A conclave of Hindu religious leaders and political activists in saffron robes held recently in the holy city of Haridwar has brought great shame to the country and its constitutional and religious values. In a so-called Dharam Sansad, or a religious parliament, key personages with a track record of inflammatory and provocative speeches made unconscionable calls for genocide against Muslims and asked Hindus to arm themselves. There were other offensive themes running through the speeches, parts of which have come out in the public domain in the form of video footage, indicating an alarming zeal to spread hatred for minorities and render them vulnerable to armed violence. It requires no deep knowledge of recent national history to say that the genocidal tenor of the conference is the apotheosis of divisive and sectarian tendencies that have been displayed with great impunity by Hindutva organisations in recent decades, but more audaciously since 2014. The references to a Myanmar-like cleansing campaign, the threat of mutiny ‘more horrible than 1857’ against the state if the outcome of the conference was not adopted as official policy, and the astounding claim by one speaker that he would have turned into a ‘Godse’ and shot a former Prime Minister in Parliament if he had had the opportunity, are all indicative of an organised offensive against the rule of law and the Constitution. There is, however, no cause to be surprised at the tepid response of the Uttarakhand authorities in registering an FIR based on a solitary complaint , naming one person, that too, after much outrage and criticism.
A feigned and manufactured sense of fear about the future of Hindus and Hinduism in India has been the hallmark of right-wing politics. The conclave of religious leaders is providing an outlet for such rabid thoughts, and the confidence with which messages of hatred are being bandied about suggests an expectation of official patronage. Those occupying positions of power and high offices in government, especially the Prime Minister and Union Home Minister, must take a clear stand against this. The political leadership must explicitly denounce the event and affirm that it stands by the constitutional values of secularism, religious tolerance and the preservation of the rule of law. The police in Uttarakhand should act more resolutely and invoke all applicable provisions of law, and not be content with a solitary FIR under Section 153A of the IPC, which deals with promoting enmity between groups. In a country where ‘sedition’ and ‘terrorism’ charges are invoked in a heartbeat, the call to a revolt and mass cleansing has not evoked a similar response. It may be easy to dismiss the hate speeches in the ‘Dharam Sansad’ as representing only a fringe within the majority. However, given the vehemence and frequency of these articulations in the public domain, it is only a matter of time before the phenomenon spreads among more moderate sections. Hate propaganda must not win.