Diversity and pluralism are beautiful. For Indians, diversity and pluralism are in their DNA. We are born and raised in a country where we have had multiple languages, multiple cuisines and a variety of philosophies/religions. The level of comfort an average Indian has with diversity at multiple levels including intellectual diversity is something the world could learn a lot from.
But, this celebration of our diversity is based on some assumptions. It can only work when there are some basic shared values between all these diverse groups. So as these groups go about living their lives with their relative differences they agree on a certain set of common values. I would like to call those values “India’s Non-Negotiables”. But some of these Non-Negotiables have been under a constant assault in India.
Elections come and go, but over the years the narrative in India has gone from being seriously annoying to the theatre of the absurd. Especially, since the election of 2014 where Indians voted the Narendra Modi led NDA to power the assault on India’s Non-Negotiables has been amped up to a very high decibel.
So what are these Non-Negotiables? What are these values/rules that should not be breached if we want to maintain the integrity of our nation? So here are some of the points that I believe should qualify as Non-Negotiables in India.
There can be no compromise on the Nations integrity and National security. When it comes to issues like Kashmir, Naxalism, some areas in the North-East or some separatist elements in Tamil Nadu and Punjab, everyone irrespective of their political leaning should speak in a united voice. But does that happen in India?
Let us examine a few examples. According to this India TV News Desk report on August 30, 2018, Congress leaders are “Talking about inspiring and funding members of several students unions across the country over ‘BHU-like incidents’, one of the letters allegedly written by Comrade Prakash says that Congress leaders are willing to assist them.”
The letters accessed by India TV allegedly state “We must intensify protests using students, state forces will be soft against students which will gradually put the state at a disadvantage while acting against us. Congress leaders are very much willing to assist us in the process and have also agreed to fund their further agitations whenever such opportunities arrive,”
A few months ago on June 22nd Senior Congress leader Saifuddin Soz was quoted by ANI saying “Musharraf said Kashmiris don’t want to merge with Pakistan… their first choice is independence. The statement was true then and remains true now also. I say the same but I know that it is not possible.”
As if this was not enough former Cabinet Minister from the Congress Mr Kapil Sibal was speaking to ANI where he was quoted saying that the current Indian Government should listen to the point of view of a separatist outfit like the Hurriyat.
In the bid to score political brownie points over the current political dispensation the Congress party and the larger left ecosystem is willing to compromise India’s integrity and national security. This is a path which is fraught with danger. One would hope that the Congress party would learn from their mistakes in the past where it was their flirtation with extremists that led to the Khalistan movement which culminated in the loss of many lives in Punjab and eventually cost us the life of India’s then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
The monopoly of violence in any sane and civilised society has to be with the state. This is Non-Negotiable. But is that the case in India? Does India’s left ecosystem really believe in that? When students in JNU chant “‘bandook ki nok pe lenge azadi’ (we will take freedom with guns)” what should be the response of India’s intelligentsia? How should the Congress party that is India’s premier opposition party behave? In any normal society, you would see all mainstream political outfits completely distancing themselves from such elements. But as we see time and again not only is the Congress party President meeting the leaders of these separatist urban movements to encourage them, they take their assistance when it comes to election campaigning.
We have come to point in India where violence by Naxals has been defended and re-contextualised by “intellectuals” and “experts” on Twitter like @suchitrav where they say “Naxal movements have used violence – this is undeniable. But what is often lost in the analysis is this — the violence of the powerful cannot be equated to the violence of the powerless.”
Naxal movements have used violence – this is undeniable. But what is often lost in the analysis is this — the violence of the powerful cannot be equated to the violence of the powerless.
— Suchitra Vijayan (@suchitrav) August 28, 2018
A “secular” and “socialist” state should treat all its citizens equally. That is an absolute Non-Negotiable. There can be no discrimination on the basis of identity. But India is a unique nation where our former Honourable Prime Minister Shri Manmohan Singh during the 52nd address to the National Development Council was quoted saying “We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably the fruits of development. These must have the first claim on resources.”
Yes, you have read that right, the former Prime Minister of India believes “Muslims must have the first claim on India’s resources”. A specific set of people in India should be given a preference in a basic claim on its resources. Leave the majority aside for once, I wonder what the other minorities in India think about this?
I would like to end this article with one last example. For me, this is the supreme value in any secular democratic republic. That is the right to speak freely without any fear or intimidation. Freedom of Speech is a very important Non-Negotiable. But in India, we have seen a consistent assault on our right to speak from every single political outfit from time immemorial. It does not matter which state you live in India, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari we have one common thread.
These Twitter Threads on assaults on our Freedom of Expression by Congress and BJP by Anand Ranganathan expose the hypocrisy of our two premier political outfits and how they have muzzled our basic rights from time to time. Every political outfit will try to curb our right to speak freely by giving ridiculous arguments like “hurt sentiments”. What we have in the name of free speech in India is a farce. On any given day, any fringe group can basically get up and give threats, come on the streets, damage public property and even kill people sometimes because their sentiments are hurt by something written or spoken by someone. And they are able to get away with this with impunity because there is no law and order in India and in many cases, the government in power is tacitly involved in the harakiri.
No society can survive and sustain itself without these Non-Negotiables. If we remove them, India’s diversity and pluralism will collapse. If they cease to exist, the very edifice of The Republic of India will cease to exist. There is a fine line, and that line needs to be defined. It does get updated from time to time as the moral arch of our society expands, but, it still exists and a dispassionate analysis of India’s socio-political climate today should give us a cause for concern. We have to stop looking at everything through the prism of victimhood and oppression. India is far more than a nation of tyrannical majorities and victim minorities. Unless this prism is challenged we will go on having these assaults on our Non-Negotiables.
There is more to life than the game of Oppression Olympics and Victimology Poker. So I would end this article by asking all of you a few questions. Can everyone irrespective of their political affiliation agree that the values of free speech, equal treatment of every citizen and the integrity and security of our nation Non-Negotiable? Can we at least attempt to have this conversation in India? (I’ve already discarded the Marxists, but what about the rest of us?) If you think you have nothing in common with other socio-political groups why is it so? Share your reasons. Also, how can we build a healthy society in such a scenario?