The National Integration Council (NIC) met late in the evening on Monday in the shadows of the recent Muzaffarnagar riots. Prime minister Manmohan Singh was present. So were 16 chief ministers, most of them of Congress ruled states. But the 13 notable absentees sent the message that there’s a lack of integration in the thinking of the UPA, and that of the combined opposition.
Singh, of course, told political parties to refrain from taking advantage of communal tensions. He also asked the states to crack down on elements fanning such violence. Forget their political affiliations, he added, for good measure.
But the fact that such an important meet saw only 16 chief ministers turning up stood out like a sore thumb. The 13 chose to send their representatives. Among the ones who did not turn up was Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, who is also the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, her Tamil Nadu counterpart J Jayalalithaa, Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh, Punjab CM Prakash Singh Badal, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah and Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot.
Taking a dig at Modi for his absence, Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde said it was essential for a leader of Modi’s stature to have come to the meeting. “I feel as a chief minister it was his first duty to attend this meeting. The NIC meet happened after two years and was very significant in the present context. I do not know why he did not come,” Shinde said.
Expressing concern on the recent increase in incidents of communal violence, particularly those that happened in UP, the PM said effective steps should be taken by the administration to ensure that small issues don’t snowball into a big controversies.
“The state government should lose no time to control communal violence. It should use all means at its disposal to punish those guilty of fanning communal violence and must ensure a speedy crackdown on such elements irrespective of their political affiliations or influence,” the PM said, urging the political parties and the media to refrain from giving any political colour to the incidents.
The meeting saw some sparks with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav blaming the BJP for trying to convert UP into a Gujarat. “Meetings are being conducted past midnight to carry out activities against one particular community,” Yadav said prompting a quick rebuttal from BJP leaders.
Rejecting the argument that communal incidents could benefit or harm the prospects of certain political parties, Singh said: “This argument is unfortunate. In reality, communal enmity does not benefit anyone but could threaten our identity as a civilised society.”
The PM also broached reining in anti-social elements misusing the social media to promote communal hatred. In Muzaffarnagar, social media was used to distribute a morphed video clip of an incident in Sialkot, Pakistan, to terrorise people.
“While it is imperative to maintain freedom of expression on social media, we must prevent mischievous elements from misusing this platform,” Singh said. Speaking to reporters later Shinde said the Centre has the power to intervene with the use of section 66 of the Indian Telegraph Act.