BJP Accused of Spreading Intolerance in India

Rohit Wadhwaney

2015-11-03
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151103-IN-bihar-1000 Prime Minister Narendra Modi (third from right) waves as he arrives for an electoral rally in Aurangabad, Bihar, Oct. 9, 2015.
AFP

Scientists have joined prominent writers in accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of allowing a “climate of intolerance” to pervade India.

A controversial comment Monday by S.N. Channabasappa, a BJP leader in the southern state of Karnataka, sharpened concerns voiced by religious minorities and members of India’s so-called “rationalist” community about what they say is growing Hindu chauvinism.

On Tuesday, Channabasappa was arrested for allegedly threatening Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who had declared that no one could prevent him from eating beef, Indian media outlets reported.

"How dare you lay your hands on the neck of Gomata?” the Deccan Herald quoted the BJP leader as saying during a protest Monday in the city of Shivamogga, using the Hindu word for the cow, which Hindus hold as sacred. A movement to impose a nationwide ban on beef consumption and slaughter of cows has gained momentum since the Modi’s government took power last year.

“You are openly saying with a dictatorial attitude that you will eat cow meat... If you have the guts, you come here and eat at Gopi Circle, then, let there be no doubt that on that day, you will be beheaded," Channabasappa said.

‘Religious dictatorship’

His comment came as protests over an “atmosphere of rising religious intolerance” under Modi’s leadership grew louder.

As of Tuesday, an online petition initiated by Indian scientists at home and abroad had garnered more than 1,300 signatures.

“The scientific community is deeply concerned with the climate of intolerance, and the ways in which science and reason are being eroded in the country,” read the petition.

The Indian constitution calls on citizens to “develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform,” it said, quoting from the document.

“Unfortunately, what we are witnessing instead is the active promotion of irrational and sectarian thought by important functionaries of the government,” it went on to say.

The scientists acted after nearly 50 distinguished Indian writers returned awards to the government as an act of protests, and historians, artists and filmmakers followed suit.

On Thursday last week, more than 100 top scientists sent a separate petition to President Pranab Mukherjee.

“We, as scientists, are concerned about the recent developments with reference to intolerance, polarization and the spread of communal hatred resulting in the death of innocent people, rationalists. It is victimizing innocent people for eating beef, sensible people for being against superstition,” the petition read.

“A highly polarized community is like a nuclear bomb close to criticality. It can explode any time and drive the nation to utter chaos.”

Last week, acclaimed molecular biologist P.M. Bhargava returned his Padma Bhushan award, India’s third highest civilian honor.

“From the path of democracy we are moving towards Hindu religious dictatorship, which is unacceptable to me, as is the fact that this government has no scientific temper,” Bhargava told BenarNews.

‘Propaganda’

The protests have arisen against the backdrop of the recent murders of three rationalists – M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dhabolkar – which were allegedly committed because they had voiced anti-Hindu opinions.

Sonia Gandhi, who heads the opposition Congress party, on Tuesday led a march from New Delhi’s Parliament House to Mukherjee’s official residence, urging him to use his constitutional powers to dispel the atmosphere of intolerance.

“A sinister campaign is being unleashed to create social and communal tension. It is being done with the objective of polarizing society and disturbing social harmony,” the Congress delegation told the President.

While rallying for state elections in eastern Indian state of Bihar on Monday, Modi hit out at the opposition, saying that Congress had no business lecturing him on intolerance when it had been in power during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, in which some 3,000 Sikhs were killed. The riots followed the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

In a Facebook posting, senior BJP leader and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley accused the government’s critics of being the ones who fostered intolerance.

“They wish to project India as an intolerant society. Perpetrators of this propaganda never allowed viewpoints to grow in either universities, academic institutions or cultural bodies that they have controlled. Their intolerance extends to not accepting an alternative ideological pole,” Jaitley wrote.

Rare instance

But Dr. Vineeta Bal of the New Delhi-based National Institute of Immunology disagreed.

“Most scientists in this country do not have a political agenda. This is a rare instance when such a large group of eminent scientists have come out to voice their concern over growing intolerance. Obviously, there is some cause for worry,” Bal, one of the signatories to the online petition, told BenarNews.

“Fringe elements that would otherwise not have the courage to be violent seem to have found encouragement from the government in power,” she said.

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