A gathering interrogation

As > leading historians, filmmakers and scientists join the ranks of writers, artists and students to protest against increasing “intolerance”, civil society’s interrogation of the Narendra Modi government is getting more sharp, and inescapable. Scientist >P.M. Bhargava and >filmmakers Dibakar Banerjee and Anand Patwardhan are among those to return their national honours. Eminent historians such as Irfan Habib and Romila Thapar lead a list of peers to sign a letter detailing the acts of omission of the government. Each one questions the government in an individual capacity, but together they frame a collective response to > incidents of lynching, >murder of rationalists and writers, and a general atmosphere of intolerance towards people belonging to minority communities. As their numbers grow, they draw into focus the unchecked activities of so-called fringe elements who draw sustenance from their association with the BJP. The questions they pose demand responsive engagement from the Union government. Civil society has started a conversation that Central Ministers and BJP spokespersons cannot dodge by questioning the individual record of protestors. They cannot get away by evasively blaming State governments for failing to maintain law and order. The questions civil society members are articulating and threading together challenge the discourse and activities of persons and organisations intimately invested in the BJP’s political project. The question they collectively convey is this: how should a democratically elected government respond to citizens who are openly saying they have lost faith in its sincerity to ensure liberty and justice? It is a vital question.

When students of the FTII in Pune >called off their 139-day old strike on Wednesday, their struggle may not, on the face of it, have yielded anything. Their demands for the removal of the head of the institute and three other NDA appointees remain unmet. Yet, the simultaneous act of return of national awards by a filmmaker like Dibakar Banerjee succeeded in connecting the students agitating against specific official appointments to a larger current of discomfort against a majoritarian politics and lumpen mobilisation. The response from the government and its Ministers has been dispiriting, and only exposes a refusal to engage with a widely-shared critique. For his part, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has remained resoundingly silent. In questioning the intent of the protestors rather than the substance of their protest, the government hardly distinguishes itself. But it must know that disengagement is not the answer. Neither is character assassination, or belittling of intellectuals and creative individuals. Each wave of protest refreshes and clarifies the questions posed of the government and its political intent. A response of name-calling and silence on the core issues too only reinforces those questions.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 2:26:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/on-rising-intolerance-a-gathering-interrogation/article7819285.ece

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