Pause and reflect, says President on vigilantism

NEW DELHI: In an apparent reference to a rise in lynching incidents in the name of cow protection, President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday said “when mob frenzy becomes so high, irrational and uncontrollable”, the people have to be vigilant to save the basic tenets of the country.

His remarks came two days after a man was allegedly beaten to death and his vehicle set on fire in Jharkhand as he was believed to be carrying beef.

“When mob frenzy becomes so high, irrational and uncontrollable, we have to pause and reflect,” the President said after releasing a commemorative issue of National Herald, a newspaper founded by former PM Jawaharlal Nehru in 1938. “Surely, we shall have to ponder over, pause and reflect when we read in the newspaper or see on the television screen that an individual is being lynched because of some alleged violation of law or not,” said Mukherjee.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi too raised the issue of rising intolerance in her hard-hitting speech and launched a veiled attack on the BJP-led government, claiming that the “culture of vigilante violence is being encouraged and actively supported by those who are supposed to enforce the law. Today, the tried and tested idea of India has been thrown fundamentally into question by rising intolerance, by malevolent forces that tell Indians what they cannot eat, who they cannot love, what they cannot say—indeed, what thoughts they cannot hold,” she said.

“Such examples assault our consciousness almost daily… India has reached a crossroads marked by increasing threats of authoritarianism and bigotry. Where we choose to stand today is where our country will head tomorrow,” Gandhi said.

Following nationwide protests against lynching, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday condemned mob attacks on cattle traders, beef eaters and dairy farmers, saying killing people in the name of protecting cows is unacceptable.

But the Congress chief said, “We are in a war of ideas. We wage this war to preserve our ideals, which have built India up as a model of democracy, diversity and co-existence. When these ideals are threatened, India is in danger. And if we do not raise our voices, if we do not speak up, our silence will be taken as consent.”

Mukherjee urged the intellectual class to rise and be vigilant as it could act as the biggest deterrent to forces of darkness and backwardness. “Are we vigilant enough… I am not talking about vigilantism… I am talking of are we vigilant enough proactively to save the basic tenets of our country? Because we cannot afford it, posterity will demand an explanation from us that what have you done? I raise this question within myself,” he said. Former PM Manmohan Singh, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were among those present.

The President also spoke about the religious and cultural diversity in the country. “In a country of 1.3 billion people, 200 Indian languages and dialects are being used in daily life, all major seven religions are practised and all three major ethnic groups — Dravidians, Caucasians and Mongoloids — are living under one Constitution and one flag in peace and harmony,” he said.

The commemorative issue has interviews by the former PM and Rahul Gandhi. Singh rebutted the propaganda that nothing much has happened in India in the past 70 years. “In 1947, more than three quarters of Indians lived in poverty. Today, less than a quarter of them live in poverty. Nearly half a billion Indians have been lifted out of poverty in the last seven decades. In 1947, more than 80% of Indians were illiterate. Today, there are just 25%. The average income of an Indian has increased nearly 500 times since Independence,” he said.

For his part, the Congress V-P listed growing unemployment and steady exodus of people from rural areas to cities as the biggest challenge faced by India today.

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