Sunday, June 20, 2010

National Integration: The way forward


Ram Puniyani

National Integration Council (NIC) is the apex body deliberating on the issues pertaining to overcoming the divisive tendencies in the nation. The divisive tendencies prevail on the basis of language, region and religion. NIC has recently been in the news as one of its members, Shabnam Hashmi resigned from the council. Hashmi is one of the foremost activists engaged in fighting the evil of communalism; she also is the secretary of ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy). This NGO has been active from last several years undertaking campaigns to fight divisive politics, it also organizes cultural programs and political training camps for promoting the values of secularism and diversity.

Hashmi resigned in the aftermath of appointment of Shiv Sena Executive President Uddhav Thackeray on the council. Thackeray has been appointed as the leader of a regional party. Hashmi states that, “The news of Mr. Uddhav Thakre being included in the National Integration Council today has left me quite shocked. Mr. Udhav Thakre's whole political life is based on divisive and hate politics. His entry into NIC is a cruel oxymoron. His brand of communal politics is against the secular and plural value system that the Council upholds. It was bad enough to have highly communal people on the NIC by virtue of being Chief Ministers. Udhav Thakre's entry into the Council will further derogate the high credentials and stature of the body forever.”

There are multiple issues involved in this. To begin with the NIC was formed in 1961, in the aftermath of Jabalpur violence. Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of the country was very shaken by the communal violence in Jabalpur and decided to form this council to combat the evils of Communalism, casteism and regionalism. It was meant to be a broad forum with representation from political parties, Chief Ministers, Central Cabinet ministers and representatives from the civil society. It was not much in news most of the times. Two major points one remembers regarding the council are, one when Kalyan Singh the UP Chief Minister, then belonging to BJP, promised to the Council that the Babri Masjid will be protected at all the cost. Same Kalyan Singh later took pride in being part of the process of demolition of the mosque.

Later, when BJP led NDA came to power and ruled the country for six years the NIC was not constituted at all. The signal was that the BJP does not care for national integration as it believes in the Hindu Rashtra. That apart even in the present scheme of things NIC has a very limited advisory role to play. During the previous UPA I regime, the NIC met only twice. The UPA II is in power from last one year but not a single meeting of the body has taken place. All said and done it is a national forum which can give vent to the voice of those who are victims of communalism in one form or the other.

By its very nature the council has to have all the Chief ministers as the member of NIC. So naturally, Narendra Modi, the one who presided over Gujarat carnage, is also the member of the same. One recalls that during UPA I, in the first meeting of NIC, he was probably the only one who managed to make his presence felt in the media, with his claim that minorities are safe in Gujarat! One is sure that members of NIC like Shabnam Hashmi, Swami Agnivesh and Asghar Ali Engineer, amongst others, have been articulating the pain and anguish of the victims of communal violence and communal politics in this forum. One also guesses that they must have been countering the falsities propagated by the likes of Modi.

The questions Hashmi’s resignation raises are what should be the composition and functioning of such bodies. The question is being asked that while people like Narendra Modi and many of his ilk are already the members of this august body, in what way will Uddhav Thackeray being there make it worse?

One recalls that Shiv Sena has been the major party accused by Srikrishna Commission report for its role in Mumbai violence. It is precisely because of this that Shiv Sena first discontinued the commission when it came to power, then it sat on the report on the ground that it will reopen the wounds of Mumbai violence. Lately Shiv Sena has been playing the divisive politics in the name of language and region. In the competitive divisiveness with MNS, it is devising new ways to put the wedge between Marathi speaking and non Marathi speaking people. So surely people like Thackeray will add to the communal elements in the council.

BJP-Shiv Sena are communal by their very goals and agenda. While theoretically Hashmi has raised very important question, what a sorry state of thngs we have come to, that people like Thackeray, and Narendra Modi, who are blatantly communal are the members of this council meant to combat communalism! The other point is, can things be better by keeping these communal elements out from the Council?

One concedes the point that some political streams have communal agenda deep in their core, and one cannot expect non-sectarian policies from them. Still there are some questions and dilemmas associated with this too. One is that if the likes of Modi-Thackeray are part of the ‘formal’ democratic process, how can you keep them out? And secondly by leaving such platform, NIC, one is losing the little, whatever limited opportunity it gives, to intervene for plural ethos, against the divisive politics. Boycott versus dialogue is the question. Her move as a protest is worth registering and appreciating but the need of the hour is to use every available millimeter of space to propagate democratic views, to seize every single opportunity to strive for the goals of plural India, as already the democratic space has shrunk very badly.

It is a message to the authorities that they should keep Thackeray type elements to the minimum obligatory level. At the same time they can make this council more active and dynamic and ensure that the voice of victims of divisive politics is heard more often than at present and that remedial measures are implemented in all seriousness.

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