What could the Government of India have done to avoid the day when other countries lectured a matured democracy, the land of Mahatma Gandhi and Gautam Buddha, on peaceful coexistence? The least it could have done is to publicly disapprove what the BJP spokespersons said about Prophet Muhammed. Forget sacking, the persons involved were not even berated for their irresponsible behaviour until several friendly countries took objection and the call for boycott of India goods dominated the social media there. The action against the spokespersons is welcome but that exposed the ruling establishment’s inability to act on the basis of their own wisdom. The spectacle of so many countries expressing outrage against India – Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Kuwait, and even Pakistan – will remain embedded in our collective memory as a moment of embarrassment. The United States had very recently flagged the attacks on minority rights in India. Several international agencies have referred to the diminishing democracy in India. The Narendra Modi Government remained in denial, presuming that the lofty rhetoric about India being the “mother of democracy” was enough to override the ground reality. But the tidal wave of hate kept rising, vitiating the public discourse to an alarming level. The inter-linked world is no more information-deficient; social media has truly turned the universe into a global village. The tendency to condemn critics of the Modi Government for the spread of negative information is juvenile; it is impossible to hide your true face in this age of virtual connectivity.
The need of the hour is to acknowledge the problem and address it seriously. There is no denying the fact that the social and political atmosphere in India is vitiated and the toxic discourse has acquired disturbing dimensions. A glance through mainstream media debates in the evenings will convince everybody that Hindu-Muslim divide is the primary issue in India today. This false reality has been artificially created because the concerns are entirely different. The opposition parties have constantly accused the Government of creating diversionary ploys to conceal the scourge of economic slide, unemployment, and abnormally rising prices. The Government must realise that problems won’t disappear if they aren’t acknowledged. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had appealed to everybody to keep aside contentious issues and put a moratorium on communal politics for ten years. It is tragic that the Sangh Parivar constituents and Modi’s own supporters refused to pay any heed to his appeal. Communal temperature kept soaring and India never appeared to be normal. It is sad that smaller countries are now lecturing us on respecting all religions. A minister in Qatar tweeted: “The Islamophobic discourse has reached dangerous levels in a country long known for its diversity and coexistence. Unless officially and systematically confronted, the systemic hate speech targeting Islam in India will be considered a deliberate insult against two billion Muslims.”
We need to look within and resort to course correction. India is too big and great a democracy to fall into a position where other countries gave lessons. Modi has often talked of “sabka saath-sabka vikas” and he needs to send out a firm message to all the stakeholders that constitutional principles cannot be undermined. The socio-political ambiance is crying for sobriety and the ruling party can’t afford to play troublemakers. The concerted response from the Gulf countries may be an exaggeration but a message has unfortunately gone out to the entire world that India is grappling with religious bigotry. The best response is to change the ground reality. A message from the ground will be far more powerful than strong denials and loud assertions. Modi is now seasoned enough to understand that domestic politics and global diplomacy can’t be kept separated in different silos. They move cheek-by-jowl; every word will have repercussions and consequences. What is now resonating in the world has created much noise within the country over the last eight years. Sacking one spokesperson is not the solution. What is required is serious introspection. Communication will change if politics changes. The core values of the party will have to be harmonised with constitutional principles. For that meaningful course-correction, the leadership will have to collectively decide the future course of action. After all, the BJP has now established itself as the ruling party of India and it is incumbent on the entire Sangh Parivar to tone down the rhetoric to be able to adjust to our constitutional culture rather than the demands of external forces.