New Delhi: Leaders of 13 Opposition parties Saturday expressed deep concern over the recent incidents of hate speech and communal violence in the country, and urged people to maintain peace and harmony.
In a joint statement, the leaders including Congress president Sonia Gandhi, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and her Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand counterparts M K Stalin and Hemant Soren, also raised concern over the manner in which issues relating to food, dress, faith, festivals and language "are being deliberately used by the ruling establishment to polarise society".
They also demanded stringent punishment for the perpetrators of communal violence in the country.
"We are shocked at the silence of the Prime Minister, who has failed to speak against the words and actions of those who propagate bigotry and those who, by their words and actions, incite and provoke our society," they said in the joint statement.
"This silence is an eloquent testimony to the fact that such private armed mobs enjoy the luxury of official patronage." Asserting their collective resolve to work together to strengthen the bonds of social harmony that "defined and enriched India for centuries", the Opposition leaders said, "We reiterate our commitment to combat and confront the poisonous ideologies which are attempting to entrench divisiveness in our society." "We appeal to all sections of the people to maintain peace and foil the sinister objective of those who wish to sharpen communal polarisation. We call upon all our party units across the country to independently and jointly work for maintaining peace and harmony," they said in the joint appeal.
Incidents of communal violence were reported from some parts of the country on the occassion of Ram Navami on April 10.
There have also been sharp divisions over the Hijab row in Karnataka and some other parts of the country and violence on the JNU campus over serving of non-veg food in the hostel mess on Ram Navami.
"We are extremely anguished at the manner in which issues related to food, dress, faith, festivals and language are being deliberately used by sections of the ruling establishment to polarize our society," the statement said.
"We are extremely concerned with the growing incidents of hate speech in the country by people, who appear to have official patronage and against whom no meaningful and strong action is being taken," they said in their joint statement.
On the recent incidents of communal violence, they said, "We are deeply concerned, as reports indicate that there is a sinister pattern in the areas where these incidents have occurred. Incendiary hate speeches preceded the aggressive armed religious processions unleashing communal violence." They also expressed pain at the manner in which social media and the audio-visual platforms "are being misused with official patronage to spread hatred and prejudice".
The Opposition leaders said they reiterate their firm conviction that the country will prosper only if it respects, accommodates and celebrates its many diversities in full measure.
Signatories to the joint statement also include: Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, Communist Party of India general secretary D Raja, All India Forward Bloc general secretary Debabrata Biswas, Revolutionary Socialist Party general secretary Manoj Bhattacharya, IUML general secretary P K Kunhalikutty, and Communist Party of India(ML)-Liberation general secretary Dipanker Bhattacharya.