Slowly and, it seems, inevitably a culture of intolerance is spreading across the country which is very disturbing. If allowed to grow, it might end up with the balkanisation of India. It was that, surely, which made the Supreme Court come down heavily on some regional parties for pushing the sons-of-the-soil theory somewhat aggressively. Raj Thackeray who triggered off a campaign against North Indians early in February has been prohibited from organising demonstrations, rallies, processions, giving provocative statements in media etc. to cause breach of peace or cause obstruction in Mumbai. That order, as of now, still holds good.
Commenting on the situation, the Mumbai-based Economic and Political Weekly (February 16, 2008) attributed the disturbances to the ?dark side of urban development?. It names three ?serious issues? involved in recent happenings ?that nobody wants to grapple with?. One, issues relating to the tensions thrown up by the limitations inherent in uncontrolled and unregulated market-led development?. The second, the question of how to handle the growing diversions in the cities? and the third, ?the case with which ?identity? and markers of identity can become reference point for social tensions?. EPW warned against the tendency to ?frame an agenda of exclusion by privileging certain identities and de-recognising some identities?; even worse, it warned against ?the growing murmurs in the Marathi media and among the vocal circles of Marathi opinion about ?the genuineness of the grievances expressed by Raj Thackeray?, suggesting that such short term strategies of politics of exclusion might indeed be successful in the short run?. It is sickening to learn that the Shiv Sena has dared Lalu Prasad Yadav to perform ?Chhat pooja? at Marine Beach in Chennai, as reported in The Hitavada (February 21). Are we all Hindus or are we not? When the idols of Lord Ganesh are immersed in the sea off Chowpatthy is anybody asking whether the worshippers are proper Marathi manoos or Hindus from other states?
According to Hitavada again (February 23), Opposition leaders in Bihar Assembly hooted Governor R.S. Gavai, for being a Maharashtrian, during his customary inaugural address at the opening of the Assembly session in Patna. The Governor, it was reported ?had to make a hasty exit from the Assembly?. This is sickening. Does the media have a role to play in these matters? As The Times of India asked (February 25): ?Is the media guilty of spurring on trouble makers?? Many in recent times have argued that the brouhaha created by Raj Thackeray in Maharashtra would never have reached a crescendo it did, if the media had not played it up?. Similarly it has been suggested that giving publicity to the initial anti-Jodhaa Akbar protestors in Rajasthan, the media encouraged extremeists to create trouble in the country?Gujarat, Bihar and Delhi are mentioned.
According to The Times of India ?the reality is that we live in an age of competitive news media and there is no escaping it?. It provided an excuse by saying: We go the distance because we are committeed to safeguarding democratic principles that are enshrined in the Constitution?, even while conceding ?that each act of intolerance erodes the very base on which the Constitution stands?. It is not easy to ignore riots and rioteers. The Hindu (February 25) noted that ?the suspension of the screening of Ashutosh Gowarikar'sJodhaa Akbar in Madhya Pradesh and two Haryana districts expresses the distressing tendency of government and local administration to appease the intolerant, by banning films or books?. The paper condemned the agitators by saying that ?the involvement of politicians, cutting across party lines, in the current campaign of protest and intimidation suggests, in addition to political opportunism, a worsened attitude to freedom of expression.
There is absolutely no warrant for banning film on account of a perceived or real threat of violence?. To suspend the screening of Jodhaa Akbar or turn a blind eye as bigots coerce cinema halls into pulling out the film, is to surrender to the culture of intolerance and dishonour the Constitutions?. Events like killing, damaging properties etc. have to be reported. But, at the same time, a paper can editorially condemn in the strongest possible terms those leaders who turn out to be public enemies. Ashutosh Gowarikar'sfilm has been banned in Madhya Pradesh. In mid-February, a CPM Minister kicked up a row by making improper remarks about Marwaris that smacked of intolerance. Such people do not need or deserve support. They should be publicly condemned. Dividing India along linguistic lines has encouraged subnationalism. That was bad enough but dividing people along caste and other lines is worse. As Jug Suraiya writing in The Times of India (February 27) has noted in the matter of Jodhaa Akbar, ?the past cannot be allowed to be hijacked by pressure groups such as the Kshatriya Mahasaba, claiming to represent the Rajput cause?.
Many unhappy things have transpired in the past because the circumstances demanded certain forms of action that today'sgeneration may find unbecoming. But we cannot erase history. We have to live by it. And draw our own conclusions from the supposed mistakes of our ancestors. That is why denouncing terrorism by the Deoband School of Islam comes like a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark world. The Deobandis are one of the most orthodox schools within Islam. That over a thousand delegates from madrasas all over the country met at Deoband to condemn terrorism as un-Islamic is a significant development. It is also significant that Bashir-ud-din, the Grand Mufti of Kashmir has supported the Deoband declaration and reiterated the message that Islam doesn'tallow the killing of innocent people.
The unspoken charge so far has been that Islamic leaders have been remaining silent all these days as jehadis have been turning their guns at innocent people. Now at least, one of the most influential groups of Muslims have openly condemned terrorism. As Deccan Herald (February 27) put it, ?terrorism in the name of Islam has been dealt a big below? and while the Deoband declaration may not be quite a fatwa ?still it is the loudest condemnation of terrorism from the school so far? and is a ?welcome development?. It could, said the paper ?result in the isolation of extremist and terror elements among Muslims? The Times of India (February 27) said that while the Deoband conference is certainly a start ?now is the time to take it further by issuing some clear-cut fatwas against terrorism?. It is a sensible request that should be met.