India needs communal cohesion to progress
It would seem that there are no issues of importance confronting India, barring religious, communal and linguistic ones
Two of my favourite actors are currently at loggerheads with each other. Ajay Devgn, a huge star in Mumbai’s cinematic firmament, seems concerned about our rashtrabhasha, (national language) while Kichha Sudeep appears worried about his mother tongue, Kannada. And all this does not stop at the language issue. The hijab, niqab, tilak, saffron, and even our food, all of which have been a part of Hindustani tehzeeb for centuries, are either embroiled in controversy or have become the cause of controversy. Why are we so divided and at odds with each other in the 21st century, when much of the world is thinking far ahead, even of establishing a human colony in space?
Let us start with Maharashtra. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray, who is currently in political exile, and has raised the issue of Azaan vs Hanuman Chalisa. An independent Member of Parliament (MP), Navneet Rana, who entered politics after a stint in the film industry, jumped into the fray as soon as the controversy erupted. She said she would go to Matoshree with her supporters and recite the Hanuman Chalisa. Matoshree is the ancestral home of Maharashtra’s chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and has a special significance for his Shiv Sena members and supporters as it is the home of the founder of the party, Balasaheb Thackeray.
This led to mobs shouting slogans outside Navneet Rana’s home. She and her husband Ravi Rana, a local Member of the Legislative Assembly, were arrested on charges of sedition. Was there anything treasonous in their politics? Is there anything at all in this matter which necessitates such action? But, if the MP wanted to read the Hanuman Chalisa, did she have to choose Matoshree for this?
We have reached an unfortunate time when opposing camps are neither right nor wrong. As a result, every administrative action and announcement is now caught up in needless controversy. Let us look at an example. When the anti-encroachment squad arrived at Jahangirpuri, Delhi, reports seem to suggest that bulldozers belonging to a Hindu government had reached there to demolish a mosque. However, the truth is that encroachments by Hindus were also removed. The anti-encroachment campaign in the Capital is still on. Similarly, there was huge resentment after three temples in Rajasthan’s Alwar were bulldozed. The Karauli riots in Rajasthan led to tensions, and this added fuel to the fire.
As usual, the main issue was lost in all this sentiment and emotion. How was the government able to carry out its duties? Why were the necessary precautions not taken? Could this have been because elections are scheduled in Karnataka and Rajasthan next year? It is clear that religion, caste, and language are ideal issues to whip up sentiment in the political arena. Leaders in Rajasthan have been harping on the clash of political ideologies between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress. Now, leaders in Karnataka have begun taking up the language issue following the Ajay Devgn-Kichha Sudeep spat. The focus over the next few days will be on party spokespersons, social figures, and actors whose public utterances will most certainly create more controversies. It would seem that there are no issues of importance confronting India, barring religious, communal and linguistic ones. The political establishment should really pause and think seriously about what kind of image it is portraying of India to the rest of the world.
The events of the last few weeks have proved that India has much to be proud of. Many leaders from important countries arrived in Delhi amid the backdrop of the war in Ukraine. This suggests that much of the world is looking to India for advice on the way forward. This is the first time that external affairs minister S Jaishankar has been seen on public platforms telling the European Union, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) some home truths. India is unquestionably emerging as a strong nation under Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s leadership. The tone of the US, which was previously hectoring and bullying, has now changed. The language employed by the British PM during his visit to New Delhi was quite different from that used by previous British PMs and dignitaries.
Furthermore, despite the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, India’s growth rate is expected to be around 8% in 2022-23, according to the World Bank’s assessment. Though the figure has been reduced by 0.7 percentage points, India still remains at the top of the list of fastest-growing economies. The world seems to be looking at India through a different and more positive prism. But we need to change our ways to ensure this goodwill going forward.
Take a look at the list of Fortune-500 category companies. There are several corporations where people of Indian origin serve as CEOs. In the UK, the chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, is in the running to be the next PM. This shows that when we put our mind to it, there is nothing we as Indians cannot achieve.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal