June 24, 2002


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Varsha Bhosle

Carefully constructed facades

IIt was with amusement that I read the tiny PTI piece of June 21: "Kalam devotee of Moinuddin Chishti." Some well-wisher of the missile man thought it imperative for us to know that "Presidential candidate A P J Abdul Kalam is an ardent devotee of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and has visited the seer's dargah [at Ajmer] several times in the past. The last trip Dr Kalam [undertook] was in November last year when he was principal scientific advisor to the prime minister."

Needless to say, visiting the dargah does not make Dr Kalam any more Muslim than your favourite psycho, who, too, has done her share of chaadar and dhaaga at Ajmer Shareef. But, the "secular" climate of this country is such that the character of a public figure is held to be questionable till his religious binding remains ambiguous... A corollary to which is, while a Muslim luminary must be as evidently-Muslim as possible, his Hindu counterpart should never espouse the gamut of orthodox Hinduism and, in fact, must accept Semitic gods and embrace "secular" values, as represented by Iftari and like piffle.

The PTI update came two days after an Asian Age article titled "What's Muslim about Kalam?" wherein that darling of "secular" Hindus and the green M&Ms (moderate Muslims), Rafiq Zakaria, rejected a comparison between Dr Kalam and former presidents Zakir Husain and Fakruddin Ali Ahmed, because the latter "were as great a patriot and Indian to the core as Dr Kalam. But they were also Muslims in the real sense of the word; they believed in the tenets of the Quran and faithfully followed the traditions of the Prophet."

The definition of a Muslim, as given by Dr Zakaria in his book, The Struggle within Islam, and, indeed, one accepted by everyone from Osama bin Laden to Syed Shahabuddin, is: "A Muslim is one who declares publicly: 'There is no God but God and Muhammad is His Prophet.' He must also accept that Muhammad is the last of God's prophets on this earth... A Muslim must also accept the Quran as the word of God, immutable and unalterable; it contains guidelines which a Muslim must follow."

In other words, and in the Indian context, a Muslim is one who rejects the Hindu pantheon, denies Hindu saints, declines all the rites associated with the religion of this land, and counters the Constitution of this country - for it demands that the Uniform Civil Code be implemented despite the "immutable and unalterable" guidelines of the Quran.

Now, if the leading light of our M&Ms finds it essential to publish that "Dr Kalam feels much more at home with the Hindus... I am afraid, Dr Kalam has kept himself completely away from Muslims; he refused to mix with them and even when invited to participate in their nationalistic activities, he politely declined... [he] never reads the Quran but every morning he goes through the Gita and is enchanted by it... He recites the Hindu mantras on every occasion. Namaz does not appeal to him nor has he ever fasted in the month of Ramzan... His roots are really in Hinduism and he enjoys all the sacred Hindu scriptures. Hence the credit for his elevation, in communal terms, should go to the Hindus; to give it to the Muslims would be wrong," we can forget about even a modicum of communal harmony to be introduced in this country. "The Hindus" are very different from "the Muslims," and never the twain shall meet.

Naah... it's not as bleak as that. For, there still exist a few people like Saeed Naqvi, who subtly put Dr Zakaria in his communalist place through the must-read article Islam's many children. Mr Naqvi argues that "The Indian Muslim, like any other Indian, is a creature of his village, district, state, in very possible way... Kalam is part of a continuing tradition which exists but about which we have developed an amnesia because of the obsession of the global media -- and that of our own -- with painting the Muslim in a monochromatic shade."

I'm glad that at least one Muslim publicly accepted the force of India's pervasive Hindu culture...

Much to the dismay of my friend Zafar, I've always taken Dr Zakaria for what he is -- the liberal face of fundamentalist Islam. Such intellectuals claim to be of the M&M community and write deceptively reasoned articles, which, on analysis, reveal their deeper construct. This construct is part of a larger agenda -- one shared by the Communists - which is both anti-democratic and anti-national, with different rationales for Hinduism and Islam. For instance:

§ A Hinduism-derived polity is communal and therefore anti-national. But within that polity, Quranic laws for a section of the people are not communal nor divisive.

§ India is a geographical entity that contains hundreds of different communities merely sharing a land mass. Therefore, Hindus, unlike Muslims, cannot have an ummah.

§ "Hindu India" must have proportional democracy with religious/racial/caste/etc reservations. But Muslims must strive for empowerment in accordance with the Islamic model.

§ In "Hindu India," the implementation of the UCC must be fought by Muslims. However, the Criminal Procedure Code does not transgress the Shariat.

