The meeting of National Integration Council (NIC) on 23rd September (2013) was a damp squib. Held in the aftermath of Muzaffarnagar violence and in the times when the next Parliamentary elections are on the horizon, one expected some concrete proposals and actions which Government could have discussed and brought in as a voluntary code for all to follow. The major point which was highlighted was the role of social media in exaggerating the violence. The underlying cause of the role of media was not much highlighted. Even before the social media, communal violence was getting ignited by the word of mouth rumors or via the print media uncritically carrying the rumors. Social media is a medium in the hands of those who use it. It is not the actor. The actors are those who are adept to using this in a negative way, like the BJP MLA who uploaded a provocative video clip with a deliberate purpose in Muzaffarnagar to ignite the brute passions. The forces letting it happen are those who called the Mahapanchyat on an issue which is a law and order problem and should have been dealt with like that only. Those bringing together armed participants in a panchayat are the real players. The real players are those who despite knowing that the small incident may get blown up do not take the action in proper time.

The tale of Muzaffarnagar tragedy could have been a big lesson for to those attending the meeting, those committed to national integration in the real sense. Surely many do not take NIC seriously. It became clear as many a Chief Ministers did not participate in the meeting, only one CM from BJP ruled state attended it. The Prime Ministerial aspirant, Modi, avoided it. Many a speakers did hint at the role of BJP family in instigating the violence, in a language which is subtle but clear. What could NIC have resolved? Surely NIC as a body has to understand that the communal violence flares up as the majority of society has biases against the minorities. We have to know that administration and police machinery acts on biases and many a political formations calculate the electoral benefits before acting one way or the other. As such so far NIC has not been able to play the role which was envisaged for it.

To begin with the NIC was formed in 1961, in the aftermath of Jabalpur violence. Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of the country was very shaken by the communal violence in Jabalpur and decided to form this council to combat the evils of Communalism, casteism and regionalism. It was meant to be a broad forum with representation from all political parties, Chief Ministers, Central Cabinet ministers and representatives from the civil society. It was not much in news most of the times. Two major points one remembers regarding the council are, one when Kalyan Singh the UP Chief Minister, then belonging to BJP, promised to the Council that the Babri Masjid will be protected at all the cost. Same Kalyan Singh later took pride in being part of the process of demolition of the mosque.

Later, when BJP led NDA came to power and ruled the country for six years the NIC was not constituted at all. The signal was that the BJP does not care for national integration as it believes in the Hindu Rashtra and not in secular democratic India. That apart even in the present scheme of things NIC has a very limited advisory role to play. During the previous UPA I regime, the NIC met only twice. During UPA II also NIC has met only twice. All said and done it is a national forum which can give vent to the voice of those who are victims of communalism in one form or the other and deliberate on solutions to this problem dogging our nation.

By its very norm the council has to have all the Chief ministers as the member of NIC. So naturally, Narendra Modi, the one who presided over Gujarat carnage, is also the member of the same. One recalls that during UPA I, in the first meeting of NIC, he was probably the only one who managed to make his presence felt in the media, with his claim that minorities are safe in Gujarat! This time he avoided attending it altogether.

In the present meeting the positive thing which happened, but was not reported by the mainstream media, was the presentation of civil society member John Dayal who called for the Communal and Targeted violence bill to be introduced. In the last meeting when the bill was tabled in the meeting there was furor and Government; sort of retreated. This time around The Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde stated that the government would soon bring an anti-communal violence bill. One recalls that National Advisory Council has submitted a draft of the bill. The focus of the bill is the accountability of the political, administrative and police personnel. They should be held accountable for the violence and action should be taken against the erring office bearers and officials.

If this is carried through it will be a great achievement on the part of the NIC. There are many steps which this Government can initiate like using television for propagating the values of freedom movement, the values of Indian Constitution and the ethos of harmony. The diversity of Indian society and the pluralism of our Constitution need to be brought to the people once again. How people of different religions participated in India’s freedom movement, how people of different religions contributed to Indian culture and how the people of different religions followed Bhakti and Sufi saints needs to be highlighted through our media. Unfortunately a big chunk of media is carrying historical serials which provoke hatred rather than amity.

This Government can initiate the training of police and bureaucrats in the values of India’s pluralism. To make NIC meaningful it needs to come out from the slumber of inactivity and the mass hysteria of communalism to lay the bridges between different religious communities. NIC in the least can deliberate on the in-depth causes which have led to the present sorry state of things, whereas the meetings of NIC have become a mere formality. By and large it has yielded no result so far. Will the Government take up the process of bringing in communal violence prevention bill at least now, as soon as possible? This present sorry plight has to be overcome and real national integration brought in.