|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
How strong is this allergy to Bush?
August 24, 2006
Mehmed VI was the last Sultan of Turkey, reigning from 1918 to 1922. Having already lost its European territories, the Ottoman Empire was stripped of its Arab lands too by the Treaty of Sevres.
This was too much to bear for a section of Indian Muslims, since the Sultan was ex officio Caliph of Islam. A movement began to force Britain into restoring Mehmed VI's empire in its original form, known to us as the Khilafat Agitation and warmly supported by the Congress at Mahatma Gandhi's advice.
It ended in a fiasco. The Arabs showed no inclination to return to the Caliph's embrace. The Turkish national assembly abolished the Sultanate on November 1, 1922, and exiled Mehmed VI. His position as Caliph was assumed by his cousin, Abdul Mejid II.
On March 3, 1924, the Turks rectified their earlier omission, invalidating the title of Caliph too, and ordering the Ottoman dynasty out of Turkey. (The ban was finally lifted in 1974.)
While it floundered in the face of Arab and Turkish hostility, the Khilafat Agitation left a legacy in Indian politics. It affirmed that Indian Muslims could agitate in India even for reasons that might not concern India directly. Which Congressman could deny the principle with Mahatma Gandhi lending it legitimacy?
What of the peculiar behaviour of the Iraqi Air Force in 1991? The Iraqi Air Force didn't stand a chance against the power of the allies during Operation Desert Storm. On the seventh day of the air war -- before the ground troops came into play -- several Iraqi planes took sanctuary in Iran.
Iran and Iraq had fought from 1980 to 1988, a war with at least a million casualties. Yet less than three years later Iraqi pilots had no compunction in fleeing to their old foes. It has never been clarified whether this was done on the individual initiative of some officer in the Iraqi air force or whether Saddam Hussein himself approved the operation, but that is merely a matter of detail.
The important point is that it was a marvellous illustration of the adage that 'an enemy's enemy is a friend'.
Let us put both facts together -- the feeling that there is a worldwide Islamic community and the truly Kautilyan wisdom on friends and enemies. And the result may explain some things not just about Gujarat but even about, say, Spain or Britain.
George W Bush is perceived in the Islamic world as its single greatest foe today. Whether that view is justified is another matter but let nobody dispute that such a sentiment exists. The American president has become a measuring-rod by which a Muslim voter can judge a politician.
I found that President Bush was a factor even in the recent Kerala assembly election. The Muslim League is a component of the ruling United Progressive Alliance in Delhi. The Manmohan Singh ministry's best-known foreign policy initiative is the pact with the United States signed during President Bush's trip to India.
The Muslim League stands tainted by the association. That played a part in the Muslim League's poor performance in its own strongholds, large chunks of the electorate switching to the congenitally anti-American Marxists.
How strong is this allergy to all things Bush? Narendra Modi's candidates performed exceedingly well in the Gujarat local body elections. Analysis of the voting patterns suggests that even some Muslims voted for the BJP in preference to Congress candidates.
Like the Iraqi pilots a decade-and-a-half earlier, Muslim voters seemingly decided Narendra Modi was a 'lesser evil' than a Congress linked in the popular imagination to President Bush.
I hear that Narendra Modi's 'rehabilitation' -- if you want to call it that -- began when the chief minister of Gujarat was denied a visa by the United States. Anyone who was disliked by the hated Americans, the convoluted logic went, must have some good points!
The reverse logic was applied by the Muslims of Tony Blair's Britain and of Jose Maria Aznar's Spain. After generations of living in relative peace with their (largely Christian) neighbours, there were Muslim terrorist attacks in London and Madrid.
No group of citizens is entitled to attack compatriots to protest their government's friendship with the United States. I don't refer to the Mumbai train blasts alone.
In March, armed Muslim agitators tried to forcibly shut shops owned by Hindus in Lucknow and Hyderabad to protest President Bush's visit. Three men died in the violence. Do you think their friends and families will blame the American leader for those deaths?
'The enemy of my enemy is my friend' is a double-edged sword. In 2005 the Pew Foundation surveyed 14 major nations, plus the United States, to gauge attitudes to the United States. Amazingly, India is one of two places where a plurality believes that the American invasion of Iraq was good. (The only other country that thinks so is the United States itself.)
The Bush administration itself won a 54 per cent rating from Indians, with the United States as a whole getting an incredible 71 per cent. Interestingly, only 54 per cent of Indians had a favourable opinion of the United States as late as 2002.
These mindboggling results indicate that the United States has gained popularity in India since President Bush began his 'war on terrorism'. (In Britain, by contrast, favourable opinion of America fell from 75 per cent in 2002 to 56 per cent in 2005.)
The orchestrated hatred of the United States is obviously leaving an unintended counter-effect on non-Muslim Indians.
Eighty years ago the Khilafat Agitation ended by driving a wedge between India's two largest communities. I fear events outside India are again casting a shadow on Indian politics.
T V R Shenoy