sandeep Pandey* 

A Muslim youth was beaten recently when he tried to witness the famous garba performance during the Hindu religious nine days festival of Navratri in Gujarat. There was a time when Muslims could easily participate in Garbha events in an atmosphere of cordiality.
Bilkis Bano was gang raped in 2002 Gujarat communal violence, her 3 years old daughter, the child in womb and a total of 14 family members were killed. 11 accused were awarded life term. However, recently a District level committee has decided to release all the culprits. A ruling Bhartiya Janata Party leader has described some of these criminals as virtuous Brahmins, the highest among the Hindu hierarchical caste system.
In a communally polarized Gujarat today most Muslims feel offended by the decision of the government and BJP supporters either justify the release of rapists and murderers or just ignore the ignominious decision.
Mahatma Gandhi came from the Gujarat state of India. He is the most well known icon associated with India internationally. Gautam Buddha has probably a larger following but that is outside India and therefore he is seen as an international figure more in the company of Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammad.
Mahatma Gandhi is most famous for two values that he espoused – truth and non-violence. Unfortunately both these values have become a casualty in an India dominated by majoritarian rule under the BJP. Truth has a new version called post-truth and violence is selectively being justified depending on the background of people involved.
Truth has been dissociated from facts. Now what one believes or feels and develops a strong passion for is considered the truth. It doesn’t matter that it is a distorted version of history. Now even mythology is being passed off as history.
Majoritarian violence is being given a nationalist colour and hence is being justified. The caste and religion of perpetrator and victim will decide whether the perpetrator will get punishment or not, like in the case of Bilkis Bano. The victim on the other hand if doesn’t belong to upper caste and Hindu religion could very well become the accused.
For example, a BJP leader Nupur Sharma made some unsavory comments on Prophet Mohammad. No action was taken against her but journalist Mohammad Zubair who tweeted her comments had to spend 23 days in jail. Muslims who protested against her statements were detained by police.
Similarly no action has been taken against the State Home Minister Ajay Mishra Teni, whose son drove vehicle over farmers during their protest and killed 4 of them and one journalist in Lakhimpur Khiri in Uttar Pradesh. Although his son is in jail, cases were filed against hundreds of farmers, mostly Sikhs, during the 13 months movement.
It is a contradiction that BJP wants a strong India but doesn’t realize that a strong military or security apparatus doesn’t make a country strong if it is internally weak. BJP’s divisive politics has created internal tensions never seen on a scale before.
During partition of the country it was mostly Punjab, Bengal and parts of North India which were affected. In 1947 the country was physically divided, now it is mentally divided. Any kind of division is sure to result in violence provoked by hate. And we’ve seen plenty of it in India during the recent years.
Gandhi chose to remain far away from the midnight ceremony on 14 August 1947 in Bengal trying to douse communal fires
Any society can be strong only if there is internal cohesion, where people live in harmony. Mahatma Gandhi laid down his life for Hindu-Muslim unity. For him this cause was so important that while the country was becoming independent he chose to remain far away, from the midnight ceremony on 14 August, 1947 in Bengal trying to douse communal fires.
It is primarily because of Gandhi’s strong insistence on communal harmony that India became a secular country unlike Pakistan which chose to be an Islamic state. Bangladesh too became a Islamic country when it separated from Pakistan.
It is the equal respect for all religions which has guided India’s polity before the arrival of BJP and its ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh on national scene. The communal forces were marginalized in the country for a good period of its independent history. It was the Ram Janma Bhoomi movement which provided them a lease of life.
Even though a significant number of people have become RSS-BJP supporters, a large majority still believes and lives in communal harmony. An ordinary person who is concerned about his family and livelihood doesn’t like politics of hatred or violence. She prefers a life of peace, harmony and stability.
Mahatma Gandhi spread the message of love among the people. It is only trust and love which create a sense of security among the people in their relationships. India may have digressed from this path of Gandhi but is sure to return to it as this is the only alternative if we are to survive as a civilised society. In this sense Gandhi’s messages are eternal.
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*Magsaysay award winning social activist and academic; general secretary, Socialist Party (India)

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