On Sardar Patel’s birth anniversary, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked the legacy of the legendary freedom fighter’s work to promote national integration. There is a clearly a firm divide between Modi the statesman and Modi the politician. Donning the hat of a statesman, Modi said, “Irrespective of our feelings and ideology to any inspiration or system from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, and Atak to Cuttack, if your goal is to take Mother India to new heights in the world, then the first conditions for that are unity, peace, and harmony.” However, on the rough political terrain of Bihar, where his party is involved in a tight contest with the Grand Alliance, there is little doubt that Modi has invoked those differing feelings and ideologies time and again to secure votes. One does suppose that different roles require different modes of presentation. Nonetheless, the Prime Minister’s call for national integration and harmony comes against the backdrop of protests by artists, writers, and scientists over alleged “rising intolerance” after the Dadri lynching and the vitiated political discourse around beef, among other incidents. Whether famous writers, artists, filmmakers, and scientists are motivated by a unilateral sense of disdain against the Modi government in returning their national awards, is a matter for another debate. What is germane to the current discussion is that on the very same day, both Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan and President Pranab Mukherjee made a very similar pleas for greater tolerance and acceptance.
For the third time in less than a month, President Mukherjee spoke out against rising intolerance, saying that India has thrived despite its diversity because of “assimilation and tolerance”. Mukherjee was addressing the Delhi High Court on its golden jubilee celebrations. The President first spoke of this issue on October 7, when he urged India not to allow the core values of our civilisation to wither away. Less than two weeks later, he expressed “apprehension on whether tolerance and acceptance of dissent are on the wane”. On the same day, however, the Sena ensured that a concert by celebrated Pakistani Ghazal singer Ghulam Ali was cancelled in Mumbai. “We cannot sit and enjoy music in Mumbai while soldiers are being martyred in Kashmir. There has to be some boycott,” said Aditya Thackeray, Sena chairperson and the son of party Chief Uddhav Thackeray. Such a statement, unfortunately, reflected not only a sense of misplaced patriotism but also a glaring lack of respect for the values of tolerance and plurality. It was a baffling position to take in the current scheme of things, considering the Ghazal maestro had recently performed in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency of Varanasi.
Meanwhile, addressing students at the convocation of the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, Raghuram Rajan said that protection should be given not to “specific ideas and traditions”, “but to the right to question and challenge” and the “right to behave differently as long as it does not hurt others seriously”. The rest of debate was a fascinating exposition about the importance of culture in the scientific method and its dialectic with progress, which is just not confined to economic development. Indeed, it was a powerful speech. When three leading public figures of the country, who have been vested with immense responsibility, speak on the need for greater tolerance for multiplicity of views, be it in the realm of culture, economics, or politics, the nation must stand up and take notice. Certainly, Sardar Patel would have asked for the same, if he were alive today. As a man, who strove hard and united India into a single political unit, despite the unimaginable diversity that inhabits this country, he would have wanted nothing else.