Communal virus, the other dreadful challenge

Communal virus, the other dreadful challenge

Modiji should step in at this stage of the war against the coronavirus and order exemplary legal action against his own supporters who are out to vitiate the atmosphere by spreading the communal virus.

Julio Ribeiro


Locked down in my daughter’s home in Mumbai, I get to know what people are thinking and talking about when I speak to them on the telephone or by e-mail. And what they say is not pleasing to an old man’s ears!

My friends, both Hindu and Muslim, admit that no one’s God has been able to protect his (or her) flock from the jaws of the coronavirus. But, they say, that worse than the corona is the communal virus that the Hindutva forces have injected into the body politic, rejecting a God-sent opportunity to get all communities on one common platform. To fight the corona and conquer it, Modiji appealed to all Indians to unite. His own friends are using the corona to divide!

After the corona is behind us, as it surely will be, we have the equally momentous task of resurrecting the economy. It was in a downward spiral before the corona visited, but is in an existential crisis at present. It will require the genius and the contribution of all citizens to get the economy back on rails.

Instead of preparing every Indian, regardless of religion, caste or economic status, to join this inevitable fight, the State is bent on blaming one community for the spread of the virus, knowing fully well that this is not true.

The Tablighi Jamaat was certainly irresponsible for not calling off their international yearly deliberations, but was it not the government, too, that failed to prevent the gathering of a thousand overly-religious believers? It could have banned the conference or cancelled the visas issued to foreign delegates. Why did it fail?

The Health Ministry’s spokesperson, Luv Agarwal, gave the precise figure of 50 per cent as the number of Covid-19 positive patients afflicted because of contact with the Tablighi participants. He repeated this allegation the next day! This was sheer speculation, devoid of empirical data, and meant for political mileage which governments should avoid on such critical occasions. The damage that this propaganda is causing to the unity and integrity of this country is far greater than the harm that communal politics has already inflicted in the past decade.

All my Muslim friends and a sizeable number of my well-meaning and intensely patriotic Hindu friends have voiced their apprehensions about the path that this type of political chicanery will lead us to. In the ultimate analysis, this will result in the establishment of a fifth column that is going to weaken the edifice of a vibrant secular democracy envisaged by our Constitution. Modiji himself has paid homage to this Constitution, at least in word.

In a previous column, I had mentioned the valiant efforts by the civil society to feed migrant labour and other local poverty-afflicted residents of Mumbai who face enhanced hunger during the lockdown. One would not expect religion to be a consideration for relief. Only economic despair should matter. But, alas, instances of discrimination have come to notice! This militates against every human charitable instinct, forcing Good Samaritans to work much harder to succeed in their mission of mercy.

Recently a contrived controversy has arisen in Mumbai and its adjacent tribal district of Palghar, where tribals lynched to death two saffron-robed sadhus suspected by the villagers to be child-lifters. The sadhus had been turned away from crossing into Gujarat at the state’s border because they had no official pass to cross over. Instead of turning back to Mumbai, the sadhus, intent on attending the funeral of a senior sadhu in Surat, diverted their car through a forest route to avoid the border checkpost.

Close to a forest chowki on this untrod path, nearby villagers who suspected them of being child-lifters attacked the sadhus and beat them to death! Pro-BJP journalists hinted that Sonia Gandhi had failed to react to this incident. If these journalists had made their own inquiries, as good journalists should, they would have learnt that Sonia Gandhi could not have guessed that a respected sadhu in Surat had died, that two sadhus from Mumbai would not be asking for travel passes to attend that funeral or that they would be denied passage at the border, or that they would take unused forest paths to cross. The sarpanch of that village was a BJP man and the tribals there were all Hindus.

The mischievous attempts by these journalists to create enmity between religious communities should have landed them in the lock-up to face charges, a common procedure for far less serious instances of fomenting communal hatred.

Modiji should step in at this stage of the war against the coronavirus and order exemplary legal action against his own supporters who are out to vitiate the atmosphere by spreading the communal virus.

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