Suddenly last week our country reverberated with voices of wisdom. Arun Jaitley's was the clearest when he spoke of "extremely disturbing trends" of intolerance and vandalism. That was precisely what victims of intolerance, social workers, newspaper editorialists, writers, artists and other segments of the powerless have been talking about for at least six months. During those months, Jaitley and fellow policy makers had dismissed them with denials and accusations of ulterior motives.
So why the sudden change of stance? The answer is that there is no change of stance. Note that Jaitley's righteous indignation was not over the murders, the lynchings, and the hate speeches that have been mocking our civilisation, but over cricket. Lynchings are of course "unfortunate". But Shiv Sena vandals barging into BCCI offices called for condemnation at a specially called press conference by the most important cabinet minister.
A charade seems to be under way in Delhi. When Jaitley was asked about intolerance and vandalism by his own party's ranking leaders, his response showed indulgence towards the leaders. He said: "The party president called the three gentlemen [the hate speech specialists]. He very firmly told them that their statements are not appreciated by the party at all. They have been put on notice. Therefore I am sure they will correct themselves".
In fact nobody was put on notice by anybody. Within hours of Jaitley's assurance, the three gentlemen corrected, not themselves, but Jaitley. Sanjeev Balyan said he had met Amit Shah for an appointment "fixed many days ago". Sakshi Maharaj said: "I am a five-time MP. To say that I was reprimanded or scolded is not responsible reporting". Sangeet Som, who had warned of Hindu retaliation in the context of the Dadri lynching uproar said: "There is no question of reprimand. Reprimanding happens when you have done something wrong. He [Shah] is our chief and I meet him regularly".
This is not the language of gentlemen who have been very firmly put on notice. These are words of determined men who are confident that they have backing from above. These are words carrying the warning that they will continue doing what they have been doing. Arun Jaitley's concern about his beloved cricket will continue, too, because the gentlemen of the Shiv Sena have threatened more action.
The really disturbing trend is that a game of pretence appears to be on. While the establishment puts out news that it is for tolerance, it does nothing to check the demagogues of intolerance. In a move typical of the game of pretence, Panchjanya publishes an article saying that the Dadri lynching would not have happened without provocation and that the Vedas mandate the killing of those who slaughter cows. (Only those who are ignorant of the Vedas will put it that way). After publishing the essay justifying lynching, the editor says the writer was only expressing his independent views. In Himachal Pradesh a driver was lynched and in Jammu & Kashmir another was burned with petrol, mobs in both cases expressing their independent views no doubt.
The truth is that intolerance in the name of religion and attendant violence have become the dominant features of life in our country. This is so damaging to India, internally and in terms of its standing in the world, that the President had to caution against communalism twice in a fortnight. Reminding the country that Indian civilisation had survived for 5000 years chiefly because of its tolerance and by accepting dissent, he said: "Humanism and pluralism should never be abandoned".
There is no indication that the President's words have gone home. Even the tattoo of a goddess on an Australian's body is enough, according to official patriots of the day, to see Indian culture under threat. Spokesmen of the BJP said the party had nothing to do with that episode. Of course it did not; no BJP office issued instructions that foreigners with goddess tattoos should be attacked. This is where the game of pretence has to end. Without instructions, an atmosphere of intolerance and vandalism has grown in the country, leaving communal zealots free to kill and attack with immunity. It is this atmosphere that is diminishing India and, if not corrected in time, may well dismantle India.
In his criticism of the Supreme Court decision to retain the power to appoint judges, Arun Jaitley said, correctly, that democracy would be in danger if it came under the tyranny of the unelected. It is facing greater danger under the tyranny of the elected.