Masks can't stay up forever. So it tickled me to see how a rash moment of pique at Dr Kalam's supposed "Hinduness" brought the real Dr Zakaria out into the open. Just last month, he wrote, "I have always been attracted to the concept of Hindu-Muslim unity, which is why I... opposed Jinnah's two-nation theory and the resulting Partition, which raised permanent barriers between Hindus and Muslims. Ironically, those who are at the forefront of spreading communal ill-will in Gujarat today are quoting Swami Vivekananda as their inspiration. My study of the teachings of the great Swami show him as a champion of Hindu-Muslim unity. He was more a unifier than a divider... Indeed, Vivekananda was a proponent of a broad humanism that both he and Gandhi believed to be the basis of Hinduism." There followed a good 1,000 glowing words on how the Swami "accepted all religions as true."

Forget about the glaring discrepancy between Dr Zakaria's professed love for "broad humanism," and his rejection of Dr Kalam's Muslim character; instead, let's see why Swami Vivekananda remains a great Hindu thinker and seer: "Mohammedans talk of universal brotherhood, but what comes out of that in reality? Why, anybody who is not a Mohammedan will not be admitted into the brotherhood; he will more likely have his own throat cut. Christians talk of universal brotherhood; but anyone who is not a Christian must go to that place where he will be eternally barbecued" (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume II, page 380).

Hehehehe... the Swami had sussed the likes of the Dr Zakarias to come. It's one thing for these closet-Islamists to talk about "broad humanism" and the struggle for Hindu-Muslim unity -- and quite another to accept into the ummah a real, live Muslim who's blurred the edges between the two religions. With carefully concealed contempt, Dr Zakaria ended his analysis of the missile man with, "I wish him all the best; may God, of whatever denomination Dr Kalam believes in, be with him." Precisely what the Swami had said: universal brotherhood ain't open to all -- especially to a Muslim who dares venerate Hindu deities, too...

Actually, before shooting off his divisive pen against Dr Kalam's religious affiliations, Dr Zakaria should have waited a day to read the missile man's thoughts on religion. When told that the Sangh Parivar had described him as a "model Muslim," Dr Kalam simply cited an anecdote: "When I was asked by a young girl whether I was a scientist, technologist, or a Muslim, or an Indian, my reply was, 'First and foremost you should be a good human being and then all these elements are inside you'." But I guess, that's too much to handle for someone who can only wax eloquent on "a humanism that embraces all," hehehehe...

Oh dear, it's really quite sad to see carefully constructed facades melt away in one hot flash of fury. Dr Zakaria ought to stick to the works of the ulema and leave Hinduism and Swami Vivekananda to the likes of Arun Shourie. In a January 1993 issue of Sunday, Mr Shourie wrote that which is so apt today: "That is the trouble with rushing into the charge with a quotation or two, without immersing oneself in the thought and world view of the person. Not just the CPI and CPI-M, but a host of fellow-travellers, too, have suddenly alighted upon Swami Vivekananda as if he can be a handy instrument... The central premise of Swami Vivekananda's entire life was that the essence of India lay in religion; that the religion of our people was the Hindu dharma; that this was not the just the lever by which India was to be reawakened, the truths the Hindu seers had uncovered were the goals to which that reawakened India had to be turned, and that these truths were that pearl of inestimable value which it was India's mission to give to the world. Which red-blooded communist or secularist will own up to this credo?"

No, Dr Zakaria should stick to essays like "Yes, some Hindus hate Muslims" (The Asian Age, April 2) and rail against the Sangh Parivar: "Narendra Modi has beaten Mahmud Ghazni, Firuz Tuglak and Aurangzeb hollow. No longer will Hindus be able to talk of Muslim atrocities against them in the past; Gujarat's score is now much more mind-boggling." Oops, sorry! Even in that, his favourite theme managed to surface: "Some Hindus boast that Muslims have been rightly paid back in their coin but many others are horrified at the unimaginable damage it has done to India's ancient heritage of broad humanism."

There you have it: "broad humanism." Like the one actually practised by the Muslim who shouldn't be called a Muslim...

You know what? I've come uncomfortably close to the subject on which you all want me to speak out. Some readers have suggested that I stayed away from these pages during the thick of the Gujarat civil war because I was either scared or ashamed. Oh dear, they still don't know me. Well, I was busy fighting my own war, a very uncivil one at that. And now that it's already 1,700 words, I must resist the temptation to give you more food for hate thought. Sometime in the coming weeks, I'm bound to make known my views on the carnage. Till then, stay cool.

Presidential Election 2002

Varsha Bhosle

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