By B.G. Verghese
The deliberate fanning of politically motivated communal discord in UP and elsewhere is both disgusting and alarming but cannot condone Rahul Gandhi’s storming the well of the LokSabha and disrupting proceedings last week. It was in order for him to demand a discussion on the communal situation but not at the cost of Question Hour instead of thereafter. The Speaker was not unreasonable in firmly disallowing this demand and Rahul, who is irregular in attending Parliament and seen snoozing when present there, had no business to insist on a here-and-now discussion or none at all.
Communal harmony cannot be protected or promoted by disrupting Parliamentand to cite the BJP’s own boorish and disgraceful behaviour in blocking all debate session after session in the last LokSabha is irrelevant. If Rahul was trying to project his “leadership” to his own increasingly disgruntled and even rebellious ranks, he singularly failed once again. Nor was ArunJaitley’s snide riposte on this account justified in view of his party’s past record in wrecking parliamentary proceedings.
Nonetheless, the deliberate stoking of communal tensions, not least by the BJP-Parivar, SP, BSP and even the Congress, is playing with fire. An analysis of police records by the Indian Express indicates that 600 communal incidents have been registered in UP since the recent general elections, almost two-thirds in and around 12 constituencies scheduled to go to the polls shortly. Many appear to have been instigated by outsiderswithdisputes over land, construction or repair of religious places, the installation and use of loudspeakers for calls to prayer and worship, and alleged cases of using eve-teasing and elopement being used as triggers.
Music and processions have long been used as forms of community assertion and to mobilise religious mobs and demonstrate street power. Lumpens, fanatics andpoliticians wait to stir rented piety to mob fury. Punishments are late and light, leading to impunity and immunity. Parliament should and must take note of these divisive trends. In all of this, the prime minister has been silent and silence will increasingly be read as consent.
Great indignation has been expressed by some over a Supreme Court judge’s remark that were he a dictator he would make readings from the Gita and Mahabharata compulsory in junior schooling. The remark has got “secularists” frothing. Maybe the idea was crudely put, but the Judge is right. Children should be made familiar with them not as part of religious learning texts but as great and uplifting moral and cultural texts, philosophical treatises, wonderful poetry and enthralling literature.Children should equally be exposed to stories from the Bible, the life of the Prophet and Islamic traditions, the Buddha, Mahavir, Nanak and learn of other faiths and sages that are part of our life and culture. Not to know anything of these treasures is to be illiterate and uncultured. Unfortunately our totally skewed definition of “secularism”, increasingly hollowed out by vote-bank politics, has been reduced to “equal respect for everybody’s communalism”.
There has been another perverse debate and decision on the civil service aptitude test. The Centre has decided to exclude the 22 marks hitherto given for simple English comprehension while determining selection grades so that students from the Hindi stream have a level playing field! There havenot unexpectedlybeen protests from Tamil, Oriya and other Indian language speakers. Why debase standards? The CSAT English paper translates steel plants aslohakepedand the North Pole asUttariKhamba!Do not condone such nonsense, which is what the Centre seems to be doing under Dina NathBatra’s advice as it is precisely his formulation in a PIL that the Government appears to have adopted.
Here again, the undeclared tragedy is that successive Governments have had no language policy. Article 351 has been treated with contempt, no Hindi-made-easylearning aids have been produced, Hindi teaching and propagation have not been incentivised, inter-lingual dictionaries from Hindi into Tamil, Assamese,Kannada, Oriya or whatever are either not, or not easily, available. Translations are limited. Standard keyboards are rare if they exist at all. Simultaneous interpretation facilities are grossly inadequate. The official language committee goes globe-trotting and has a wonderful time but has done nothing of consequence whatsoever.
Parliament has meanwhile taken adverse not of Tendulkar and Rekha’s studied absence from the RajyaSabha of which they have been nominated members for two years. Tendulkar has made three appearances and Rekha seven over this period. Tendulkar says his brother had surgery? When and for how long? And did that prevent him gallivanting around the world, watching cricket, going to Wimbledon, attending commercial brand ambassador functions, opening malls and so forth – everywhere exceptParliament.
Nomination to the RajyaSabha is not a trophy or award but a highly privileged call to participate in national governance and oversight. Both Tendulkar and Rekha were wrongly selected for all the wrong reasons. In Tendulkar’s case, he had erred in fighting to get a very expensive gifted Ferrari into the country without paying customs duty and had overstayed his cricket innings, playing Tests for glory for nearly a year to get his elusive 100th test century at the cost of shutting out younger talent. And now having availed of all the benefits of RajyaSabha membership and scorned attendance in the House, the only honourable option left to him is to resign his seat. The Parliament of India cannot be reduced to a joke and government’s must learn to make less frivolous nominations.
The same must be said about the appointment of Governors. Raj Bhavans are not dharamsalas for the fallen and faithful or perches from which to dislodge or embarrass elected state governments. If a number of UPA appointed governors have been crudely dismissed by the new BJP regime, the appointments made by the latter are as disappointing. There are of course honourable exceptions but the selection of governors has by and large ignored their true constitutional role.
The dismissal of KamlaBeniwal is a particularly bad case of vindictiveness and pettiness. If she is charged with alleged corruption over several years, why was she summarily transferred from Gujarat, where she was a thorn in the side of Mr Modi, to Mizoram within weeks of her retirement? And what message did that send Mizoram and the Northeast generally?
Increasing efforts by the Modi government to control the judiciary and bureaucracy do not augur well. The latest news is that the DG of the Press Information Bureau has been removed for issuing dinner invitations to media persons in her name and not in that of the Minister, PrakashJavdekar. Simultaneously, while an already crippled PrasarBharati had had the head of Doordarshan’s news division put on “compulsory wait” since he edited Mr Modi’s interview during the recent general election in an allegedly partisan manner. This is post-facto censorship by other means.