In his address to a global conference on conflict avoidance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about intolerant “non-state actors” tightening their grip over large regions. He called for “significant, collective and strategic efforts” to stop bloodshed and violence, and emphasised dialogue as the solution for all problems. The prime minister evidently had transnational bodies like the Islamic State and Taliban, which reject secular democracy, in mind. He is right to express concern about their depredations. He must also pay attention to an increasingly active breed of “non-state actors” at home, albeit of a very different kind.
On Thursday, this newspaper reported how a Kerala academic was bullied into silence — he had to stop writing on the Ramayana because of his religious identity. The Maharashtra police have failed to arrest the assassins of rationalist thinker Narendra Dabholkar and CPI leader Govind Pansare, though the crimes were committed more than a year ago. And it was public pressure that influenced the Karnataka government to book two persons associated with the Bajrang Dal and Sri Ram Sene for inflammatory posts and tweets after the recent murder of Kannada scholar and rationalist M.M. Kalburgi.
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Clearly, the Modi government urgently needs to send out an emphatic message that it will not tolerate lumpen activism that threatens, injures or kills those who disagree. The onus to isolate the fringe elements and bring them before the law is on the entire political mainstream — but especially on the BJP. Though their activities are not confined to the states it rules, there is a greater responsibility on the party to control those who claim shelter under the ideological umbrella of the Sangh Parivar. At the same time, other parties, and particularly the Congress, cannot shirk their own responsibility. While it is true that the Bajrang Dal or the Sri Ram Sene seem especially emboldened to take their bigotry to the street when the BJP is in office, state governments, regardless of their political colour, do not have a great record of ordering prompt action or conducting diligent investigation in crimes against artists, writers and intellectuals.
Political parties are bound by the Constitution and must be firm about not letting any fraternal organisation get away with violating its provisions. The Modi government cannot afford to go easy on transgressions committed by those seen to be close to it.