Op-Ed: India’s Pluralism Must Survive At All Costs

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The Lok Sabha recently was witness to a spectacle that does not augur well for democracy in the country. The House saw a virtual slogan shouting contest between treasury and opposition benches as the newly elected MPs took oath. Quite a few of these MPs signed off with slogans expressing loyalty either to their respective party leaders or to their religious beliefs.

Sometimes the provocation was quite obvious. Take for example the case of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) president, Asaduddin Owaisi who took oath amidst chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’, ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ and ‘Vande Mataram’. Owaisi responded with “ Jai Bheem, Jai Meem, Takbeer Allahu Akbar, Jai Hind.”

The sloganeering continued despite repeated protestations of the chair urging members not to indulge in such behaviour. This was something unprecedented in the parliamentary history of the country and reflects the increasing polarisation of politics and society under the new dispensation.

Taunts and jibes have been a part of our politics and parliamentary debates, too, have been peppered with comments ranging from sarcastic to caustic. But political rivalry touched a new low this time during the oath taking of members which is cause for worry.

While the massive electoral victory of the BJP appears to have whipped up communal passions with “Jai Shri Ram” and “ Vande Matram” becoming the catchwords of the new breed of saffronized “ deshbhakts” regional feelings are running high in states like West Bengal where the incumbent TMC government appears to have developed a siege mentality with BJP making deep inroads into the state. The paranoid reaction of West Bengal chief minister, Mamta Bannerjee to the growth of BJP in the state is a mixture of xenophobia and fear born out of insecurity. This seems to be the only plausible explanation for her warning to “outsiders” that people living in Bengal must learn the language of the state and respect its culture.

These are two extremes but the chauvinism being displayed by the “rambhakts” who are on a high following BJP’s stupendous victory in the recent Lok Sabha elections is far more dangerous because they happen to be in majority. Aggressive majoritarianism not only poses a threat to the secular and democratic values that we hold dear but it also provokes the minority political group to try and defend itself by resorting to the same kind of sabre rattling.

Pluralism has been the defining trait of India which boasts of unity amidst diversity. It is a country where multiple faiths and opinions have thrived since centuries, making it a melting pot that can be an example for the rest of the world. The secularism that we swear by is not absence of religion but peaceful co-existence of multiple faiths.

Irrespective of which party is ruling the country there should be no attempt to change the basic socio-cultural fabric of the country. Fortunately, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has a clear understanding of such imperatives which is obvious from his brand new slogan of “sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka viswas ( collective effort, inclusive growth and trust of all). The hope lies there.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)