Intolerance has been omnipresent in Indian society since time immemorial. Society has been drawn across the lines of caste affiliations, religious identity, language, eating habits, choice of clothes, or for that matter sexual orientation. Intolerance, the unwillingness to extend political, economic, and social rights to other ethnic groups, regardless of perceived similarities or differences in basic values, norms, or beliefs. Even since Narendra Modi took over as Prime Minister, an all-out campaign has been launched to malign him and his government for creating India as an intolerant majoritarian state. Intolerance has suddenly become a problem which is debated and discussed every day. From The Washington Post to Pakistan’s Dawn, the international media has gone to town in expressing its concern at the growing malaise of intolerance in India. The social media is agog with posts questioning the silence of the Prime Minister. The subject of intolerance has hogged the television studios, where politicians, academicians, religious leaders and social scientists have shot their mouths off, creating a squelching quagmire which is sinking the country to abysmal levels.
The issue of intolerance is being highlighted by the mainstream media and intelligentsia. In fact, these secularists had predicted that Modi would be a divisive figure as a Prime Minister well before he was even named as a prime ministerial candidate. Systematic distortion and selective reportage have been the backbone of this effort, in spite of a sharp drop in communal incidents since the new regime took charge.
When Modi was campaigning for the 2014 parliamentary elections, he ran on the slogan of “Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas”—a policy that guaranteed that no religious discrimination would be tolerated. Despite being blamed for the worst ever religious violence in Gujarat in 2002 the BJP swept to power. The recent occurrences are three pronged. A sudden focus on the cow-slaughter and consumption of beef, attempts to choke off all contacts, particularly cultural ties, with Pakistan, and atrocities on Dalits. A few incidents, blown out of proportions to score political points, do not help address the reasons why we are intolerant of views, ideas and beliefs that are different from ours. Intolerance cannot be debated on secular versus non-secular lines.
If we analyse all the leaders at the helm of affairs of the BJP today, they are all liberal right wingers, and Modi leads the pack. Whatever the media or naysayers say about Modi, the fact remains that he is not just a man of words. When he was in the saddle, he delivered. As CM of Gujarat, he was at loggerheads with the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. His animosity with the likes of Praveen Togadia is well known, this went to the extent that the right winger’s even worked against him during the elections. After assuming office, nearly none of the communal cases that have occurred are from BJP-ruled states. In India, law and order is a state subject, blaming the PM for any incident or occurrence of intolerance is absurd. The blame for incidents in states, either ruled by the BJP or non-BJP parties are being put on the Modi government by the so-called secularist intelligentsia.
The recent protests by writers who are returning awards seem outrageously farcical. The collective conscience of these writers was not disturbed by the incidents of intolerance of upper castes and the failure of governments to get justice for Dalit victims of Laxmanpur Bathe, Miyanpur, Bathani Tola, Nagari Bazaar and Shankarbigha. No writer protested when a court acquitted 16 PAC policemen accused of killing 42 Muslims at point blank range in Meerut in 1987. No writer returned awards when Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and Dalits were being killed through 1980s and 1990s. Only Khushwant Singh returned his Padma Shri after Operation Bluestar in 1984. It is hard to reason with writers who have hardened political positions and can tolerate no government but one to their own liking. Modi’s windfall victory could not be easily accepted by a big class of the so-called secular intelligentsia.