Debate, dissent and free expression of ideas are the hallmarks of a mature democracy. They form the core set of values around which the idea of India has been conceived and nurtured. At a time when the perceived intolerance has become the dominant theme of the opposition’s national narrative, outgoing Vice-president Hamid Ansari’s remarks about a sense of insecurity prevailing among the Muslims in the country have set off ripples in political circles. More than the content, the timing of his observations, coming as they did on the eve of demitting his office after completing two terms, has raised many eyebrows. Ansari, an astute diplomat known to choose his words carefully, said in an interview to the Rajya Sabha TV that a sense of unease and insecurity was creeping among the Muslim community. He also voiced concern that the “ambience of acceptance” was now under threat. The concerns raised by the former Rajya Sabha chairman need to be addressed without any reservations or bias. At the same time, one must resist the temptation to generalise what is at best an aberration in society and mainstream the stray criminal acts of fringe groups. Celebration of diversity is at the heart of Indian experience and it must be preserved at any cost. Any attempt to dilute or undermine this collective identity must be foiled. India has always prided itself for being an accommodative and assimilative society. Ansari’s remarks must be seen against the backdrop of cow vigilantism, which is a disgrace to the pluralistic society. But, to say that there was now a ‘breakdown of Indian values’ is hyperbolic.
As Ansari rightly pointed out, India has been a plural society that, for centuries, has lived in a certain ambience of acceptance. It is this plurality that must be preserved. Fringe communal elements get emboldened and try to enforce their agenda only when there is political patronage for them. The fear that a growing number of Muslim youth are attracted to the ISIS ideology is also misplaced and exaggerated. Their number is miniscule. In Ansari’s assessment, while an individual can always go off the track, there is no evidence that any process of extremist indoctrination is under way in India. It is the responsibility of the political parties, irrespective of their ideologies, to ensure that fanatic elements don’t seize the narrative. For people at large, secularism is not some empty political slogan but an everyday experience, manifested by innumerable acts of compassion, tolerance and mutual help. The communal cow politics will dent the country’s secular image. The NDA government talks about the agenda of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas.’ It must walk the talk and must deal with cow vigilantes with an iron hand.