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India, an Islamic nation!

July 07, 2003

History has been made, ladies and gentlemen! A senior journalist of an English-language newspaper of ours has done what our Muslim rulers of 600 years had not dared to do: dub India as...'an Islamic nation.'

That new, historic label is now planted in Crossing the Rubicon -- The Shaping of India's New Foreign Policy (Viking, Penguin Books India, 2003, price Rs 450, pages 321) authored by C Raja Mohan, strategic affairs editor of The Hindu. It has been written as a narrative of the changing philosophical premises that have transformed the nature of India's engagement with the world after the Cold War.

On page xvii of the 'Introduction' to his book, Raja Mohan writes: 'Despite the growth of the communal cancer in India that began to colour the discourse on foreign policy, India could not shake off the reality that it is an Islamic nation -- both because it hosts the second largest Islamic population in the world and its national culture has been deeply influenced by Islam.'

As though to justify this horrendous, hedonistic belief in 'the reality' that 'India is an Islamic nation,' the author states on page 231 of his book, 'the most dramatic, if unsuccessful, case of India presenting itself as a Muslim nation was at Rabat in 1969 at the first summit of the Islamic nations.'

Raja Mohan's logic and facts have gone haywire here. Firstly, how the hell does a religion followed by merely 12 to 15 per cent of the population of a country give that country the identity and template of that religion? Don't some 85 per cent Hindus count for anything at all in India? Isn't their Hindu culture the vastly predominant culture of the land that even poet Iqbal called 'Hindustan' (the abode of Hindus)?

A debate has been raging as to whether India can be considered a 'Hindu nation' or a 'Hindu state,' and now here's an opinion maker converting a Constitutionally pronounced 'secular state' into 'an Islamic nation' overnight! It's not just crossing the Rubicon, so to say, but flying over it into fantasy, if not into insanity.

Factually, it's just frenetic imagination about 'India presenting itself as a Muslim nation' in 1969 at Rabat, capital of the kingdom of Morocco.

As told from the horse's mouth some eight months ago, what happened then was that India was first not invited, then invited and finally asked to stay away from the final session of the foundation of the Organisation of Islamic Conference held in Rabat following the arson at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in August 1969.

Gurbachan Singh, India's then ambassador to Morocco, says he did in fact address the summit's first session on September 25. The invitation to India was unanimous, proposed by King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, and seconded by the King of Morocco. The invitation criterion was that India's head of state was a Muslim -- Zakir Hussain, who died that year.

Like other delegations, the one from India too had been provided by the hosts with a villa to stay in. Headed by then Union agricultural minister, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, the Indian delegation was received with full protocol and honours on the summit's second day. But it was President Yahya Khan, heading the Pakistani delegation, who threw a fit and threatened to return immediately to Pakistan if India were to assume the membership of the Islamic Conference. He had reportedly received a number of messages from Pakistan to the effect that if he sat at the same table as an Indian at an Islamic meeting, he might as well not return home.

Result: India was kept out of the third, concluding session. As a matter of record, the OIC charter does not restrict its membership to Islamic states but requires that the member must have a 'significant' Muslim population, the definition of 'significant' being left to the member-countries.

That is why, as Crossing the Rubicon itself states, 'in 2002, Qatar argued that as one of the world's largest Muslim communities, India could not be kept out of the OIC,' and 'proposed that New Delhi be associated with the organization.' (Page 232).

It was reportedly struck down following a middle-of-the-night phone call from Pervez Musharraf. Thus, Qatar's initiative showed, not India's desire to present to itself as an Islamic nation -- as Raja Mohan would have us believe -- but, as his book says, 'it reflected the new advances India was making in the Middle East.' (Ibid)

Several such new and conspicuous forays in India's foreign policy have been recorded in Crossing the Rubicon. Built around an imaginatively conceived theme, and replete with reference notes, the book faithfully and studiously records India's diplomatic developments of the very recent years juxtaposed against the perspectives of the past.

It all began with crossing the nuclear rubicon on May 11 and May 13 of 1998 when the BJP-led government conducted those two separate tests at Pokhran, and thereby resolved nearly five decades of nuclear debate in the country in favour of an overt nuclear posture -- cocking the snook at world opinion.

The Rediff Special: Pokhran tests: Five years on

Though battling the very adverse fallout of Pokhran II was a painful process, its ultimate success must now be regarded as a tribute to Indian diplomacy's ability to traverse hitherto unknown paths. The contents of our draft nuclear doctrine -- self-imposed moratorium on further tests, no first-use declaration, advocacy of nuclear arms control and confidence-building measures -- were an asset.

The uninhibited support to President Bush's controversial missile initiative despite long-term ally Russia's reservation was another indicator of India's striking new approach to the nation's defence, slashing the old cobwebs.

The rituals of non-alignment were quietly buried, a distinct pro-US stance adopted, and Israel was warmly cultivated, even as an axis with Russia and China was widely debated within the strategic community. Economics, commerce and trade became the new language of Indian diplomacy.

With regard to Pakistan, two peace summits within 30 months, the strong reply to the Kargil infamy of 1999 and the coercive diplomacy after the attack on our Parliament in December 2001 -- all represented a stratagem, not ad hoc reactions. So was the determination to conscientiously implement free and fair elections to the Jammu & Kashmir state assembly. Though all that didn't result in stopping Pakistan's cross-border terrorism, the undoubted success of that military-cum-diplomatic policy is that today the whole world knows who is the villain of the piece.

Reading Raja Mohan's comprehensive account of the above events and more gives us a fair idea of the intellectual vigour behind the BJP-led NDA government's foreign policy. An undercurrent of its endorsement running through the book suggests that its author is convinced about New Delhi being on course, ready to rediscover, as he points out, the old dream of a powerful role for India in its surrounding regions as envisaged in 1909 by Lord Curzon of Kedleston, former Viceroy of India.

For some reason, though, the author remains reticent in showering kudos on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh who conceived and piloted all these diplomatic departures under considerable travail.

It is probably the adherence to a staid style that has resulted in the book's lack of memorable anecdotes, quotable quotes and hard-talk interactions that would have lent a dramatic overtone to what has been, on the whole, a truly eventful five-year period in free India's foreign policy.

For instance, drawing out Jaswant Singh on the Kandahar episode -- when he escorted jailed terrorists to freedom in Taliban country -- would have been a revelation on what has generally been regarded as a diplomatic disaster of the decade, but on which the book is almost silent.

But panache with the pen would have been strictly no-no for C Raja Mohan whose imposing academic credentials of a master's degree in nuclear physics and a PhD in international relations denoted an academic scholar who keeps sensationalism out of his regular columns for his newspaper.

The 'Islamic nation' bit may well be the sin he committed unconsciously under the sustained influence of his newspaper's management policy that is intensely allergic to anything smacking of Hindutva. The Hindus must hence forgive him in return for the book he has given us.

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Arvind Lavakare

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