Tolerance/Intolerance debate: Dialogue of the deaf?

iqbal“Sare jahan se achha Hindostan hamara…” This ode to India by iconic poet Allama Iqbal still remains the most eloquent tribute to this country that is now attracting so much global attention.

Dialogue of the Deaf?

Iqbal’s invocation of India’s greatness should have an added resonance amid the intolerance debate raging in the country, with arguments and counter arguments buzzing in the air. Both the supporters and the opponents of the proposition trash the contrarian view as politically motivated. Many writers, poets, scientists, academics and film personalities from different parts of India have returned their awards and issued statements against what they see as growing intolerance.

tolerance-debateThey claim that their action is a nonviolent, peaceful and constitutional way to express their sense of disquiet, dismay and despondency. That’s their way of drawing the authorities’ attention to this issue; understandably they expect the government to take a serious note and address the underlying reasons. Not surprisingly, several opposition parties have jumped on the bandwagon to attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Some highly respected industrialists and intellectuals, wholly apolitical, have also expressed their unease and stressed the significance of India remaining tolerant, retaining her age- old diversity and tradition of dialogue, debate and discussion.

The government’s supporters disdainfully dismiss the protests as manufactured and engineered by the Congress party and bluntly ask protesters why they didn’t return their awards when Indira Gandhi had imposed the emergency and imprisoned many national leaders. Citing the lower number of communal incidents during the current government, they reject the charge of growing intolerance. Apparently, there is no meeting ground; it is degenerating into a dialogue of the deaf!

Avoidable Controversy

tolerance-writersIsn’t this wholly unproductive controversy entirely avoidable? Shouldn’t the saner voices on both sides prevail and show the maturity and courage to address the issue in an objective and dispassionate manner? Democracy isn’t all about winning elections. It’s also about having healthy, civilized debate and discussion and striving to find common grounds and consensus; failing which, agreeing to disagree. We can have serious differences but still live peacefully and harmoniously, enjoying all our rights as enshrined in the Constitution and work for the progress and prosperity of this great nation of ours. Why does the debate about intolerance get so hyper and intolerant? Doesn’t the vehement denial of the rise in intolerance, at least, vindicate its existence?

Why do the government supporters go to town shouting how things were much worse during the UPA government? Do they want to be judged through the prism of the record & performance of the UPA government? If everything was right during their rule, why will the UPA government be voted out? Why are we so paranoid of the contrarian view? The Jain philosophy talks of anekantwad which envisages the possibility of different perspectives of the same issue. If the followers of Lord Mahabir could espouse this noble concept more than 2000 years back, why can’t we embrace it in 2015?

Like other citizens of India, intellectuals and artists too can have political and ideological leanings .But to claim that most of them are expressing their dismay at the behest of the Congress party is an insult to them as well to India. Are we saying that such awarded & rewarded individuals are up for sale in India! If they can be bought over by the main opposition party, can’t they be bought over by the government many times over as it has much greater leverage of doling out favours? Most of the celebrated artists, scientists and intellectuals seem genuinely concerned about certain cases of intolerance. Instead of brushing their protests aside, why not check them out? The fact that such incidents have happened in the past also doesn’t make the current happenings any less condemnable.

Democracy and Dissent 

tolerance-debate1Yes, India is relatively a tolerant nation. Here one can hurl abuses at prime ministers:”Rajiv Gandhi chor hai” (Rajiv Gandhi is a thief!) or Narendra Modi is “a maut ka Saudagar” (merchant of death). In some countries, for such utterances, you could be consigned to a concentration camp to spend rest of your life! In the Middle East, you could be summarily executed for voicing your criticism of the ruler. Here, a frail Albanian Catholic nun called Mother Teresa was honoured with the “Bharat Ratna;” after her death, her body was carried on the same carriage on which were carried the mortal remains of Mahatma Gandhi! So, we need no lessons from anyone about tolerance.

Therefore, amid vicious partisan debates, let’s not forget that the strength of India is its celebrated diversity and pluralism. Democracy dies without the oxygen of dissent. So, let us celebrate and rejoice in India’s bewildering diversity in every sense of the term. Unless we do that, slogans like “sabka saath sabka vikas & chalein saath” will remain mere empty words.

(Surendra Kumar is a former diplomat and author of many books, including Beyond Diplomatic Dilemmas. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.)

 

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