An open letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week by 49 citizens has foregrounded two challenges facing the Indian polity. At one level, the letter which deals lynching and use of religious slogans in political campaigns. It’s naturally triggered a sharp debate on partisan lines. However, the larger issues raised by the letter are relevant and have also evoked attempts by all political parties to find answers. Lynching is a particularly problematic issue as it indicates a complete breakdown of law and order.
In the last few years, there has been a spate of lynching across India on account of religious prejudice, caste hatred and superstition. Consequently, Supreme Court last year suggested a special law to deal with it and the Modi government constituted a Group of Ministers (GoM) to examine the issue. Eventually, Manipur, a BJP-administered state, became the first one to enact an explicit law to deal with lynching. Lynching therefore is a national problem and not a partisan issue.
Separately, the increasing use of traditional religious slogans for political ends, even within Parliament, holds the danger of weakening national unity. In the political arena, one mode of campaigning always leads to an attempt to counter it. In the current Lok Sabha, during the swearing in of MPs, there was the dangerous recourse to religious slogans, countered by cries that extol sub-nationalism. This is a dangerous trend. Therefore Modi, as India’s most popular politician, should use his standing to steer the polity away from the obvious dangers of divisive trends.