Note Submitted By Prakash Karat, General Secretary, on behalf of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to the National Integration Council Meeting, August 31, 2005
1. The National Integration Council is meeting after a long gap of nearly thirteen years. After the last meeting held in November 1992, the serious development took place, of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya that led to a chain of events which affected communal harmony and national unity. It is unfortunate that precisely at that time, with the heightening of communal tensions and the growth of communalism in the country the National Integration Council became a dormant body.
2. The National Integration Council which is meeting for the first time since the UPA government was formed must give a call for restoring and strengthening the secular principle in all spheres of the state and its institutions.
3. When discussing communal harmony in the context of the rising communalism, the central event which dominated the recent period was the systematic pogrom conducted against the minority community in Gujarat after the Godhra train incident. It will be unwise to ignore the meaning of such mass violence with State sponsorship for the future of communal harmony and national unity of the country. The National Integration Council should draw lessons from this horrific event. The first step should be to ensure that justice to those who suffered in this violence. The perpetrators of the crimes have not been punished yet. The Central government has the responsibility to pursue the matter since it has become amply clear that the normal police and judicial procedures have been found wanting in the state. One instance of this is the refusal of the state authorities to accept the mandatory recommendations of the Pota review committee about those detained under Pota. Just as the Best Bakery case was handed over for investigation to the CBI and the case transferred outside the state of Gujarat, so also there are a number of serious cases that need to be dealt with in a similar fashion.
4. If we look back at the history of communal violence in the country, we find that seldom do the organizers and perpetrators of the violence get brought to trial and justice rendered. In discussing the prevention of communal violence, a system of accountability of the administration and officials dealing with law and order must also be ensured.
5. In this connection, the UPA government has promised to bring a model bill to curb communal violence which should act as the framework for legislations in all the states. Such a legislation should be enacted without delay.
6. While it is heartening to note that the number of communal incidents and persons killed and injured in such violence has gone down in the years 2004-05, there should be no complacency. Reports are coming in of low-intensity violence and targetted attacks against the minorities in states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Orissa. Organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and a host of outfits with a majority communalist outlook are targetting both Christians and Muslims. On the pretext of religious conversions, religious gatherings and places of worship are attacked. The Constitution of India provides the right to practice and propagate one’s religion. This right has to be protected and enforced. If there are any cases of forcible conversion they should be dealt with as per the law. But to utilise conversions as a political weapon and subject minorities to harassment must be firmly dealt with.
7. In recent years, the communalisation of the educational system has become a matter of serious concern. Anti-secular content has been introduced in textbooks and obscurantist and regressive ideas incorporated in the syllabus. Beginning with the NCERT where the review of the National Curriculum Framework of School Education is taking place, measures have to be taken to revise textbooks and educational material to ensure that the communal ideologies and material which portrays different communities in a bad light are removed.
8. As far as the role of the media in maintaining communal harmony is concerned it should be recalled that a section of the media played an inflammatory and irresponsible role in fomenting passions during the “kar seva” mobilisation at Ayodhya in December 1992. This was brought out by the report prepared by the Press Council itself. There is an urgent need to provide the Press Council of India with sufficient powers to enforce the guidelines and a model code of conduct which is to be formulated by the media representatives themselves.
9. The divisive impact of communalism should not be seen in isolation from the overall socio-economic situation in the country. It will be useful for the National Integration Council to take up, if not in this meeting, then in subsequent sessions, the social, economic and political aspects which affect national integration. It is necessary to be clear about the concept of national unity. National Unity cannot be strait- jacketed around slogans like “one nation, one culture and one language”. India is a diverse multilingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural society. The unity of India has to be built around recognising this diversity and strengthening the bonds of commonality within this diversity. This is the way to harness the aspirations of the vast range of people to building and strengthening a modern secular nation state. Majoritarian communalism rejects such a concept of India. Hindutva is the anti-thesis of a secular State. Various strands of minority communalism assert the primacy of religious values over the secular sphere. Both these trends have to be rejected. India as a secular republic emerged out of the prolonged struggle for independence and the fight against imperialism. During this struggle for independence came the idea of federalism, the formation of states on a linguistic basis and the concept of centre-state relations which can accommodate the diversity of India in a democratic system.
10. It will be useful for the NIC to consider whether federalism and democratic decentralization has progressed sufficiently in the recent period. Under the policies of liberalisation and the growth of the market economy, regional imbalances have grown. Both inter-state and intra-state development has been uneven.
11. Though progress has been made in some sectors mass poverty remains the central problem to be addressed. The 1990s saw a slow down of the rate of growth of employment. If this is taken together with the growing regional imbalances, the situation is fertile for the growth of the forces of divisiveness and separatism. The acute problems of unemployment is utilised by forces of regional chauvinism and separatism. One has only to recall how recruitment to the railways became a divisive issue in 2003 leading to physical attacks in some places in Assam, Bihar and Maharashtra.
12. Economic policies have to address not only the rate of growth of GDP and flow of investments from abroad but also take into account how the fruits of economic development can reach the backward regions. Nor can it be ignored that just about ten percent of the people have benefited from economic growth. Outside its purview are the vast majority of people. Those at the bottom of the caste-ladder, the dalits and the adivasis continue to live in wretched conditions. Without thorough going land reforms and putting an end to the antiquated social relations which breed caste oppression, the material basis for the reactionary ideologies which harm national unity cannot be eliminated.
13. In this context special attention has to be paid to two regions, Jammu and Kashmir and the North East. Both these regions continue to be victims of terrorism and violence. The problems in these areas have a political dimension. In Jammu & Kashmir, the desire of the people for peace and the end to the endless violence is very much evident. But in the valley the alienation of the people from the Indian State continues. Significant progress has been made in furthering dialogue with Pakistan and reducing tensions. While this must be continued, it is important to initiate immediately a political dialogue with all the political parties and forces in Jammu & Kashmir. This must be done at the political level from the Centre.
14. In the North East the old habit of just catering to narrow political and bureaucratic elites and ignoring the fact that development is not reaching the mass or the people must be put an end to. After nearly six decades of independence, the infrastructure in the North East is deplorable, the scope for higher education is limited and educated unemployment is at a peak. Separatist and secessionist movements have been active in this region for long. The political process of providing regional autonomy to substantial tribal communities and a genuinely democratic set-up needs to be taken forward seriously. Steps have to be taken to protect the identity of the various peoples by stopping illegal migration from across the border. The North-Eastern region requires priority in building infrastructure, communications and generating employment for the educated youth.
15. The NIC must become a vital forum which can debate and come to conclusions about the phenomenon of communalism and how it affects our society. In this process the steps to be taken to protect and strengthen the secular fabric will also have to be addressed.