If you love India, you cannot weaponise religion to stay in power, asserts Ramesh Menon, author, Modi Demystified: The Making Of A Prime Minister..
India's religious festivals have changed, possibly forever.
Remember how religious festivals were like just a few years ago. It was punctuated by a riot of music and colour. It was a celebration of diverse cultures. There was a sense of happiness and togetherness. There was finger-licking food, and more than anything, it was a statement of how fantastic the idea of India was.
An idea of how diverse cultures grew and flourished together. But that was years ago.
Today, religious festivals have a brash aggressiveness. It is loud as if to make a point. Its followers freely brandish weapons. They chant provocative slogans and abuse those from other religions. It is often pockmarked with clashes, bloodshed and waves of hatred that continue much after the festival ends.
The announcement of a religious festival is enough to send waves of fear in the locality.
Something has gone seriously wrong.
It is a sign of how politics in India has meandered into narrow confines of polarisation just to sway fragile sentiments before any election. As there are elections around the year in some corner or other, this is the new normal.
It has become so frequent that we need to worry.
There were so many incidents like the call to ban Muslim vendors around temple festivals in Karnataka in the recent past.
Or school and college girls being asked not to wear the hijab, which started in Karnataka and then spread to other places where similar sentiments were mouthed.
Right-wing groups are protesting against the sale of halal meat in Karnataka consumed by Muslims.
During Navratri, fringe groups forced meat shops run mainly by Muslims in Delhi to shut down.
ABVP activists clashed with JNU students over the serving and eating non-vegetarian food during Navratri.
Eggs and meat were denied to school children in their mid-day meals in Lakshadweep, which has a Muslim majority of almost 98 percent.
Right-wing groups like the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena led by Raj Thackeray, and others like the Bajrang Dal wanted loudspeakers of mosques that call for the azaan to be removed.
Riots flared up as Ram Navami processions snaked through various states like Delhi and West Bengal. That was a first.
Someone is beaten to death because he is suspected to be a Muslim.
We have recently witnessed increasing incidents of communal clashes, mob lynching, cow vigilantism, and killing of innocents just because they belonged to the minority.
There are clear cut deliberate ploys in various parts of the country to polarise and create a divide between the Hindus and Muslims.
All these may spiral into electoral wins for the right-wing parties, but at what cost?
The collateral damage it will cause will be permanent.
Wounds do not heal for ages. We have seen it in Kashmir and Gujarat, and other places that have suffered communal wars.
Warts remain even after years.
Communalism is not a new phenomenon. We saw what it did to millions of lives in 1947. It is there in the Indian psyche. But it was buried deep and rarely raised its head as it has done now. It was not seen to be politically right.
Earlier, one did not openly mouth communal sentiments as it was politically incorrect and crude. Not anymore. Today it is not only accepted but celebrated.
Even the government does not react to hate speeches indicating that it is okay to poison society.
Public calls for genocide of Muslims by Hindu 'seers' need to be openly condemned by leaders of all political parties.
We must stop it.
What stops Prime Minister Narendra Modi from declaring loudly in his address to the nation that he and his government will not spare those whipping communal trouble?
What stops him from saying that ultimately the communal whiplash will hurt India as its economic prospects are dependent on foreign direct investment, and investors will always shy away from troubling territory, not wanting to take the risk?
But he has not done it. Nor has any tall leader from his party.
Every political party is stoking the fire, hoping it would also gain dividends as the BJP did in the last two decades after the Babri Masjid demolition.
However, this xenophobia, Islamophobia and senseless hatred that our lives are getting drenched in are helping us not see or worry about real pressing issues.
Like the state of India's economy, the wringing inflation, rising unemployment, brain drain, rising poverty, and even a health emergency like Covid and its after-effects on health and business.
It suits the politicians fine as the mindless get distracted as they ride on emotions and not logic.
There cannot be a nation-first philosophy taking root where sections of society are deliberately marginalised. Or discriminated. Or targeted.
If you love India, you cannot weaponise religion to ascend political goals and stay in power.
The cow is a revered animal worshipped by Hindus. But today, Hindutva politics is woven around it.
But why are the protectors of the cow not worried about hungry, abandoned old cows rummaging the streets of urban India at garbage dumps?
They eat so much plastic, which ultimately kills them with its toxicity.
Look at the superficiality of it all.
Hindutva activists should visit Bali, a Hindu enclave in Indonesia, a Muslim country, and see how Hinduism is celebrated by every household every single day with all its grace, beauty and dignity. All this happens here without any interference or objection.
The celebrations visible everywhere is so muted and dignified. There is no sign of hatred, anger or negative connotations.
Muslims, a microscopic minority in Hindu-dominated Bali, live very peaceful lives and are not discriminated against.
Ironically, Hinduism, which is among the world's most tolerant religions open to new thoughts and philosophies, is becoming so narrow in its definition because of short-sighted political considerations.
Yashwant Sinha, a former finance and external affairs minister and former BJP leader, said in a signed article in India Today that, 'The BJP's love for Hindutva is simply the political use of religion to achieve short-term goals.' Bang on.
India should not become what writer V S Naipaul called 'a wounded civilisation'.
The world is watching India. It is mainly silent now on what is currently happening as it does not want to ruffle feathers in a country that is one of its largest markets to do business. But, it will not stay silent forever if the religious persecution continues.
Innocent people cannot be killed because they belong to a particular religion. How do we want Hindus living in Muslim dominated countries to be treated?
This is a question we must ask ourselves, and it may lead to some course correction and introspection.
Majoritarianism will not make the path of India wanting to race to the top of the world easy or even possible. But saying an absolute no to hate politics, living in peace and working together to build a strong country will help.
Ramesh Menon, award-winning journalist, educator, documentary film-maker and corporate trainer, is the author of Modi Demystified: The Making Of A Prime Minister.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com