In the last one week, there were several posts on social media providing names of Christian individuals who had been part of the freedom struggle for India. The list began with Dr Annie Besant, a born Christian, who later turned Theosophist and a founder of the Indian National Congress. The other names included Deenbandhu Rev CF Andrews, a close associate of Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, Barrister Joseph Baptista Kaka from Vasai, who was part of the delegation, which accompanied Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak during his famous England tour, Pandita Ramabai, a scholar, who was among a handful of women delegates at the Indian National Congress session held in Mumbai in 1889 and who had deposed before Hunter Commission on Education.
The long litany of the Christians from various parts of the country, who participated in the Indian freedom struggle, was being flaunted in response to a controversial statement of Mumbai BJP MP Gopal Shetty, who had spoken of the lack of participation of the ‘British’ Christian community in the freedom struggle. A majority of these posts were created or shared by persons who belonged to the Christian community.
But was there really any need for the Christian community to prove its credentials as a nationalist or patriotic community? It seemed so, especially when the whole community was put in the dock by the MP whose party rules in Maharashtra and at the Centre. Those who turned active on social media to furnish the names of the ‘nationalist’ Christians obviously felt that they needed to give these proofs so that the Christian community is not treated less patriotic than the rest.
This is indeed a sorry state of affairs the country has landed in. In the past, there were attempts to coerce people to chant Vande Mataram to test if they were indeed patriots. There is a malicious tendency to divide people in the country on the basis of food habits, social and religious beliefs and thus reap a huge harvest during elections.
The policy of the dividing people on communal grounds does create doubts among the general masses about the ‘Others’ in the society and thus, encourages the likes of Gopal Shetty to utter such statements. It cannot be said that Shetty’s statement was borne out of ignorance. He is elected from Mumbai North constituency, where Christian voters have a sizeable presence. Although the parliamentarian has later withdrawn his controversial statement, the damage had already been done. The subsequent reaction of the Christians and others has revealed that the MP’s statement had succeeded in putting the religious community in the defensive mode.
In the recent past, the extreme right elements have been posing themselves as the sole custodians of nationalism, and all other things associated with national pride and interest. Anyone even attempting to question them is simply trolled on social media or abused socially or in person. The BJP has condemned Gopal Shetty’s statement and has also dissociated with it. But as in the past, the condemnation has been very meek and seen as a formality.
This is rather becoming a trend in national politics as was seen with the vicious trolling of Foreign Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Union Minister Jayant Sinha openly felicitating those associated with a heinous crime of lynching a man on the suspicion that he was carrying beef. The ruling party at the Centre and also the government need to send strong signals to those concerned so that such incidents do not become a routine affair.