Please preserve the idea of India: Manmohan Singh


New Delhi : Calling upon the political leadership to do everything to “preserve and promote” the “unique confluence of cultures” that India was, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday called for putting down communal violence in certain parts of the country with “requisite force” and “deterrent punishment”.

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In a strong and passionate speech that dwelt on the “mindless violence” and “fissiparous tendencies” that were being witnessed in certain parts of the country, the prime minister called on the chief ministers at the National Integration Council (NIC) to do their utmost “to collectively reassert our identity as a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-linguistic country.

“We need to meet today’s mindless violence with the requisite amount of force, but must also ensure that this is tempered by reason and justice which is the normal order of governance,” Manmohan Singh said at the NIC, which has about 145 members including state chief ministers, leaders of political parties, cabinet ministers and public figures.

Violence continues to erupt sporadically in Orissa after the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati Aug 23 led to right wing Hindu groups targeting Christians.

Ethnic clashes in Assam claimed 55 lives while seven people died in clashes in Dhule, Maharashtra last week.

But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief ministers attending the conclave that has been convened after a gap of three years took issue with Manmohan Singh for excluding terrorism from the agenda of the meeting.

“It is unfortunate that terrorism was not included in the agenda of the meeting. This is vote bank politics and nothing more,” said Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

He said terrorism had become a burning issue in the country, reflecting the lack of seriousness on part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

“When I took up the matter with the government, they included leftwing extremism on the NIC’s agenda but not terrorism. I just fail to understand how terrorism is not important but extremist violence makes the grade,” he said.

Modi, as also Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, had last week written to the prime minister asking why terrorism was not on the agenda.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), however, criticised the government for its failure to intervene in incidents of violence against Christians and also felt that the NIC meeting should have been convened much earlier.

“This meeting should have been convened much earlier when minorities were being targeted,” said CPI-M poliburo member Sitaram Yechury.

B.S. Yeddyurappa, chief minister of Karnataka, which has seen violence against Christians in the past month, said the central government was singling out his state in sending an advisory note even though many other states were also witnessing communal tension.

“There have been serious communal and terrorist activities in other states such as Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Tripura, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh, the union government was not so active in sending advisory notes, at times touted as notices (under Article 355) to the states,” said Yeddyurappa.

Manmohan Singh underlined that ethnic and religious communities had lived together peacefully during the past millennium in India.

“Yet today, we see fault-lines developing between, and among, communities. Recent tragic events in Orissa, Karnataka and Assam have pained all right-thinking persons. There are clashes between Hindus, Christians, Muslims and tribal groups.”

He also pointed out that the need of the hour was reconciliation as this phase of violence was futile especially for those caught up in the vortex of today’s conflicts.

“I am stressing this point since violence seems to be permeating society today, across the length and breadth of our country – whether it be terrorist violence, whether it is violence with an ideological veneer such as that adopted by the left wing extremists or communal violence.”

Appealing to all chief ministers and other special invitees, the prime minister said all must collectively consider whether short-term narrow political ends were driving “some of us to encourage forces of divisiveness” that are today threatening the unity of our people.

“This is a time, therefore, that calls upon each one of us to collectively reassert our identity as a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-linguistic country, whose constitution respects and upholds the freedom of all religions. We must thwart all efforts to create divisiveness in our polity to further sectarian interests,” he said.

On his part Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said it was up to the central government to decide whether or not to ban the radical Hindu Bajrang Dal that has been accused of masterminding anti-Christian violence in the volatile Kandhamal district.

“I understand the issue to ban Bajrang Dal has been discussed at different levels in the union government. It is the central government which has to take a decision in this regard,” said Patnaik.

He said peace had returned to Kandhamal, the region that had witnessed the worst assault on Christians and their institutions that left at 36 dead.

Among the other issues that came up for discussion were caste and identity divisions, equitable development and removal of regional imbalances and the promotion of feeling of security among minorities and other vulnerable sections.