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Responding to Danger in Indian Democracy

Presidential address for the National Council Meeting on 24-25th November 2018 at GPF, Delhi.

This meeting of the National Council is being held in extremely a grim situation. This situation is an inevitable result of Modi's election campaign and then his rule after coming into power in 2014. The 2014 elections were based on emotive communal divide which had literally dumped the basic issues into the dustbin of electoral politics and Modi's communal divide plank became a determinant of success of his election. The new political scenario has certainly brought the atmosphere of communal hatred and grave fear in the society as a result of which the fundamental questions like elimination of poverty, the distribution of national wealth, the assurance of social justice in civil society of our time are being brushed aside under the carpet.

Recent years have witnessed systematic attacks on human right defenders and fearless journalists, writers and rationalists. 2019 polls are going to be between democracy and authoritarian rule. Human Right Defenders and journalists are specially becoming the victims of the policies of the Modi Government to silence any voice raising dissenting view against the misdeeds of his government.

13th J.P.Memorial Lecture was delivered by Shri V.M.Tarkunde on 23rd March 1993, (just after 3 and a half months of the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6thDecember 1992). I deem it necessary to place the following quotes from that speech:

“In the meantime, a graver and most serious danger to Indian democracy has appeared in the horizon. It is represented by the growing strength of the Bhartiya Janata Party and the power behind it – the R.S.S and the Sangh Parivar consisting of such organizations as the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal. They are giving to the Indian people a heady mixture of aggressive Hindu communalism and equally aggressive Hindu Nationalism. In that process they are promoting animosity between Hindus and Muslims.”

“As I will show later; the movement which is being fostered by these forces contains all the essential characteristics of Fascism”. 

“I am of the view that the communalist nationalism which is being propagated by the BJP and Sangh Parivar represents a far greater danger to Indian Democracy than the personal authoritarian rule which Mrs. Indira Gandhi and the Gandhi- Nehru family were likely to impose on the country”. 

“Our difficulty arises from the fact that a theocratic State may possibly be established in the country after the next elections and therefore it is necessary that besides a long-term program of a socio-cultural transformation, we must have a short term program which would prevent a communal party coming into power in the country in near future.” 

There is indeed a great deal of similarity between the politics of BJP and that of Hitler's Nazi party. Hitler fostered a sense of pride among Germans on the ground of their Aryan's race and hatred for the Jews because the Jews diluted the ethnic purity of that race. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar are striving to promote the pride of Hindus in their Hinduism and to foster hatred for Muslims. Secondly, the Nazis were aggressively Nationalistic and wanted Germany to be the strongest and the greatest nation in the world. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar are also intensely Nationalistic and although they cannot under the existing circumstances think in terms of India being the strongest country in the world, they want it to be militarily a strong country so that it would dominate over the neighbouring states. Recent events, moreover, have demonstrated that, like the Nazis, the Sangh Parivar have no regard for law and thus believe that Might is Right. Although there are, some obvious differences between the Nazi movement and movement of Sangh Parivar, they have basically the same Fascist characteristics."

“What We Can Do”

“We must now turn to the steps which people like us, democrats and humanists, can take to meet the danger of communal chauvinism which is being promoted by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. We must have both a long term and a short term program. However, it is obvious that even a long term program has to be commenced immediately and not to be postponed. In my opinion, the long term program must be aimed at promoting the values of democracy and humanism in the broad masses of the people..........”

(There is a lengthy note in the speech relating to the “long term program” in which there is a suggestion of spreading the democratic values of liberty, equality and fraternity among the broad masses of the people which should be carried out by non-party activists working at the grass root level and so on).

Then about the “short term program”, the quote is as follows: “Our short term program must be directed to the objective of ensuring that a party which wants to create a theocratic state in the country is not elected in the next or subsequent elections. It is not safe to depend upon political parties which claim to be secularists for creating a joint secular anti –communal platform. We cannot forget that the main reason why the Babri Masjid was destroyed on 6th December 1992, was that the Central Government of the Congress-(I) did not want to take any firmactionagainsttheso-calledKar Sewaks because it was reluctant to alienate Hindu votes. Anti- communal secular fronts should, in my opinion be created by all the non- governmental organizations (NGOs) which believe in democracy and which are determined that India will never have an anti- humanist theocratic state. Such anti –communal secular fronts consisting of NGOs and other supporting individuals should be formed in all important cities and towns and they should propagate against communalism and in favour of a democratic and secular state. Such educative work can be carried out through the publication of literature and through meetings, processions, exhibitions, street plays and other means of mass communication. There are ample reasons to believe that such an anti-communal movement can be developed on a non-party basis and it can overcome the danger of communal chauvinism coming to power in the country”.

