The Guardian August 30, 2000


Call to preserve India's multi-cultural, multi-religious society

"The activities of communal and fundamentalist elements pose a grave 
danger to the secular fabric of India", said Jyoti Basu(1), the Chief 
Minister of the Indian state of West Bengal recently. "We cannot forget the 
continuous attempt to divide the people on the basis of religion, 
relegating to the background our history and ideal of unity in 
diversity.

"Minority communalism is raising its head in some parts of the country. 
Hindu religion is also being denigrated. Hindu gurus have not advocated 
attacks against other religions. Recent attacks on Christian missionaries 
in some parts of the country are a matter of concern for the entire nation.

"Secularism is a basic feature of our constitution", said Jyoti Basu. "The 
state has no religion. It looks upon all religions in the same manner and 
guarantees the right to practice one's own religion. The electoral laws do 
not permit communal and religious appeal. But the secular concept is now 
under serious threat. Appeals to communal and religious sentiments 
particularly during election campaigns must be avoided", said Basu.

Political violence

"Political violence has been increasing in the country for the last one 
year or so. It has to be contained. Both political and administrative 
measures need to be taken. Political parties should cooperate and carry on 
their political activities in a peaceful and democratic manner", he said.

At the same time, Jyoti Basu criticised the proposal of the central 
government of India to introduce a "Prevention of Terrorism Bill".

"Considering the threat now posed to the country by the terrorist 
activities of the anti-national forces backed by foreign countries, we were 
initially favourably inclined towards the proposed legislation.

"We are now opposed to the anti-terrorism law. From our past experience we 
know that whatever the nature of safeguards, the law will be 
counterproductive and will meet with the opposition of the people. The 
existing laws are sufficient to deal with terrorist activities.

"Public order is a prime responsibility of the state governments and any 
attempt at the creation of a federal law enforcement agency with 
jurisdiction to investigate crimes without the consent of the state 
governments will disturb the federal structure of our constitution.

"The federal government has to supplement our efforts to modernise state 
police forces to take on the new challenges."

Left extremism

Jyoti Basu also attacked left-wing extremism. "So far as problems related 
to left-wing extremism are concerned, it is necessary that steps be taken 
not only administratively but also politically to contain the spread of 
these organisations.

"We have kept strict watch on their activities and special attention is 
also being given to economic development.

"In 1967 our United Front government successfully dealt with the naxalite 
activities both politically and administratively. [The naxalites were a 
supposedly left-wing group that drew on the disillusionment and anger of 
the impoverished and deprived segment of the community which, however, 
attempted to find solutions in terrorism and assassinations.]

Jyoti Basu said in conclusion: "I would like to mention that our concept of 
unity in diversity in a multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural 
society is being negated and attempts are being made to distort our 
history.

"Motivated propaganda exhorting a communal line is disturbing the 
atmosphere. This is lending encouragement to anti-national elements to tear 
India apart. Mere legislation will not help to combat these forces. 
Ideological battle on a massive scale has to be fought to counter these 
reactionary and separatist forces and communalism."

Autonomy for Kashmir

In another development, the newspaper Ganashakti(2) says that the 
people of Kashmir and Jammu want peace. This follows the breakdown of a 
cease-fire arrangement that had been entered into between the separatist 
organisation Hizbul-Mujahiddin and the Indian Government.

A ghastly massacre, which resulted in the deaths of nearly a hundred 
people, preceded the breakdown and was obviously a provocation to achieve 
that result.

Hizbul-Mujahiddin had demanded that Pakistan should be brought into the 
talks but the Indian Government refused.

However, Ganashakti pointed out that the Kashmir issue has been a 
matter of dispute between India and Pakistan since independence and, over 
the years, the two governments have discussed matters concerning Kashmir.

The Simla Agreement was the outcome of one such occasion. "The demand that 
Pakistan be involved in the talks cannot be dealt with by ruling out any 
role for Pakistan", says Ganashakti.

"For the people of Kashmir who have gone through another intense period 
where hopes were roused only to be quickly dispelled, steps will have to be 
taken to assure them that Indian rule will not be manifested only through 
the presence of security forces.

"The democratic and secular forces should demand that the political process 
of restoring and expanding autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir be 
taken up in real earnest."

* * *
(1) Jyoti Basu besides being the Chief Minister of the state of West Bengal is a leading member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which heads the government of West Bengal. (2) Ganashakti is a newspaper of the CPI (M)

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