[TIMES NEWS NETWORK, WEDNESDAY, JULY 24, 2002 ] Narayanan says onus of peace on majority

NEW DELHI: Taking a gentle but pointed swipe at those who have used ‘‘the poison of communalism’’ to cause ‘‘so much violence and hatred in some parts of our country’’, outgoing President K R Narayanan said on Wednesday that ‘‘the Hindus, who form the majority, (need) to speak out in the traditional spirit of the Hindu religion’’.

He emphasised that India must deal with its Muslim minority ‘‘in a civilised manner’’, ensuring them ‘‘security and the rights of citizens in a democratic state’’.

Narayanan’s direct reference to Muslim victims was a first for any high state functionary since the Gujarat carnage. In all his televised statements on the subject, Prime Minister Vajpayee has refrained from saying that Muslims had been targeted in the violence there. Addressing the nation on the eve of laying down office, Narayanan said his ‘‘parting appeal’’ to citizens was that they must ‘‘guard our tradition of tolerance for that is the soul of our culture and civilisation, that is the spirit of our Constitution and that is also the secret of success of our democracy….’’

He cited Swami Viveka-nanda’s vision of India ‘‘having a Vedantic brain, an Islamic body and a Christian heart’’ as well as Gandhi and Nehru to drive home his message.

Narayanan quoted from Nehru’s 1947 letter to the chief ministers emphasising that the Muslim community in India was ‘‘so large in numbers that they cannot, even if they want to, go anywhere else. They have got to live in India. That is a basic fact about which there can be no argument. Whatever the provocation from Pakistan, and whatever the indignities and horrors inflicted on non-Muslims there, we have got to deal with this minority in a civilised manner’’, Nara-yanan quoted from Nehru.

Nehru’s letter added that the Partition violence had led to India being looked upon internationally ‘‘with distrust and almost with a certain degree of contempt. We cannot afford to ignore this feeling’’.

Narayanan said Nehru’s words ‘‘are true and relevant even today and we can ignore these words of wisdom at our risk’’. It was ‘‘important for us today to introspect’’ on the need for tolerance to make Indian unity and democracy ‘‘credible and enduring’’, he said.

Narayanan prefaced his call for tolerance with his own experience, both as a child and when he joined politics. In both these phases of life, he had been supported enthusiastically by people irrespective of their caste and faith. At Ottapalam, his Lok Sabha constituency that he won thrice, he recalled ‘‘I experienced the essential goodness of our people’’ from all communities.

The President said he was ‘‘proud’’ of the 200 million educated and well-to-do citizens. But he pointed out that they were surrounded, almost besieged, by millions of poor, illiterate and ill-fed. ‘‘The economic reforms should not ignore this weaker majority.’’