Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of USA once famously said “Democracy is not so much a form of government as a set of principles”. So true and when the same principles come under strain, there is no governance and finally no democracy. While India proudly calls itself the 2nd largest democracy (or the largest in terms of populace) in the world, India has had to face many such threats to its principles. If in 70s the threat came in form of corruption, lack of accountability, nepotism and dictatorship, the threat in later decades came from rise of separatist sentiments and rise of religious and casteist fundamentalism. The latest threats have been on principles of social harmony and concept of India as a nation and all Indians as citizens.
Never was this threat as obvious as in the month of January 2011. The last ten days of Jan 2011 showed such events unfold that one wondered if they are just aberrations or slowly becoming the rule in this country that preaches social harmony and worships Motherland.
When Maulana Ghulam Vastanvi became the VC of Deoband, there was a sense of happiness not only in Muslim community but outside it too. Maulana Vastanvi is seen to be the moderate and progressive face of the Muslim community and this was highlighted across the spectrum when his appointment became public. His work in field of education, especially in modernising education, was seen to be a revolutionary. So when he took over charge at Deoband, one felt this might bring change the largest educational institution for Muslim students, which has been mired in controversies over fatwas and at times outdated views. But suddenly Maulana Vastanvi has to face music from Deoband, other Muslim clerics and also the media and so-called civil society. What did he do to warrant a complete negative reaction and calls for his removal? Why did media treat him like a culprit inspite of his achievements and wish to take the Muslim community forward? Well, Maulana Vastanvi in an interview after his appointment said that “while law should take it’s own course in case of Gujarat riots, it’s time Muslim community moves on and sees the development made in Gujarat which has benefitted the Muslim community in a large way.” What was wrong with this statement that everyone suddenly started gunning for Maulana Vastanvi? To a rank outsider, this statement is a mature statement which augurs well for the community and the country. Well, it seems disappointing that a section of the country is not ready to move on though the people of Gujarat specially the Muslims have moved on and reconciled with Narendra Modi and Gujarat government. Is it not pure bias to ignore the fact that Gujarat Muslims are the most progressive, prosperous and educated than their community brethren from other states. Is it a crime if someone states this obvious fact? While the fate of Maulana Vastanvi’s resignation will be known only after the Shura meeting on 22nd Feb 2011, just the fact that his statements have generated so much anger in the community is disturbing. It seems a section of the Muslim community, clerics and leadership aided by the pseudo-secular elements do not want the Muslim community to come out of it’s ghetto identity. They might as well have a radical, dyed in the past Maulana lead their students rather than a person who has shown how progressive education benefits the cothe mmunity. This is a danger sign to the democracy and social fabric. When you have one section of the society which has not progressed at a speed comparable to other sections, anger will grow and hurt the country very badly.
Another event which took place the same time was one concerning judiciary. Recently Supreme Court upheld the life sentence given to Dara Singh for the murder of Graham Staines and his two minor sons. The murder was a gruesome act and it got the punishment that it deserved. While upholding the earlier sentence given by the High Court, Supreme Court also went into the circumstances and the background of the dastardly act. As an observation the court also said "It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone's belief by way of 'use of force', provocation, conversion, and incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other." In no way does this remark condone the act done by Dara Singh and others. All it says is that conversion is a stigma and a problem one has to identify. Immediately the Christian communities and the civil society were up in arms. Noise was generated about how SC was justifying Staines’ murders when the fact was far from it. A few days after the judgment, the SC expunged the observations. Brings us to the question – Is it communal to question the act of conversion? Isn’t it a fact that conversions are causing tremendous strain to the society especially in tribal India? If questioning and opposing conversion is communal, then Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Vivekanand and Mahatma Gandhi all stand guilty as communal. Why is the Christian community not stopping their evangelists, their clerics from indulging in this heinous crime? Conversions and opposition to it has seen a lot of bloodshed in the past and double standards in addressing the root causes will only increase the violence. We cannot have a society wherein Swami Paramanand’s gruesome murder has to be ignored and at times even welcomed (A Christian cleric Father Emmanuel of Delhi on Times Now actually stated that Swami Paramanand was murdered because of his ‘communal activities’). Lack of tolerance towards the views of judiciary from a community is not a great sign for the democracy.
As the proverbial last straw on a camel’s back, the final act of endangering our democratic principles came in form of the high-handedness with which Central Govt and State Govt of Jammu and Kashmir behaved with fellow Indians and patriots to stop the Ekta Yatra and hoisting of tricolor at Lal Chowk. When was the last we heard, trains being stopped and made to return under cover of darkness? When was the last your bags were checked and were having Tiranga was an objectionable act? When was the last young men and women had to face lathis for having tricolor in their hands? Ever heard of a country where Leaders of Opposition are under arrest on a National Day? Sounds like emergency? And all this use of force and preventive measures for what? To stop hoisting of Tiranga at Lal Chowk in Srinagar. Constitution allows anyone to hoist the national flag anywhere as long as it is not infringing on someone’s private property. And Lal Chowk is as much a part of India as Chandni Chowk in Delhi or Nana Chowk in Mumbai is. But under pressure from separatists like Yasin Malik, the Omar Abdullah government not only buckled but went one step ahead in playing appeasement politics. And appeasement of whom? The group of people who take pride in showing Pakistani flags and hoist them at Lal Chowk at every possible opportunity. Many were injured and arrested as the Central and State government resorted to extra-constitutional methods.
When seen alone, the above three incidents look like small incidents in overall picture of democracy and governance. While the episode on Dara Singh judgement is about lack of tolerance and contempt of judiciary, the Vastanvi episode is a clear case of someone’s right to speech being questioned and the Tiranga episode is an infringement on right to national identity and right to visit any part of India lawfully. But when you put all the three together, we get a picture where radicals in minority communities are encouraged by government, so-called civil society and media to violate the spirit of our constitution and insult the basic tenets of democracy. This is a danger in the longer run and can destabilize the country if steps aren’t taken to stop it right now.