January 09, 2016

Lal Bahadur Shastri stood for social and religious pluralism

Excerpt from: A slogan with substance - Lal Bahadur Shastri's one slogan is still remembered
Politics and Play - RAMACHANDRA GUHA

[ . . . ] "For, while Shastri departed from his predecessor in his greater focus on defence preparedness and agricultural productivity, in one respect he followed Jawaharlal Nehru faithfully and fully - namely, in his respect for social and religious pluralism.

Like Nehru, Shastri was emphatic that India was not, and must never be, a Hindu Pakistan. During the Indo-Pak war of 1965, the British Broadcasting Corporation, in one of those lazy stereotypes common to the Western media's representation of our part of the world, claimed that "since India's Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri is a Hindu, he is ready for war with [a Muslim] Pakistan". Shastri strongly rebutted this false characterization. In the last week of September 1965, he addressed a massive public meeting at New Delhi's Ramlila grounds. There he said: "Mir Mushtaq [a veteran Delhi Congressman] who is presiding over this meeting is a Muslim. Mr. Frank Anthony [a famous lawyer and member of the Constituent Assembly] who has addressed you is a Christian. There are also Sikhs and Parsis here. The unique thing about our country is that we have Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis and people of all other religions. We have temples and mosques, gurdwaras and churches."

Having foregrounded the religious diversity of that meeting, this country, Shastri continued: "But we do not bring all this into politics. This is the difference between India and Pakistan. Whereas Pakistan proclaims herself to be an Islamic State and uses religion as a political factor, we Indians have the freedom to follow whatever religion we may choose [and] worship in any way we please. So far as politics is concerned, each of us is as much an Indian as the other."

Is this a vision that Narendra Modi can and will embrace? The jury is out on this question. In spite of his arduous efforts to re-make himself as a pragmatic reformer, traces of his past as a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak remain - as in the refusal to condemn members of parliament and ministers who make vicious statements against Christians and Muslims, the reluctance to wear a skull cap even for symbolic purposes (while happily donning the traditional headgear of different castes and tribes across the country), the occasional references to an alleged thousand years of slavery that India is said to have experienced before he became prime minister. [ . . . ]

see full text here: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1160109/jsp/opinion/story_62855.jsp