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On A Slippery Slope

By B.G. Verghese

The Government seems to be on a slippery slope while the Congress appears to be slipping into a mood of frustrated irresponsibility. The Prime Minister has had a routinely successful tour abroad, visiting Brazil for a useful BRICS meeting. But he left without naming a Number 2 (Why?) which appears to have robbed the Government of initiative. It was unable to make an appropriate response to the violence in Gaza that has taken over300 lives which Israel claims is in response to kidnappings and rocket attacks by Hamas.

To argue that we have considerable stakes both in Israel and the Arab world and should therefore say nothing that will irritate either is to beg the question. For spokespersons to argue that there was silence when Hamas fired rockets into Israel cannot justify silence when Israel brutally bombs and invades Gaza. Neither act of violence is justified. Sitting on the fence on the basis of an uncritical friendship suggests a bankruptcy of policy. We do expect the world to react when external violence and terror strikes India. If so, can we remain silent when other innocents bleed?

People and nations respect responsible and principled reactions by friendly powers. This also gives us leverage to intervene where possible through quiet diplomacy. The fact is, however, that we have denied ourselves any meaningful role in West Asia.

And now a Malaysian airliner has been shot down over Ukraine, killing 295 persons. Should we not take a view on the Russian-Ukranian standoff that seems to have brought on this latest horror and counsel our friends.

The hysteria over the Vaidik caper in Lahore has not yet subsided and has distracted attention from a more insidious threat. This is the RSS-Parivar push to commit the Government to saffron policies. The PM has been silent or will be assumed to be acquiescent despite his comforting words to all minorities and political opponents on assuming office.

The “loan” of RSS stalwarts to the BJP Government and attacks on Christians are symptomatic of a different voice. And now the menace in Ashok Singhal’s rant against Muslims to DNA last week: “Muslims will be treated as common citizens — nothing more, nothing less. And, they must learn to respect Hindu sentiments. If they keep opposing Hindus, how long can they survive?” He also said that Muslims should withdraw claims in regard to the Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura temple sites and also accept a uniform civil code. These are unilateral threats and diktats, pushing the Hindutva agenda like a uniform civil code without only movement towards implementing this most important legislation.

As worrying is the appointment of Prof. Y Sudarshan Rao as Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research. Leading scholars describe him as an obscure historian from Andhra without any acclaimed book or peer reviewed article to his credit. His principal work and interest appears to be trying to date the Ramayana and Mahabhrata and fit them into historical time so as convert what most consider legends, put together at different times by different authors in varying versions, into lived history. Once done, this would reinforce the case for the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. This clearly is a political project and not innocent historical research.

Prof Rao’s view is that ancient Indian history has been viewed through foreign and Marxist lenses and has been greatly influenced by Western historiography. What he seeks is “to evolve a methodology to study our remote past with an Indian perspective”. Critics fear Prof Rao is merging history with mythology.

Let every kind of research go on, but it would be a disaster to return to any project to saffronise education in the manner witnessed in the last NDA regime and in the books produced by the Parivar for their Shishu Mandirs. Those have glorified Hindu Rashtra, and treated minorities as second class citizens and dalits with contempt. These are mirror images of distorted Pakistan’s poisonous, divisive and fictional textbooks. Some young, educated Muslim Indians are being ideologically called to radicalism; but others despair at aspects of the Muslim condition in India.

We need to be wary of antagonising any section of the population through chauvinistic nationalism in a highly plural society. Hindutvadis are a minority in Hindu society whose genius has been tolerance and accommodation. India will never go their bigoted way.

The BJP has also got it wrong in rejecting for the second time a nominee for elevation as an apex court judge recommended by the Supreme Court collegium. The Court has stood firm and the Government should properly yield ground. Any effort to pack the courts will be firmly resisted. The Government has done well to sanction 250 more high court judges to expedite cases and cut down arrears. But these justices must be chosen with care and not packed with loyalists.

Our laws must move with the times and there is a good case for permitting passive euthanasia if cleared by a medical board. But there seems to be some backsliding on this. The right to life is incomplete unless what is guaranteed is a right to life with dignity which is also a high constitutional value. Punishing a comatose individual reduced to a vegetable and his/her family is cruel. Murder must be precluded; but protection of life must rise above a life without hope or purpose.

At the same time there is cause to review the law on rape by juveniles. Cases of juvenile rape have been alarmingly on the rise. While the victim has suffered horrible violence, indignity and, sometimes, torture and ultimate death, victims have got off lightly, pleading age. The notion behind juvenile justice is immaturity of the violator and opportunity for reform. But Maneka Gandhi has powerfully pleaded that this be reconsidered and the age of immunity be reduced to 16. This is worthy of consideration in the “rarest of rare” cases.

Only fear of the law and its swift execution will ensure compliance. Today, few fear the law. Punishment is waived. Criminals of every kind are emboldened.

Nowhere is this more so than in the case of politicians whose brazen lawlessness is becoming an epidemic. Ashok Chavan, former Maharashtra chief minister, has been defending himself against a charge of paid news in the 2009 polls. Prime facie, the evidence was clear. But we live in an age when BMWs can magically become trucks when it comes to rash driving.

www. bgverghese.com



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