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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 10, February 28, 2015

After all, it’s a Game

Sunday 1 March 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

Suppose India had lost the World Cup cricket match against Pakistan at Adelaide, the reaction among its people would have been that of disappointment and remorse. But I do not think that they would have initiated scuffles with the Pakistani spectators. The Indians would not have destroyed television sets as some did in Karachi and elsewhere in Pakistan. Of course, there would have been a sense of humiliation, but it would not have poured on to the streets in the shape of fracas or demonstrations.

This is not to suggest that the Indian society is more sophisticated. But there is no doubt that it is more tolerant and accommodative. A multi-cultural society as it is, India has learnt to live with different communities. The largest Muslim population, next to Indonesia, has its dynamics. It has taught the Hindus that they have to adjust if they want the society to progress.

Unfortunately, the radicals among the community—they are increasing—want the country to be Hindu. The RSS, the extremist Hindu body, is pushing the society all the time to become a Hindu Rashtra. But the majority of Hindus have rejected its parochial approach.

The BJP, which is its political arm, seems to have learnt that saffronisation does not go down well with the people. Therefore, it has adopted development as its creed. It may well be a cover for Hindutva. Yet, it indicates the realisation that the communal outlook is counterproductive.

Probably, this explains why Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally broken his silence while addressing the Christian community in New Delhi. In an unequivocal statement, he said: “My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence. My government will not allow any religious group to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions.” Apparently, he had in mind the destruction of some churches in the country.

Modi, who has an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, has been careful all these months in not pushing his party’s agenda—common civil code and deleting Article 370 in the Constitution that gives a special status to Kashmir. He may not have become really secular but he knows that the society would not budge from the pluralism which it has accepted as a fact of life in India.

True, the minorities may still be mollified because of the preponderant majority of Hindus. The situation becomes alarming when RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat says that “Ram Janmabhoomi and Sethusamudram are national issues. We can raise more such issues to send a message across about the real targets of Sangh.” Yet he and the Sangh Parivar know that the Indian society cannot be converted into a theocratic state. This is against the grain of the people.

In comparison, Pakistan is becoming more and more radicalised. No doubt, the country was separated and constituted on the basis of religion. But its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, said soon after its creation that religion and state would not be mixed. Yet the fact is that the minorities in Pakistan are only around five per cent. In Sindh, where they are concentrated, there are forcible conversions of women for marriage. And there is hardly any temple which has not been attacked.

According to a report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), violent attacks on members of religious minorities rose significantly in 2014 as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government failed to ensure protection of religious freedom. The HRW has termed 2014 “a tumultuous year” for Pakistan in which sectarian attacks continued with impunity, military operations in North Waziristan displaced more than one million people.

 In a statement attached to the report, Phelim Kine, the deputy Asia director at the New York-based HRW regretted that “the Pakistan Government is failing at the most basic duty to protect its citizens and enforce rule of law. The Pakistan Government did little in 2014 to stop the rising toll of killings and repression by extremist groups that target religious minorities.”

Undoubtedly, many mosques in India have also faced the fury of fanatics. But here the media and a substantial number of liberals speak out and take both the society and government to task. The minorities will continue to be under pressure until India and Pakistan bury the hatchet. Secular and democratic New Delhi is no less derogatory of Islamabad when tension comes to prevail. Muslims are dubbed as Pakistanis although India is ruled by a secular Constitution, not by the Hindu majority. This ethos gets diluted when Pakistan is on the opposite.

It is a pity that there is not even an iota of realisation, much less action, that ways should be found to minimise enmity between the two countries. Pakistan has more to answer because it has even distorted history to show Hindus in a bad light. A student in Pakistan is a product of hatred which is kept alive through falsehood or half-truths.

Generally, it is not the case in India although the society should be vigilant because history is being saffronised by the ruling BJP. The society is not yet contaminated because the sweep of the Aam Aadmi Party at Delhi testifies the voters’ abhorrence to caste and creed. This phenomenon should become an all-India theme. It all depends to a great extent on how India and Pakistan sort out their differences. The minorities will benefit if they do. The sooner, the better it is.

Cricket is, no doubt, a game of skill but it depends on how a particular team performs on a particular day. Take the example of Ireland that beat the two-time world champions, West Indies. The important lesson to learn is that the game should be played in the spirit of the game and not tagged to other issues between the two nations. Players seem to be conscious of this but not the spectators.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com