You may not have heard of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Neither had I. They sound like exactly the sort of American busybodies you don’t need coming around, asking impertinent questions and compiling arrogant reports: post-colonialists masquerading as Mary Poppins, with a Band Aid for all the world’s problems.
So I sympathise with the Indian government of Narendra Modi when it announced that it was declining to issue this organisation with visas. True, the Commission has tramped around several other countries that can hardly have been eager to roll out the welcome mat: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, Vietnam, Burma. More fool those countries, all of which have plenty to be ashamed of.
India, by contrast, has only reasons for pride. With the landslide election of Narendra Modi nearly two years ago, the Hindu spirit found full political expression for the first time, with a sannyasin, no less, a Hindu renunciate, in command.
Finally, after the centuries of foreign domination followed by the socialists and appeasers of the Congress party, this sage of nations could chart its true destiny: rediscovering the course of the long-buried Saraswati river, rebuilding the temple of Ayodhya, birthplace of the god-king Rama – and ensuring that the nation’s economy, like that of Modi-ji’s home state of Gujarat, gallops ahead.
It is of course a fact that India is not entirely populated by Hindus, but as Hindu nationalists have long made it clear, those of other faiths need to understand that they are in the land of Krishna only on sufferance. If they inflame Hindus’ feelings, there is often little that the Union government, far away in New Delhi, can do about it.
This was the case, for example, with Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi, a 56-year-old Muslim resident of Dadri village in Uttar Pradesh: when rumours spread that he and his family had celebrated the festival of Eid by eating the meat of a murdered cow, the local people became enraged and took their revenge on him. This followed the discovery of meat in his refrigerator which they assumed to be that of the cow in question.
The local people were quite wrong to stone Mr Akhlaq to death. It is also unfortunate that the meat in his fridge proved to be goat. But those family members who survive him, instead of bleating to the media about lynch mobs, might be better advised to become vegetarians.
Given India’s vast distances, what can government be expected to do about such events? That applies equally to Professor Kalburgi of Karnataka state, shot to death in his home in 2014 by unknown assailants. No one should suffer such an end. Equally, no one should be as rash as Dr Kalburgi had been, describing the worship of images of Krishna, Shiva etc, as “meaningless ritual”, going so far as to say they could be urinated on. He must have been well aware of the risks. His attackers have yet to be found.
India, as the Indian Embassy in Washington puts it, “is a vibrant pluralistic society founded on strong democratic principles”. But that does not mean people are exempt from using their common sense.
It stands to reason that Hindus should feel more at home in India than Muslims or Christians, who would be well advised to move to Pakistan or Europe. Once there, nothing would prevent them applying for a visa to pay a sentimental return visit.
Given India’s vast distances, what can government be expected to do about lynch mobs?