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There is a role for Congress in the battle for minds and hearts of Indians: Salman Khurshid

Expectations of both majority and minority have been drawn by Indian Constitution. Those who pretend not to understand them are betrayers of constitutional morality.

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Is this no longer an age of reason? Have we once again forsaken our commitment to humanity and selfishly reduced ourselves to nuclear transactional existence? The modernisation of any society comes only with the acceptance that the entire past cannot be sustained and much of it requires revisiting and change. One cannot be modern in using technology and gadgets but intellectually Jurassic. Whatever happened to dreams and hope? Do we not ever feel the pain and loss of another person because we think they are somehow less than what we are? Do we really believe justice and fairness are only about what we desire and aspire to acquire?

The time has come to do some frank talking. Sensible people have repeatedly advised moderation in response to provocative statements against persons who do not agree with the prevailing majoritarian arrogance or those who do not fit into the warped worldview of the ruling mobs. Whilst it ensures obviating further hostility, there is inevitably a sense of inflicting defeat. That is followed by a parody of ‘good cop-bad cop’ theatre even as the sitcoms suffer in silence.

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Humanity will vanquish oppressors

It is tragic that ordinary good people end up taking or not taking positions based on their perception of political consequences of their choice. Even police encounters and public lynching are relegated to routine statistics. If an act is evil, we should be willing to speak of its venality without fear or favour. What someone suffers today will certainly come to haunt us tomorrow. If for no other reason, at least for that we must raise our voice. In doing so, we may just save ourselves as indeed thousands of others.

Even as we speak truth to power, we must understand that all people cannot be fooled all the time. To believe that good and rational citizens are fewer than those who support the government responsible for the woes of the country is in itself a defeatist position and unsupported by data. Besides, the ability to polarise on irrational grounds is limited in time and space. The heroes of yesterday might well be discarded villains of tomorrow. Their short-lived glory might be hitched to faith (and its misuse) but the campaign to restore democratic values must put the faith in what this nation was born to cherish and celebrate. Oppressors of the world have inevitably been vanquished by humanity and so will those who undermine freedom today. Yet, words alone, no matter how elegant, will not serve to deliver us. It has to be an unshakeable commitment to freedom and of course willingness to sacrifice.

It is surprising that people speak of secularism as a jaded, ineffective slogan that means little to the new generation or has been defiled beyond recognition. A minority in a democracy has a right to retain its identity and get equal concern and respect. At the same time, it has to show respect and deference to the majority. The lines of legitimate expectation are drawn by the Constitution and those who attempt to fudge them or pretend that they do not understand them are pure, simple betrayers of constitutional morality.

Also read: Idea of India wasn’t demolished at Ayodhya. That happened in our ‘liberal’ homes

Secularism and justice for all

But even as we hear discordant notes, largely for advancing party political agenda, we must not forget that our civilisation holds out some unique examples of shared living and wholesome participation in inter-community events. Secularism was not discovered at the stroke of midnight on 15 August 1947; it has been an intrinsic part of our heritage. Denial of our secular identity will not succeed. Attempts to redefine it to fit pre-conceived notions too will not distort truth indefinitely. The vision of M.K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru will prevail over contrived notions of nationalism.

Somewhere in the national conversation that we desperately need to prepare for battle for the minds and hearts of our compatriots, there is a role for the Congress. History and contemporary ground reality on this cannot be denied. But the contours of the emancipation armies, as indeed the profiles of courage to be exhibited by the generals, still need to be worked upon. And the conversation must begin in earnest now. The success of the challenge to the Narendra Modi government may indeed have a lot to do with arithmetics of electoral patterns, but it will be ultimately ensured by the conviction that we need an alternative national vision that may borrow substantially from the past and is fortified by creative innovation and promise to bring lasting change for the people.

If the BJP government has sought to restrict freedom in all its dimensions, manipulate and undermine unity and harmony, turn members of a peace-loving nation born in the cradle of ahimsa and satyagraha into self-obsessed jingoists in the guise of patriots, the best examples of commitment to equality and human dignity into mobs of envy and hatred, convert the celebration of pluralism in culture and faith into forced uniformity, then we must make a resounding declaration of freedom and justice for all. Only that will reach into the hearts of all citizens as the dawn of new India. Our nation can transform from ambitious brick and mortar edifices of self-glorification to a thought structure of humanism, compassion, toleration, justice, sensitivity and joy of togetherness.

Salman Khurshid is a Congress leader, senior advocate and author. He tweets @salman7khurshid. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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