Prime Minister Narendra Modi must assuage minorities’ fears

Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervened in the ongoing debate on the safety of women. In the Lok Sabha, Modi said he was ‘deeply concerned’ about the rape of a 72-year-old nun in West Bengal. A report on the incident has been sought from the state government. Also, he shared the members’ concern about the growing incidents of intimidation against the religious minorities. Referring to the reported demolition of an under-construction church in Haryana, the PM said that the state government was directed to send a report. Members cutting across party lines expressed outrage at the rape of the elderly nun in Ranaghat in Nadia district. On Monday, when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s convoy was on its way to meet the victim of the gang rape, angry locals gheraoed her car, making it hard for her to move for nearly two hours. People were angry that even after two days, the culprits had not been arrested. Typically, she blamed the CPI(M) and the BJP for the spontaneous gherao by students and women and threatened that her party could reply in kind. Eventually, the police managed to extricate her vehicle from the baying crowds. The CPI(M) members in the Lok Sabha were particularly harsh in condemning the Trinamool Congress Government for the deteriorating law and order in the state, which had further caused insecurity among the women. Members from most parties condemned the rape of the nun while the Trinamool Congress members sought to shift focus by referring to the reported demolition of the under-construction church in Haryana. Villagers in Hissar were quoted in the media to the effect that the construction of a church was unwarranted, since no Christian lived in and around their village. They alleged that the real motive of the person behind the construction was to convert Hindus to Christianity, a claim neither supported nor denied by the man behind the proposed church. Regardless, the demolition of a small wall purportedly part of the proposed church made headline news. This is due to the vitiated atmosphere in the country. Also, because of the alacrity with which critics of the Modi Government seize upon every small or not-so-small incident of real or perceived attack on minorities to berate it for being soft on the loony fringe in the Sangh Parivar. There is a kernel of truth in both versions, since the loony fringe has taken to speaking out of turn and the Opposition has taken to blowing up out of all proportion even small incidents involving religious minorities. It is not as if such incidents did not take place earlier. They did. But before the advent of the Modi Government, the extremist elements in the Sangh Parivar neither made uncalled for remarks and, even if they did, those did not get played up in the media. Now, sections of the media go out of the way to induce members of various affiliate bodies of the RSS to mouth some absurdities, so that it can embarrass the Prime Minister and bring a bad name to his government. Of course, Modi himself will have to crack the whip against the loose cannons in the Parivar and ensure that they do not play into the hands of the Opposition.

Admittedly, there is reason for the minorities to feel concerned, following certain ill-considered moves by the BJP-led governments. For instance, the ban on the sale, possession and consumption of beef in Maharashtra is bound to create socio-economic, as well as law and order problems. The ban will in no way help advance the economic development of the state. Again, the move to introduce compulsory teaching of the Bhagwad Gita in Haryana can only enhance a sense of alienation among the minorities. Even the remark by Subramaniam Swamy that only Hindu temples are sacrosanct while churches and mosques are not because there are no idols of gods and goddesses inside, was wholly unwarranted. Modi and RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat must thrash out the issue of the Parivar members speaking out of turn and thus making it hard for the focus to remain on economic development. Minorities constitute over a quarter of the population and it is foolish to wish away their presence. Efforts should be made to win them over, to allay their apprehensions about the real agenda of the Parivar, instead of making things difficult for both the Modi Government and the minorities. Reassure the minorities, make them partners in the growth process. Otherwise, the Modi Government stands to forfeit the trust of the people sooner than later.

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