‘BJP is opposed to the values of liberalism and pluralism’

Mr. Ram Puniyani 
With dozens of intellectuals returning awards claiming the “growing intolerance” in the country. Chitra Sawant spoke to noted secular activist Ram Puniyani on the Award Wapsi and also about what it can mean for society if the trend is not arrested. A professor of biomedical engineering, IIT Mumbai, he took voluntary retirement in 2004, and since then has been involved in human rights activities. Here, the excerpt of the interview with the chairperson of Center for Study of Society and Secularism:
Is Prime Minister Narendra Modi deliberately maintaining silence over the statements made by the RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad or that he’s really helpless?
The PM is an RSS pracharak, and is a part of the Sangh Parivar too. These groups are committed to Hindu nationalism and there is coordination, division of labour between their different wings. If he wants he can rein in these elements. His silence and occasional muted voice against the doings of VHP-RSS and the likes should be seen in that light.
What challenges the government may face as a result of the ongoing protests by intellectuals?
The growing intolerance is very divisive and is opposed to the concepts of communal harmony and national integration. The government will have to give importance to the Indian constitution, the values of liberty, equality and fraternity inherent in that. Values of Indian Constitution should be supreme for the government. The rising divisiveness will be detrimental to peace and progress in the country.
Questions are raised by a section of society as to why awards were not returned when the Kashmiri Pandits migrated or during anti-Sikh riots in 1984 or during the Emergency in 1975?
The awards are not being returned in response to X or Y incidents. They are being returned to protest against the cumulative process whereby society is being seen along religious lines and the weaker sections of society are feeling more insecure. Earlier also, writers and intellectuals have opposed incidents like Emergency, migration of Pundits, but currently the intolerant atmosphere being created is beyond the acceptable civil limits. There is a qualitative transformation in the intensity of the ‘hate’ in the society. Also the message has gone down the line that those spreading hate can merrily enjoy the power as is visible the case of so many of BJP MPs, ministers and other functionaries getting away with their divisive statements..
Why is BJP claiming the legacy of Sardar Vallabhai Patel?
BJP is opposed to the values of liberalism and pluralism, and the organisation, which is its ideological mentor, had not participated in freedom movement. Therefore, they don’t have any national icon. So Sardar Patel, who was the one to ban RSS, is projected in lop sided manner. His projection by them is based on presenting him just as the unifier of the country, while he was a major follower of the concept of communal harmony as propagated by Gandhi. Their aim is also to create the divide between Nehru and Patel, whereas despite some differences they worked together so closely till the end.
Recently RSS launched books on Dr Bahimrao Ambedkar, which were edited by educationist Dr Narendra Jadhav, what would you like to say on this?
RSS is desperate to appropriate Dr Ambedkar… He had strongly criticised Brahmanical Hinduism and politics in the name of religion. He was a thorough democrat standing for affirmative action and protection of citizens’ rights, irrespective of their religion. As a chairman of drafting committee, he is instrumental in laying the foundations of secular democratic India. While totally at cross purposes with these values, electorally, RSS does need the crutch of Dr Ambedkar to broaden its electoral base. Earlier, interestingly they chose December 6 for demolishing the Babri mosque, which happens to be the death anniversary of Dr Ambedkar. Having realised the importance of Dr Ambedkar for large section of society, they want to pay lip service to him and appropriate him as their icon.
If the present government continues functioning in the similar manner, what is your perception of the country’s future?
If the hate propaganda and divisive politics is not checked the development agenda, poverty eradication will be undermined. The whole concept of dignity of citizens will come under threat.