NEW DELHI, (DR JOHN DAYAL) — The report of the Intelligence Bureau under the government of the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, demonising Non Government Organisations, NGOs, and several activists including a Catholic priest, the late Fr. Tom Kotcherry, for working against Indian national interests was a precursor of more direct action to come. The administration took immediate action, ordering Greenpeace, which it had targetted as the prime culprit in delaying if not preventing big money projects in Tribal areas, to take prior permission before it sought any funding from international agencies. That is not to say that the earlier Congress had not used the notorious Foreign Contribution Act to punish NGOs in Tamil Nadu, including a Catholic diocese, for supporting the movement of the local people against the Koodmakulam nuclear power plant which the Union and State governments wanted not so much for the electricity it would produce but for the political gains it could bring to the Congress and the all India Anna DMK. And the risks from the Russian made reactor could be overlooked in the name of development.
But the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government in New Delhi differs in a critical area from its Congress predecessor. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government led by the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, was pilloried for its sloth, its corruption and its inability to control the price line. But it had a human face that changed the life of the rural poor through a slew of welfare programmes that did reduce a little from the pain of poverty. Above all, it did not seek to divide the people on lines of religion or egg them on to violence.
Mr. Modi’s government carries a deadly political baggage that seeks to do just that, polarise communities, ranging the majority faith against religions that it brands as alien. In the mineral rich and heavily forested tribal belt that extends from Jharkhand to Madhya Pradesh and beyond, including much of Chhattisgarh and Orissa, this polarising of the countryside has the immediate impact of almost totally wrecking the unity of the people against exploitative and environmentally destructive industrial and mining projects of national and international monopolies. By demolishing ethical NGOs empowering people on the one hand and people’s unity in mass movements on the other, the government opens the hinterland for exploitation by crony capitalists.
It is in this light that one has to see the move in May 2014 by several village Panchayats in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, prompted by the Sangh Parivar’s units such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, to ban the entry of Christian workers, and worship, in their areas. The resolution came to light a few days ago. The Panchayat diktat is that only Hindu religious workers will be allowed into the village areas in the Tribal belt. This is of course entirely illegal, and violative of the provisions in the Constitution of freedom of expression and of movement. The coercive methodology of branding every Tribal as a Hindu, and to turn him or her to oppose Christians, injures the secular nature of society, and the peace that has existed over a long time.
Such bans on a particular faith and the friction they breed, can so easily lead to violence against religious minorities. Memories of the massive violence in Kandhamal in 2007 and 2008, which had its roots in such indoctrination and communalisation, are still fresh, and the struggle for justice for the victims still continues in the High court and the Supreme Court. The Governments of the State of Chhattisgarh and the Union must therefore act urgently to stem this explosive evil while there is still time.