A nation of 1.3 billion citizens is seething with anger, mistrust and social and political unrest of seriously alarming proportions. There exists a complete vacuum of knowledgeable understanding and informed awareness on a plethora of issues of critical importance. Innumerable debates and discussions in print, on TV and social media platforms have further compounded the problem of creating more misunderstanding on issues that have shown the disastrous potential to tear apart the unity and integrity of the nation.
What is happening in today’s ‘New India’ cannot be dubbed as positive, progressive and prosperous by any means or measure. Millions of Indian citizens are on the roads protesting against the provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the modified National Population Register (NPR). The recent spate of violent incidents at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and other universities has added fire to the cauldron of repressed anger and sentiments of the protesters. This has transformed the entire country into a virtual war zone, with all sorts of abuses and counter-abuses being hurled with impunity.
I do not wish to discuss the merits or demerits of the CAA, NPR, etc. These are already in the public domain to debate, discuss and analyse. Instead, what I would like to talk about here is the existence of certain ‘possibilities’ which we underestimate or conveniently discount as per our political agendas or interests.
One, it is possible for a citizen to be verbally critical of the government’s policies and programmes and still be patriotic in the same breath as well as not being affiliated to a rival political party. Even bluntly criticizing the actions of the government or its machinery or its institutions does not warrant the hurling of invectives such as ‘anti-national’ or ‘terrorists’ or ‘urban naxals’ for the protesters who, as citizens, have the democratic right in the world’s largest democracy to express their views without any fear or favour.
Pressing sedition charges or threatening to book the protesters under the harsh provisions of the sedition law, just for speaking out their minds through non-violent, peaceful demonstrations, smacks of crafty ingenuity, hypocrisy and an intolerant attitude on the part of the government and a design to snub and silence its critics with an iron fist.
The government is thought to be the representative of the aspirations of the people. It must not turn a blind eye to their grievances if it wants to be seen as pro-people and welfare-oriented. After all, peaceful and rational dissent is an important ingredient for the success of a democracy.
Two, it is possible for a Muslim citizen to criticize the government without having a soft side for, or affectionate affiliation with, Pakistan. The role played by Muslim freedom fighters in India’s independence struggle is as important and praiseworthy as that of leaders of any other faith. Moreover, the Constitution makes it amply clear that our nation has been founded on the premise of a secular state and, therefore, targeting any citizen on the basis of religion and asking them to go to Pakistan does not spell good for the idea of India and its ‘unity in diversity.’
We cannot hope to strengthen the solidarity and integrity of our nation by castigating, condemning and isolating one religious community from the national space. The politics of hatred, narrow-mindedness and extremism does not augur well for the ‘New India’ of the 21st century.
Three, it is possible for the students of the nation to genuinely worry about the latest crisis affecting their society and at the same time, not be affiliated to any political organization. The students who are studying in the various universities across India are the future of our nation and we need to respect them and give adequate space to their views and thoughts in developing our future policies and programmes. ‘New India’ cannot afford to convert the nurseries of education into corridors of violence, bloodshed and power struggle.
Fourth, it is possible for the government to redirect its energies and efforts towards solving the real issues. Prioritization of tasks is the need of the hour. The government needs to focus its resources on tackling the problems of rising unemployment, gross impoverishment, rapid unplanned urbanisation, growing homelessness and removing the sharp increase in income inequalities between the haves and the have-nots.
The economy is already facing a grave crisis, the healthcare services are proving to be costly for the common man, the education sector needs an urgent financial boost, farmers are dying every day, the agriculture sector is dying an inevitable death due to global warming and climate change, and the crimes against women and children are rising like never before.
These are the real issues that need the government’s urgent attention, rather than CAA-NPR-NRC. It is possible to implement policies through widespread national consensus rather than take the confrontational route.
Finally, it is possible to resolve issues through debate, discussion and discourse. It is possible to uphold and maintain the highest standards of ethics and morality in public life and maintain the sanctity of Parliament. It is possible to respect your opponents and value their contributions toward nation-building. The only prerequisite is political sagacity and statesmanship to understand and recognise that the welfare of the nation and its people should always come first – today and forever. Jai Hind.
(The writer is a Senior Deputy Superintendent of Police, Punjab, and the author of ‘New India – The Reality Reloaded’)