A dialogue culture is critical to the functioning of democracy. And indeed democracy starts with dialogue. Individuals and groups, with opposing viewpoints, discussing and sharing their thoughts on various aspects is part of a democratic process. And indeed that explains the core principle of a democratic society. Openness to engage with any and all ideologies in a peaceful environment is the core foundation of our democracy.
As individuals, we should prefer to be in touch, discuss and share ideas and thoughts, with whom we have differences in terms of political ideology, faith & cultural values and language/regional differences. It should be considered a privilege to be in touch with a large number of people from diverse backgrounds. The larger this number, the more impressive it becomes and greater the learning becomes.
This is particularly relevant in today’s globalised knowledge economy. Social media has further accelerated the process. It is easy now to network with people through social media platforms, from around the world, who thinks similarly as well as differently.
When seen with this perspective, the controversy over former president of India addressing an RSS gathering would be one of the right contributions that Mukherjee could make at this point. Through this act, he has highlighted the importance and need for a culture of dialogue and promotion of exchange of ideas in a fragmented society.
So by condemning the decision of former president for accepting RSS invitation, the message that is being sent to the public by the Congress leadership is that they don’t respect values of democracy such as free speech and a dialogue culture.
The message is clear. Dialogue and discussion with an individual or a group whom you consider as your enemy is wrong and is to be condemned! Such persons who cross the boundaries for a dialogue with the opposing view point should be declared outcast. Is this not intolerance? And where does it stem from? Is it from the Congress ideology or Gandhian thoughts? Intolerance and hatred towards any ideology would only help that to further expand, and often at a faster rate than the rate of hatred shown towards it. That is the history indeed.
An important aspect that the Congress leadership should ponder at this juncture is about their own ideology. Are they equipped to counter RSS ideology and enter into a dialogue with RSS members? The senior Congress leader and former president will be able to do that. More congress leaders’ addressing such RSS gatherings, if they get an invitation, is the need of the hour. The right strategy for Congress party is to promote a culture of dialogue and openness. And rejection of hatred and intolerance should go before that.
Former president is calling for an open approach by accepting RSS invitation. When one group exhibit lack of respect and intolerance to another group, the public at large especially the youth of the nation would conclude that intolerance and hate is the foundation of Congress ideology, in this context, though that is not true. In the post-independence era, Congress erased their ideology. The route adopted is condemning and denouncing RSS. Instead of equipping its workers and leaders to propagate Congress ideology, the strategists and advisors of leadership seem to have chosen an easy path.
Hate and intolerance cannot be countered by hate and intolerance. Crossing the boundary and entering in to a dialogue with your ideological opponent is the first step. For that it is important to respect their identity, right to exist and their right to propagate their ideology.
(The writer is a Delhi-based economist and political conmentator)