The National Integration Council met in New Delhi on Monday to discuss ongoing religious violence that has gripped several Indian states. The unrest which many blame on Hindu nationalist groups such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, represents a huge challenge for the political leadership of the country and for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. And on the other hand, right-wing Hindu politicians claim his government has been too complacent in combating terrorism.
Activists in New Delhi protesting against the recent anti-Christian violence
Lashing out at sectarian and communal forces that sought to tear down India's composite culture, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that those people indulging in irrational violence would be firmly dealt with. He also said India would not compromise in the fight against terrorism and the government would take action against perpetrators of sectarian violence.
In a hard-hitting speech and by far his most passionate on the issue, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called on chief ministers at the National Integration Council or NIC to preserve India’s syncretic culture, stressing that the need of the hour was reconciliation.
Speaking at the NIC that has above 145 members including state chief ministers, leaders of political parties, cabinet ministers and public figures, Singh urged chief ministers to meet mindless violence with the requisite amount of force, but also added that this be tempered by reason and justice. “Recent tragic events in Orissa, Karnataka, and Assam have pained all right thinking persons", Singh said. "There are forces deliberately encouraging these tendencies and also spawning militant outfits who are engaged in irrational violence. These need to be firmly dealt with.”
Violence continues to erupt sporadically in Orissa, after the killing of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in August led to right-wing Hindu groups targeting Christians, leaving over 36 dead. Many blame the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal for orchestrating the violence. The hostilities spilled over to the southern state of Karnataka too with several churches damaged.
Then last week, ethnic clashes in Assam claimed 55 lives while seven people died in clashes in Dhule, Maharashtra.
However Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief ministers attending the conclave that has been convened after a gap of three years took issue with Prime Minister Singh for excluding terrorism from the agenda of the NIC meeting.
Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi said terrorism had become a burning issue in the country, reflecting the lack of seriousness on part of the government. “The government is unable to differentiate between extremism and terrorism. The government has failed to address terror issues and is indulging in vote bank politics.”
In his concluding remarks Singh said violence was permeating society across the length and breadth of the country -- whether it was terrorist violence or violence with an ideological appearance such as that adopted by the left wing extremists or communal violence.
Now all eyes will be on his government and if it decides to go ahead and ban the radical Hindu Bajrang Dal that has been accused of masterminding anti-Christian violence in Orissa.