When the country is scared of the newly discovered coronavirus, many find themselves comfortably engulfed by the familiar viruses of irrationality and communalism. The immediate casualties are the unity of the people and the rule of law.
A week is a long time in India. Last week, the country was concerned but determined to fight the coronavirus. The coronavirus crisis is not yet over, but many Indians are already allowing communalism and irrationality to dominate the public discourse. As problems never seem to come in ones or twos, but in higher numbers, it seems the viruses are also attacking in combination. When the country is scared of the newly discovered coronavirus, many find themselves comfortably engulfed by the familiar viruses of irrationality and communalism. The immediate casualties are the unity of the people and the rule of law.
The irrationalities are displayed in many forms to suit one’s political or religious agenda. Those who find no wrong in Tablighi Jammat’s organization of a markaz were highly critical of Yogi Adityanath’s visit to Ayodhya, or of the regular congregation of devotees in famous temples. The organizers might not have violated the law and directives as they existed during the days of markaz. However, their neglect of the threat of the spread of the coronavirus through such a congregation of people that included a few foreigners was an act of irresponsibility endangering public health. The organizers must own up to their neglect or ignorance of the situation.
The Tabligi’s act is an example of the tendency to believe that anything done in the service of God is not considered to be against the interest of the people. In fact, the Tabligi’s decision to organize the markaz has resulted in its own followers and their family members either infected by the coronavirus or in very real danger of being infected. Religiosity may give people the strength to keep their morale high during a crisis such as this but does not confer immunity from infectious diseases. In such a case, defending the organization of the markaz itself becomes an act of irrationality and irresponsibility. These defenders have often mistaken an allegation against a minority religious group or a leader from a minority community as an attack on the religious community that they represent. While secularism demands to stand up against the castigation of majority or minority religious, linguistic, ethnic, and sexual communities, the groups that claim to represent any community can certainly be held responsible for their deeds and misdeeds. It is important to highlight the otherwise thick line between a community and the organizations within that community that has become blurred due to the dominance of right-wing politics. Communal politics only results in the blurring of this distinction, which in turn strengthens the hold of communalism over society.
On the other hand, those who are imposing intentions on Tablighi Jammat’s decision to continue with the organization of the markaz, and, in turn, holding the entire community responsible for spreading the coronavirus in India are victims of a communal virus from which they can never recover. They find no wrongs in Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s oath-taking ceremony in Madhya Pradesh or BS Yeddyurappa attending a wedding function that had more participants than the markaz in Delhi. They do not even doubt the role of the home ministry in allowing the organization of the markaz, never mind holding the ministry responsible for neglecting or ignoring the religious congregation in the country’s national capital. The home ministry acted as irresponsibly as the organizers of the markaz in this entire episode. The home ministry officials are guilty of gross neglect of duty for which they must be held responsible.
Those solely blaming the Tablighi Jammat are deliberately not questioning the role of the home ministry, which makes their intentions of communal politics quite evident. For such people, everything that went wrong in the country during the UPA government’s reign was because of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. In the past 6 years, anything going wrong in the country, as per the wisdom of these people, is because of Nehru’s decisions in the past, or because of Muslims in the country. This absolute nonsense has occupied the central place of discourse in the country. These are the people who are less interested in fighting the coronavirus and are more interested in using this pandemic to portray Muslims as being anti-social and hence anti-national. It boggles the mind as to how the source of the virus swiftly shifted from being a Chinese conspiracy to Islamic jihad.
It is also noteworthy that those who have set up public discourses in the country over the past 10 years have allowed the current divisionary discourse to rule over the minds of the ordinary people. Anyone holding the Jamaat responsible for the organization of the markaz without talking about the intentions of those blaming the entire community, and those allowing such a discourse to continue, are also acting most irrationally. Thus, we have ended up with two types of secular protagonists. One defends the organization of the markaz but enthusiastically points to the violation of government directives by right-wing leaders and Hindu places of worship. It feeds into the majoritarian perception that secularism is only about critiquing the majoritarian religiosity. Even when such a perception is deliberately orchestrated by right-wing organizations, one must think about the inability of seculars to counter it. The second type of protagonist is the type who squarely blames the Tablighi Jammat. In a bid to be politically correct, they ignore or downplay the role of the home ministry, the venomous campaign against Muslims, and allowing a communal discourse by the top leaders. By doing it, they simply play into the hands of communal forces, even if their intentions are secular. These irrationalities are abetting communalism in India.
At a time when the unity of our people is most important, and at a time when the country needs to gear up to fight a long health battle, allowing our society to slide into communal mud-slinging is the unmaking of the statesmanlike leadership. It would mark a sharp difference between the handling of the erstwhile national crises by the then national leaders and the current crisis by the contemporary leaders. In today’s situation, wherein the health emergency continues in the country, the emergence of different streams of irrationality, coupled with the blatant propaganda of majoritarian communalism, are early warnings of a nation that is descending into chaos. The neglect of such warnings may or may not result in colossal damages to the country. But taking cognizance of these signs, making rectifications wherever necessary, and resolving to fight irrationality and communalism will be a certain guarantee against the decline of India into certain turmoil.
Parimal Maya Sudhakar
3rd April 2020