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Communal Politics- Should Intolerance be accepted as the Norm?

Paper No. 5394                                         Dated 14-Feb-2013

By R.Upadhyay

The controversy over incidents of banning of Vishwaroopam, a movie produced and directed by a noted cinema artist Kamal Hasan, the blockade of a reputed writer Salman Rushdie’s entry to Kolkata in a promotional programme of Deepa Mehta film Midnight’s children at the behest of N R Barqati, the Shahi Imam of the city’s Tipu Sultan Mosque and a fatwa issued by the Chief Mufti of Srinagar against the “ All Girls Rock Band” raises serious questions whether our country’s democracy is still in a fragile state.

It also raises questions whether the extremist communal organisations in India who are indulging in competitive communalism are doing more harm to their community?

Take the case of the initial banning of the movie Vishwaroopam in Tamil Nadu.  It appears that the Muslim community itself was sharply divided over the banning of the movie.

A student, Shamsuddin Akbar expressing his comments on protests by some Muslims said: ‘’ Such campaigns could generate a feeling that certain Muslims are waiting for a chance to protests against anything in which there is reference to the community” (Pioneer dated January 30, 2013).

Reacting against the single bench Madras High Court judgement on January 29 lifting the ban on Vishwaroopam ; Amjed Ullah Khan, youth leader of Majlis Bachao Tahreek, a splinter group of an Islamist organisation All India Majlis-e- Ittehadul Muslimeen of Hyderabad through an e-mail said, “ it’s a calculated design  by the vested fascist Hindutva forces through their agents like Kamal Hasan to influence innocent Non- Muslims and mislead them from realities of Islam” .  He wanted the Tamil Nadu Government to appeal in apex court against the High Court judgement”.

Apart from these two comments, it is also important to note that the film released in Kerala and Hyderabad both having borders with Tamil Nadu and also in other parts of the country had no visible protests. This also vindicates the argument of Shamsuddin Akbar that a section in his community is always looking for an opportunity to create controversy on any issue relating to the Muslims.

Hardly the dust raised on this controversy had settled, then the Chief Mufti of Srinagar issued a fatwa against the rock band played by three Muslim girls on the ground that playing such music is un-Islamic! Although there is a wide range of reactions against this fatwa, the government remained a passive onlooker.

Having realised that the government will continue to have a soft approach, the extremist outfits have been emboldened to feed the uneducated masses a collective hatred against secular India in the name of religion. The purpose behind such hate-filled campaign by them is to come close to the power points for their self-seeking interest and survival for which they exploit their own people.

Over the years after Independence, the ruling political parties have been soft in handling the growing intolerance of communal forces on the plea that compromises are necessary in the larger interest of the religious sentiments of the minority.  This attitude over the years has only encouraged the radical outfits and their leaders to go beyond the accepted norms that could eventually undermine the democratic credentials of the country.  It started with the Shahbano case and is continuing ever since in some form or other.  Intolerance is being accepted as the norm and one could expect more problems in the future unless the government takes a firm stand and does not allow the extremists to run riot.

The Islamist establishments are habitually active in searching for even trifling issues, often against their better judgment in raking up periodically and more so on the eve of elections to prove their relevance politically. They put an assertive pressure on collaborating political parties to ensure the fulfilment of their never ending communal demands. 

Aware of the voting strength of the Muslims, most of the political parties join the race in competitive bidding in responding to the communal demands on the plea that the minority should be first taken care of.  

But when some extremist elements raise the bogey of the community being in danger and mobilise them only to sustain their relevance, then due notice should be taken of such activities.  Issues like that would include that of the incident against Rushdie in Kolkata or the fatwa against the band in Srinagar.


The problem according to some is that the secular and democratic politics of the country based on the concept of the sovereignty of its people who elect their governors during free and regular elections is not palatable to them.

The most unfortunate part of the situation is that though such people are in a minority, yet the majority in the community is not making any effort to control the extremist elements within the community. India is not short of extremely well read intellectuals of the community who could see the small group of extremists holding the whole community to ransom and yet we see no concerted action by them.

Intolerance is accepted as the norm and that is the root of the problem as we see it.  In the absence of secular free thinkers, the society is marching regressively towards medievalism.

It is not a battle to be won by the power of guns but the free thinkers of the community who should be bold enough to launch an intellectual war against the forces of fundamentalists who are pushing the whole community to an unending dark lane.  It is not that they do not write or speak once a while- but they do not do so in the Urdu media but in others not read by the masses.

Even modern educated persons in the community prefer to take advantage from the vote greedy political class and are satisfied either by getting some share in power or suitable government jobs. They hardly take any interest in the problems being faced by the community from the fundamentalists.

Against the backdrop of the situation the only remedy to neutralize the religious extremists lies either with the strong political will of the ruling establishments in taking strong action against anti-secular forces or the leaders believing in democracy and secularism declaring an intellectual war against the fundamentalist forces within the community and help the government to deal firmly with those who are communalising the issues.