Dealing with communalisms

If last week the Bharatiya Janata Party, and sections of the media, reflexively overreacted to Rahul Gandhi's informal observations on the growth and consequences of Hindtuva extremism, the Congress at its 83rd plenary session at Burari in northwest Delhi swung to the other extreme — wielding the sledgehammer against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for its “terror” connections. According to an August 2009 cable sent by U.S. Ambassador Timothy Roemer (outed by WikiLeaks: >http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/219238), Mr. Gandhi, in a casual conversation at a luncheon hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, made this interesting comparison between Islamist and Hindutva radical groups. Asked about “Lashkar-e-Taiba's activities in the region and the immediate threat to India,” the Congress MP reportedly said “although there was evidence of some support for the group among certain elements in India's indigenous Muslim community, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community.” Taken in their entirety, the comments are unexceptionable. In fact, the Congress general secretary appears to be articulating a nuanced position, worrying more about the divisive potential of Hindutva radicalisation than about the phenomenon itself. Nowhere does the phrase “Hindu terror” find mention in the Roemer cable (as Mr. Gandhi pointed out the day after his insights were WikiLeaked). His party also did well to clarify, in the first instance, that “Rahul Gandhi's view is that terrorism and communalism of all types is a threat to India. We need to remain vigilant against acts of terrorism of all kinds…no matter who commits them.”

Unfortunately, good sense did not prevail thereafter, with the Congress eager to be more loyal than the heir apparent. Its political resolution adopted at Burari promised a full-on probe into the RSS's alleged terror links and there were some over-the-top statements in this connection. The Congress's role in fomenting some horrible communal violence — Meerut, Maliana, and the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom — notwithstanding, the party stands differentiated from the BJP and the militant Sangh outfits by its historic pluralism and its overall track record. In recent decades, the party has oscillated between a form of ‘defensive secularism,' at times bordering on soft Hindtuva, and an ‘instant secularism' crafted more as a reaction to the BJP's taunts than as a result of its own convictions. The violence and terror unleashed by some groups claiming to be Hindutva warriors is real, and even the RSS has been constrained to acknowledge this. But to exaggerate and over-project this aspect on a national scale is to divert attention from the live and present danger that divisive and disintegrative Hindutva ‘radicalism' and extremism, alongside Islamist militancy and terrorism, represent in a multi-religious country of over a billion people. In other words, it is to fall into a communal trap. In their own way, the fifth generation Nehru-Gandhi and his social democrat mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, seem to have understood this. It is about time their party did.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 1:31:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Dealing-with-communalisms/article15605635.ece

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