More than words: PM Modi has to back stand on religious tolerance with bold action

Whatever the provocation for his utterance today, it is a welcome development. But the PM Modi should speak more often like this on religious tolerance to win the confidence of the people of the country in general, not only the minorities.

Akshaya Mishra February 18, 2015 09:00:09 IST
More than words: PM Modi has to back stand on religious tolerance with bold action

His silence on the activities of Hindutva groups so far was open to many interpretations. Mostly unflattering, these neither helped his personal image nor that of his government. Now that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken out against religious intolerance in strong words, he must be applauded. It’s a courageous act given his circumstances, both political and ideological. It would have been better had he made his remark more pointed but no one’s complaining; that can wait for another day.

He said his government would ensure complete freedom of faith and that everyone had the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence. If his indication was towards the controversial ‘ghar wapasi’ programme undertaken by several Hindutva groups and the noise over Love Jihad, it was thinly veiled. He also said he won’t allow any religious community irrespective of whether it belonged to the majority or the minority community to incite hatred against others.

More than words PM Modi has to back stand on religious tolerance with bold action

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a file photo. PTI

Of course, these words would need to be followed up by bold action. That is where the real challenge for the prime minister lies. He owes his spectacular political-electoral success to the combined effort of the Sangh Parivar, many of the affiliates of which are Hindutva extremists. The RSS, the mother organisation of the BJP, itself has been quite vocal about India being a Hindu country in recent times. While it has not been openly aggressive, its emphasis on religion has encouraged fringe groups to run amok across the country. Can the prime minister force them to go silent? Unlikely.

That is where the irony of Modi’s existence comes out clear. The essence of his economic vision and development model for the country is grossly incompatible with the design of the massive support group he emerges from.

The first one is intrinsically liberal, democratic and differential to the individual as opposed to the community; everything about the Hindutva groups run counter to these properties. If he is serious about his vision, he cannot allow the forces of disruption run loose. If he sides with them he loses the goodwill of the liberals, a much larger, yet much less vocal, constituency compared to the Hindutva groups.

Perhaps, he was silent earlier believing that a careful balancing act was possible. But the massive defeat of his party in Delhi drove home the message that it is difficult. There’s no way a government can defend attacks on churches or the minorities in general for long. The growing incidents of communal violence and intolerance have been throwing up serious questions on his ability as an administrator. Again, projecting India as a bright investment destination globally would be impossible with so much disturbance and instability in the social space.

That US President Barack Obama spoke twice on growing religious intolerance in India would have served as a wake-up call too. The Christian community may be numerically weak in India but they pack enough punch outside the country. The strong negative impression they carry abroad may work as disincentive for foreign players to invest in India. It does not help that the members of his party go on reinforcing that impression. If Modi has said enough is enough, it is only good for his long-term vision of the country.

Whatever the provocation for his utterance today, it is a welcome development. But the prime minister should speak more often like this to win the confidence of the people of the country in general, not only the minorities. He needs to pull up his MPs for making irresponsible statements. On exemplary action would convey the message across clear and unambiguous.

He must make everyone around him understand the country relates to idea of Modi more than the idea of a Sakshi Maharaj or Sadhvi Prachi.

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