It would not have been easy for our founding fathers to adhere to the idea of a pluralist, secular state while India was being dismembered on the basis of religion. In the wake of the Partition, the bloodiest of communal conflicts, the trauma of the largest displacement of populations in history and the unrelenting aggression of a theocratic Pakistan were not able to shake their faith in the concept of a nation where people of different creeds, castes and cultures are able to live in harmony and enjoy their basic human rights without any discrimination. The Constitution gave a concrete shape to this idea and, but for a few, transient aberrations, it held sway though the tumult and turmoil which have marked the evolution of our democratic polity. This could be possible thanks to a tacit national consensus on the basic values underlying the idea of India. Unfortunately, the lure of short term electoral advantage has over the years induced our political parties and their front organizations to whittle down this consensus. This has given an impetus to divisive tendencies, devalued the pan-Indian identity and brought the multiple and often conflicting sub-national identities to the fore. While the fault lines in the national subconscious have been activated, violence has been legitimized as the preferred instrument of cultural and religious assertion. Political dialogue has been replaced by polemic and words have lost their significance as each formation has adopted its own lexicon. Intolerance and xenophobia have overwhelmed the spirit of accommodation, which had been the hallmark of the Indian ethos. A soft state has allowed public platforms to be abused, with impunity, to instigate various communities to avenge ancient and recent wrongs through violent means. Acts of violence against one set of innocent people are being invoked to propagate violence against other sets of innocent people, setting in motion a vicious circle of mindless violence. It is nauseating to find authority figures acting as apologists for organized violence and citing extenuating circumstances for inhuman and barbarous acts which ought to have been put down ruthlessly. The contagions of communalism and parochialism have begun to attack hallowed institutions which had so far been immune to them.




It is high time that as a secular democracy, we should push religion back into people’s homes and places of worship. Our leaders have committed a grievous mistake in ceding too much of the public space to religion and in pandering to the whims of the self-styled guardians of various religious communities. Chauvinists of the linguistic, regional and other sub-national varieties have also been allowed to have a free run and hold the state to ransom. The failure of the state to reach out and provide quality education to every child has allowed the purveyors of regressive beliefs and sectarian dogma to capture impressionable minds. We should rectify this blunder before it is too late. At this critical juncture, the civil society has a duty to reinvent its role as the conscience keeper of the nation and keep a sharp eye on the functioning of democratic institutions and the structures of governance. It should be able to put to good use the power that the ongoing electoral process has vested in it. The civil society should also extend its whole-hearted support to initiatives for reassertion of an overriding national identity, such as those undertaken in the last few months by Muslim clerics under the auspices of Darul Uloom - Deoband and Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind. The religious leaders representing the various sects of the majority community should, on their part, come forward now to renew their allegiance to the idea of India as enshrined in our Constitution.