Laboratory of hat-By Kuldip Nayar

WHAT a cruel coincidence that the birthday of Mother Teresa, who embodied love for Indian children, should have fallen in the same week of August when two Christian children and their mother were burnt alive by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Khandmal district in Orissa.

True, the Naxalites claimed that they killed the Hindu mahant (priest), Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, because he had indulged in crimes against Christians. But the Naxalites’ statement is taken with a pinch of salt. The Hindu extremists are said to be the real culprits.Orissa is the same state where a leading Christian missionary Graham Staines, and his two sons, were burnt alive a few years ago. His brave wife is still working for the amelioration of the poor. The current state chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, was in power at that time as well and even then he failed to take appropriate action against the Hindu extremists. Christian missionaries have been imparting free education and treating patients in this area. But that has not made the Hindu extremists tolerant. They have been attacking Christians for decades.

The central government too has done very little to guarantee the Christians their constitutional rights. A union minister has said that the Orissa government has once again failed in its job. Such statements do not bring Chief Minister Patnaik to book or punish the government which has failed in its constitutional obligation to protect the minorities.

This time the state did not wake up for five days. The VHP spread its vandalism to Khorapur and some other parts of Orissa. They destroyed and burnt houses. The Christian tribal people sought refuge in the jungles. According to official figures, some 16 persons were killed and 558 houses and 17 churches burnt. The chief minister refused to hold an inquiry.

That the central government failed to dismiss Chief Minister Narendra Modi in Gujarat after the pre-planned killings of Muslims is understandable because the government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was at the helm of affairs in New Delhi. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee stopped after expressing his indignation because the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh instructed him not to go beyond that. Why the Manmohan Singh government has faltered in dismissing the Patnaik government cannot be comprehended.

It is obvious that the centre is afraid of the BJP which supports the Biju Janata Dal government in the state. Probably, the impending general election has enfeebled the Congress.

Such fears are unfounded and reflect cowardliness. Had the state government been dismissed, the impression would have gone around that the Congress, heading affairs in New Delhi, was willing to go to any lengths to uphold the rule of law. This would have rehabilitated the party in the minds of the people, particularly the minorities, who want to refurbish the country’s secular credentials which are at present clouded.

The disconcerting aspect of Indian society is that the sense of tolerance and the spirit of accommodation are wearing thin. They have provided for centuries the glue to the country’s ethos of pluralism. This glue should never be allowed to dry up. This keeps the country together. Yet it is unfortunate that there is no political party which sees beyond the next election.

There are not many credible persons left in the country to enunciate, much less retrieve, old values. The political parties do not realise that there is no alternative to pluralism in a country where the dialect changes after 100 kilometres and where the complexion of the population is different from the one left behind at a short distance. Parties have an obsession with acquiring power by hook or by crook. The sanctity of methods has gone and with it the pull of Gandhian philosophy. The government has been concentrating for the last two years on the nuclear deal with the US. New Delhi has had no time for anything else.

Yet, if the nation is to preserve the fundamental values of a democratic society every person, whether a public functionary or private citizen, must display a degree of vigilance and willingness to sacrifice. Without awareness of what is right and a desire to act according to what is right, there may be no realisation of what is wrong. Over the years for many, particularly government servants, the dividing line between right and wrong, moral and immoral has ceased to exist. They are busy amassing wealth and there is not even a routine piece of work that takes place without the palms of an array of government servants being greased.

If one were to determine the watershed for the deterioration one would woefully conclude it all began with the economic reforms, the craze for acquisition. The mania of the government for maintaining the growth rate of three to nine per cent has led to the survival of the fittest. The poor and the weak have been driven to the wall. The government still has faith in the trickle theory — the higher the growth rate the more its fruits reach the lowest. This does not seem to hold water.

The World Bank, the government’s mentor, has said in its latest study that India is home to roughly one-third of the world’s poor. It has also a higher proportion of its population living below $2 a day than Sub-Saharan Africa which is considered the world’s poorest region. The progress made in the last 61 years since Independence is that the poverty rate — those living below $1.25 per day — has come down from 59.8 per cent to 51.3 per cent. This means that nearly 500m people still live on Rs40 to Rs50 a day.

If India is to mean anything to people within the country and in the neighbourhood, it has to go back to its original ideal of a welfare state. In his first letter to the chief ministers, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had said: “Government policies in the immediate future should be geared to meeting the requirements of the common man.”

In the same way, measures for enforcing secularism should be implemented. Secularism does not mean that Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians cease to pursue their religion. It only means that religion will not be allowed to play a part in civil affairs. We cannot afford to let the traders of hatred have their way.

The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi.

Source: Daily Dawn, 5/9/2008

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