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Let's get our basics right
January 27, 2003
In response to my last column many readers had a common question. What led the Gujaratis to vote for Narendra Modi?
Almost all of them responded to the question themselves.
Godhra; Pakistan; Muslim 'appeasement'; their refusal to accept a common civil code; refusal to hand over the Babri Masjid; madrassa education... these topped the list (in that order).
Sadly, the tone of most responses to the riots that followed Godhra was that that the Muslims had it coming (though I must say here there were emails which were more sane, even touching).
Well, let us get our basics right here.
Godhra was a barbaric act. But what did Modi do to deserve an electoral victory? If Modi had taken immediate action for the Godhra incident, it would have been different. But the only thing worth mentioning about Modi post-Godhra is that he did not do anything. He failed to protect -- if he did not help those responsible for the killings -- the lives of about 2,000 innocent Indians.
Narendra Modi, the chief minister of five crore Gujaratis (a fact he wears on his sleeve), failed in his primary duty. He failed to protect at least 2,000 of them and turned that failure into success, just because those who were killed (justified as 'reaction') belonged to a particular community. If this is not communalism, what is?
Many readers have also taken the Sangh Parivar's charge that the Muslims did not condemn Godhra. Which is not true. In response to a similar charge by the prime minister, former Lok Sabha MP Syed Shahabuddin, in an open letter to the PM, wrote: "In the wake of the Godhra tragedy, for the first time, leaders of practically all nationally eminent Muslim organisations issued a joint statement on February 28, 2002, which was carried by many national papers."
The statement said: "The barbaric and brutal violence at Godhra, in which nearly 60 persons lost their lives, has shocked the conscience of all men of goodwill. We condemn the culprits of this criminal act, whoever they be, without any reservation, whatever the provocation." (M V Kamath's Media Watch column in The Afternoon. According to Kamath, the statement did not appear in any national newspaper because, "our national newspapers are not very famous for carrying important news items".)
Then there is always Pakistan. India of course has a problem with Pakistan. It is also true that Pakistan has used Islamic jihadis to create havoc in India. But what makes India's case strong against Pakistan is that we are a secular country while Pakistan is not. Are we ready to lose that advantage? Neither Indian secularism nor Indian Muslims can be held hostage for the good behaviour of Pakistan.
Issues like the 'appeasement' of minorities, common civil code, Ram Mandir and jihadi madrassas are only used by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar as a stick to beat Muslims with. In practice they have done nothing to address these issues.
On January 13, Union Civil Aviation Minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain said the BJP loved the Muslims 16 times more than the Congress because it was spending 16 times more on Haj subsidy (The Hindustan Times, January 14, 2003).
One may laugh away Hussain's mathematics of love, but what about Home Minister L K Advani? When in opposition, Advani often raised the issue of a uniform civil code. Has anyone heard him say it since he came to power?
More than three years ago, the prime minister told columnist Kuldip Nayar that his government was working towards an amicable settlement to the Ayodhya issue. Has anyone heard anything since?
There is a lot of talk about the presence of jihadi madrassas, but in four years of BJP rule, forget taking action, the government has not yet come up with a list of such madrassas.
The BJP's official line about its inaction on these issues is the compulsion of coalition politics. This is rubbish. If any political party or dispensation adopts an approach focussed on finding answers to any of these issues, an amicable solution can always be arrived at. But the BJP's approach is always focussed on the problem, not the solution, because they can easily exploit unresolved issues for political gain.
The party's game plan is simple. When in the opposition, it used certain issues to beat the minorities with. Once in power, it did nothing on those very issues, but simply passed them on to its sister organisations to garner votes for the BJP. This may be smart politics for the BJP, but if not checked it can destabilise India.
The majority community has to see through this game. The responsibility of stopping Hindu fanatics from taking over power by exploiting certain issues lies with this community. After all, if Hindus take credit (and rightly so, as I have stated in my last column) for keeping India secular, they will also have to take the responsibility if India turns into a Hindu version of Pakistan.
None of this absolves the Muslims of any responsibility for the condition Indian secularism is in today. Whether one likes it or not, the fact is that increasingly Hindus have started to dislike them. They have to think -- and think deeply -- why this situation has arisen. The Sangh Parivar's hostile propaganda, the global crisis faced by Islam today, the religion's exploitation by Pakistan, and some actions of domestic Muslim fundamentalists may be some of the reasons, but they are not all.
In his recent column in the Dawn, senior Pakistani columnist Ayaz Amir writes: "We like to think -- or rather we comfort ourselves with the thought -- that the West is caught in a frenzy of Muslim-bashing. We try not to realise that our own condition, a mixture of ineptitude and backwardness, is an invitation to bashing. We are not the victims of a cosmic conspiracy. We are responsible for our backwardness ourselves".
Replace "the West" with "the Sangh" and the comment is equally true for Indian Muslims.
India's independence set the stage for Muslims to emerge as a dynamic, modern, and progressive society. Sadly, they have wasted more than 50 years. Today, their religion has been hijacked domestically by the Bukharis and internationally by the Ladens and Mullah Omars, while they remain silent spectators.
Muslims must also realise that their perpetual obsession with grievances (real or imaginary) leads to their declining self-confidence and also irritates the majority community. Vote bank politics will no longer work. Saeed Naqvi, a senior columnist, recently noted that both Narasimha Rao's Congress government and Vajpayee's NDA government survived without any enthusiastic support from the Muslims.
The major challenge before the community is to get rid of the 'mixture of ineptitude and backwardness'. Indian Muslims are quite fortunate in the sense that they have access to a good education system. They should have been, in fact, showing the way to Muslims across the world what an educated community in a secular and democratic country could achieve.
As Ayaz Amir writes in the same column, "We must remember that of all hierarchies in the world, that of knowledge alone knows no caste or creed. It is not Christian or Muslim or pagan but simply knowledge and those wanting a place in the sun must look into no other mirror but this flame for their salvation".
It is time the Muslims rise to the challenge, not by confrontation, but by engagement. Vast numbers of Muslims are peace-loving and do not want a confrontation with the Hindus, but this needs to be communicated.
For too long the Muslim elite and those who have a voice have remained indifferent to the fate of the community, leaving the poor to find refuge in vote bank politics. They must now stand up and be counted. And they can do so only if they reclaim their right to represent their religion from the bigots who, it seems, are acting as the sole custodians of Islam.
In short, both Hindus and Muslims should get their basics right. Communalism only feeds communalism. India has to fight communalism -- whether Hindu or Muslim. Failure to do so will destroy the very concept of India.