Hindutva, intolerance in focus at launch of book on LM Singhvi; Pranab Mukherjee remembers statesman's work

Debobrat Ghose
At a panel discussion after the launch of 'India's Vibgyor Man', politicians discussed the state of intolerance in India and whether Hindutva was a threat to democracy.

Former president of India Pranab Mukherjee took a trip down memory lane on Tuesday during the launch of the book India's Vibgyor Man €" Selected Writings and Speeches of LM Singhvi, an eminent jurist, parliamentarian, statesman and diplomat.

Recalling his long association with Singhvi, especially in 1995-96 when Mukherjee was the external affairs minister and Singhvi an MP, the former president called the period "post-independence renaissance".

"It was a post-independence renaissance because Singhvi worked towards institutionalising panchayati raj and tirelessly pushed for an anti-corruption ombudsman, as he was the original architect of India's Lokpal. It was Singhvi who gave the names Lokpal and Lokayukt," Mukherjee said at the event in Delhi, while narrating how Jawaharlal Nehru had asked Singhvi to tailor for India the ombudsman concept he had learnt about in Scandinavia.

Describing Singhvi as one among a handful of intellectuals with experimental expertise, Mukherjee said: "Through parliamentary interventions, Singhvi established his credentials in the House. Our paths crossed on many occasions, especially when he was the Indian High Commissioner in the UK. He never found difficulty in putting his views across to three British prime ministers and seven Indian prime ministers in his tenure and was extremely comfortable with all of them. He was truly a renaissance man."

Sharing his observations and experiences with Singhvi, Mukherjee called him a noted commentator on civil society, a prolific writer, scholar, a traditionalist and a jurist par excellence.

India's Vibgyor Man was edited by Abhishek Manu Singhvi €" LM Singhvi's son, senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP €" Supreme Court advocate Lokendra Malik. It contains more than 25 articles by Singhvi on constitutionalism, interfaith movement and other literary works, as well as his experiences as a diplomat and parliamentarian.

"The book's title comes from an article on Singhvi written by Gopalkrishna Gandhi in the Hindustan Times," Abhishek Manu Singhvi said at the launch.

At the panel discussion titled "Is India losing its identity or realising it" that followed the launch, Union minister Nitin Gadkari made two important statements: first, that neither the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) nor the Bharatiya Janata Party supported violence and mob lynching; and second, not a single political party in India could vouch that it didn't give tickets to candidates contesting elections on the basis of caste.

"From Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) to me (as a former BJP president), we never supported any act of violence. As a swayamsevak, I can assert that the RSS never supported such incidents, which should be condemned by all. In 1947 and even later when there were riots in this country, the BJP was not at the Centre. Such isolated incidents shouldn't be connected with the government, or any party or organisation. In vote-bank politics, every party gives tickets on the basis of caste," Gadkari said.

In response to a question posed by moderator Karan Thapar €" "Does the BJP believe that Hindutva is India's cultural ideology?" €" Congress MP Anand Sharma said: "The present political environment has been vitiated by distrust and hatred in the name of religion. Hinduism is a composite and inclusive culture, which should never be mixed with Hindutva. There can't be any justification for the current incidents of communal violence and lynchings saying that riots happened in the past. The very idea of India is under assault. The public expects the government to follow its 'raj dharma'. The rule of law should prevail with effective enforcement, and culprits should be punished. Reawakening is needed to connect to India's ethos and values."

Taking a leaf out of Sharma's statement, Abhishek Singhvi remarked: "The country hasn't changed, but its atmosphere has changed due to incidents of lynching, intolerance and mobocracy. Now, it's about right-wing Hinduism, and our syncretism and inclusiveness have been forgotten."

However, Biju Janata Dal MP from Puri Pinaki Mishra said that mob violence and incidents of lynching were "sheer lumpenism", rather than an effect of "Hindutva politics". "There have been countless assaults on Indian civilisation, but its identity was never lost. The current incidents have nothing to do with Hindutva or Hindusim, but these are due to lumpen elements in the society. There's a breakdown of law and order as well as an economic breakdown. And unfulfilled aspirations of the youth have given rise to anger, which has led to lumpenism," he explained.

Trinamool Congress MP Dinesh Trivedi said: "We've used the minority as a vote bank. Minorities have to prove every day that they are not 'anti-national'. There's a sense of fear among people. What people actually feel is important, and the government has to make note of it."

In response to the question, "Is Hindutva undermining India's plural identity," Rajya Sabha member from the Shiromani Akali Dal Naresh Gujral observed: "India's strength is unity in diversity, and the challenge at present is to balance unity with diversity. There are fringe elements in every party. All governments should come down heavily on these fringe elements, who are nothing but terrorists."

As a possible remedy to social ills, former Janata Dal (United) MP Pavan Varma said: "The Indian civilisation is very old, and it's not easy for India to lose its identity. Today, there is a need to reassert that this civilisation won't be run by hatred and violence, and those who break the law of land will be reprimanded."

At the panel discussion, Gadkari also emphasised the need for a qualitative reform and said India's cultural bottom line is "welfare of the world".

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