Need for national harmony campaign

Besides the vote bank politics, the social and religious leaderships have led to mistrust amid the groups, too.

Elections or no elections, the Hindu-Muslim relations are always in news. And most of the times it is for wrong reasons. Political parties get a free licence to whip up emotions on each side during the elections. Old wounds are opened and each side recounts the atrocities and injustices of the other side. Both sides carry huge baggage of grievances against each other.

Hindus suffered innumerable atrocities during the long rule of the Muslims. The other areas of concern of Hindus are the banishment of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir Valley, the reported increasing population of Muslims, certain districts and towns of J&K, Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh becoming Muslim-majority areas. Some Hindus are also apprehensive of loyalty of certain extremists among Muslims towards the nation.

The memories of massacre of Hindus and Sikhs during India’s partition are still fresh as many of the affected people are still around. The partition of India was based on the two nation theory — that Hindus and Muslims constitute two separate nations and cannot live together. Some hardliners among Hindus feel that Muslims have no place in India as they had got a separate land for themselves and must go to Pakistan or Bangladesh.

The cumulative impact of all these experiences of Hindus and Sikhs has left a deep scar on their psyche which makes them react at the slightest provocation from the Muslims.

The Muslims, on the other hand, too have their own grievances against Hindus. They ruled various parts of India for almost 800 years before the British and are unhappy at the loss of power. Muslims are also aggrieved, as they believe that they have not reaped the fruits of development and they do not have adequate representation in government services.

They also fear that the government may interfere with their personal law. The issues of demolition of Babri Masjid, the uniform civil code and debate on the triple Talaq are some of the areas of concern for them. They also feel upset that some right wing Hindus suspect their loyalty to the country.

Now that the Supreme Court has taken a lead in laying down the law that if a candidate was found to be seeking vote in the name of religion, it would be considered a corrupt practice, one hopes that it will remove one major factor which has been keeping the two groups apart.
The Supreme Court should also consider expanding the scope of their ruling and bar political parties like the Akali Dal, AIMIM, Indian Union Muslim league etc, from participating in elections in a secular country.

Their very name identifies them with a particular religion or a community and they have been seeking votes in the name of their respective religions or communities. The various religious groups can always form their associations to look after their social and religious concerns.

It is unfortunate that even after 70 years of independence, the chasm between the two major religious groups has not bridged. On the contrary, it has been widening. Besides the vote bank politics, the social and religious leadership on both sides are also responsible for the current mistrust between the two groups.

Equal rights

It is also equally important that serious attention needs to be given to all other factors which have been keeping the two major religious groups at logger heads. Both sides need to recognise that they are equal citizens of India with equal rights under the Constitution. They have to live in this country and their prosperity depends on their peaceful co-existence. They must also realise that they are not going to achieve anything by keeping their historical grievances alive.

I concede that there is no easy solution to this problem. At the same time, it must also be realised by both sides that they must find a satisfactory solution to it. Leadership on both sides need to set aside their religio-political biases and should lay greater stress on humanitarian and national interests. Their religious leadership also needs to be sensitised about the urgency and importance of developing mutual trust among them. Religion should be strictly a private affair and should be kept away from politics.

Such efforts are already being made by many voluntary organisations and well-meaning individuals on both sides. They need to be further encouraged and supported.

There is a need to bring in a legislation with stringent provisions to ensure that differences among various religious and communal groups are settled through debate and discussions and finally through the judicial process and not through violent actions.

There is also an urgent need to start a vigorous National Harmony Campaign to bring awareness about the need and importance of creating harmony among various religions, castes and communities.

The Centre must start this campaign with the same vigour as its other campaigns. I am sure such a campaign will receive massive support from the people. It will take time and serious efforts but it can be done.

(The writer is former additional chief secretary, Karnataka)

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