The situation as it existed when Shri Tarkunde delivered the J.P. Memorial Lecture 25 years ago, in March 1993 was very different than what it is today. The chain of events from 1993 is relevant to see the difference between the situation in 1993 and today. In the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP secured 161 seats and a non-Congress government was formed which could not complete its full term. In 1999 elections the BJP secured 182 seats and with its allies in NDA it was able to form government with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as its Prime Minister. Thereafter from 2004 to 2014 there was an UPA Government headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister. During the UPA-II regime the Allahabad High Court verdict on the Babri Masjid case came on 30th Sept 2010. After this judgment a grave and serious danger to Indian democracy appeared on the Horizon. This verdict gave a legal shape to the political agenda of the Sangh Parivar“Mandir Wahin Banaenge” and had legitimized the Masjid demolition on 6th Dec 1992 giving Sangh Parivar a way to claim to construct a “grand temple” at the site of the demolished Masjid and gave a boost to the BJP to contest the 2014 elections based on this issue. The 2014 election was contested by the BJP based upon Modi'scommunaldivideplank.After 3 years of the Modi government at the Centre, Yogi Adityanath, the Hindu Icon was installed as the Chief Minister of U.P. Of the 403 seats, the BJP secured a majority of 325 members in the U.P Legislative Assembly. Yogi has the reputation of being a hardcore Hindu leader. His elevation to the post of the U.P Chief Minister shows that Hindutva is sweeping the country.

In U.P there is an openly declared Encounter Raj. U.P Chief Minister YogiAdityanathhasdeclaredthat“as criminals should leave U.P or else........ there are only two places for them jail per available figures upto 14th Aug 2014, there have been 2351 shoot outs, killing 63 persons across 24 districts. The actual numbers are many more. For the list of those killed it is obvious that most of them were Muslims and Dalits. Draconian laws like UAPA, NSA and 124-A IPC,(sedition) are being used to implicate public intellectuals, writers, fearless journalists and Human Rights Activists and not against criminals/ terrorists for whom these laws are made. The criminals / terrorists who should have been booked under these Draconian Laws are being killed in Encounters.

If U.P is deemed to be a “Rashtra ”then it can be safely said that it has virtually become a “Hindu Rashtra” after Yogi Adityanath became its Chief Minister with a huge majority in the Assembly.

In a recently published report “Dismantling India - A Four year Report”“over the period 2015-2018”, there is a note of Mathews Jacob in which it has been mentioned that HRDA has documented over 300 cases of attacks on HRDs across the country, and HRDs and members of their families are facing threats to their personal and physical securities. They are being profiled, harassed, intimidated, ill-treated and subjected to hateful abuse in the media. They are arbitrarily arrested or detained and cases filed against them. Their offices raided and files stolen and confiscated etc.

Now comparing the situation as it existed when Shri Tarkunde delivered the J.P. Memorial Lecture on 23rd March 1993 with the situation as it exists now in the light of the chain of events from 1993 till today as described above my suggestions are as follows:

There should be a joint action by human rights organizations like PUDR and CJP (led by Teesta Setalvad), HRDA [Human Rights Defenders Alert (India)], Mass Movements like NAPM, Citizens groups and Anti-communal citizens fronts, eminent concerned citizens like Romila Thapar, Harsh Mander, Aruna Roy ,Ashok Vajpayee, Ram Puniyani, Gauhar Raza, Mathews Jacob, Justice A.P.Shah, Justice H Suresh, Justice B.G. Kolse Patil, Justice P.B. Sawant, eminent journalists like, P. Sainath, Medha Dikshit, Ravish Kumar, Punya Prasoon Vajpayee, eminent scholar Apoorvanand and student leader Kanhaiya Kumar. In the July 2017 issue of the PUCL Bulletin there is an open letter of 65 senior retired officials from different Central Services. All public authorities and Constitutional bodies should take heed of the letter entitled “Retired Bureaucrats Warned of Growing Authoritarianism, Majoritarianism”. Those 65 Senior retired officers may also be asked to join. What should be that joint action may be decided in a meeting in which all the aforesaid persons or the representatives of the aforesaid organizations would be invited. The first meeting of all these persons may be held at Rajghat or at Jantar Mantar. About the long term program I recall that we had launched a three nationwide campaigns:

1. A nationwide campaign for securing the dignity of the individual in practice,

2. A campaign against great threat posed by the divisive and fascist politics of the RSS and BJP and

3. A meaningful and effective reform of the criminal justice system

The discussion to launch these three campaigns at the National level by involving all State Units was started in December 2014 at the Patna PUCL Convention and it continued thereafter till the National Executive meeting at Jaipur in June 2017. Merely announcing that “All State Units across India” will be involved in the three National Level Campaigns, is not enough. We have to find a mechanism by which the National PUCL can involve the State Units.

As a long term program to meet the “communal chauvinism which is being promoted by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar” we may focus on the second nationwide campaign namely a campaign against a great threat posed by the divisive and fascist politics of the RSS and the BJP. We may start the involvement of the state units by holding a meeting of State Units representatives with the members of the Executive Committee of the National PUCL. The other two National level campaigns namely a Nationwide campaign for securing the dignity of individual in practice and a meaningful and effective reform of the criminal justice system have also to continue. But as a short term and a long term program as envisaged Shri V.M. Tarkunde we may concentrate on the second National Level campaign involving all state units namely a campaign against threat posed by the divisive and fascist politics of the RSS and BJP at this moment.

Having said all this, the following two campaigns which are on the agenda of this NC meeting will continue on the concrete suggestions which emerge out of the debate in this meeting.

1) Campaign for the release of Sudha Bharadwaj and other Human Rights Defenders/ Activists

2) Campaign Demanding Repeal of UAPA.



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Related Bulletin : Jan 2019