'The country will change and look for somebody who is radically different from Modi. It will go to the other extreme. A weaker or a paler version of Modi will not replace him. It will have to be a radically different person who will replace Modi. And that’s the radically different person that we should seek.'
While the number of Muslim MPs in 17th Lok Sabha is slightly higher than that in the preceding one, yet again the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, with over 300 lawmakers, doesn’t have a single representative from India's largest minority community.
Even after his massive electoral victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about 'Sabka Vishwas', telling his party that they must eradicate the 'misinterpretation' prevalent among the minorities about the party.
At such a time when the Muslim voice in Indian politics is fighting to be heard, Congress leader and former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid has come out with his new book, Visible Muslim, Invisible Citizen: Understanding Islam in Indian Democracy.
The book aims to 'place Islam in the context of modernism, and the Indian Muslim in the proper perspective in contemporary Indian politics'.
Khurshid, below, spoke about his book and the challenges faced by the Indian Muslim community today as well as the growing majoritarianism in the country, in an interview to Rediff.com's Utkarsh Mishra. "A majority of Indians are not susceptible to creating a theocratic state. And when I say a majority of Indians, I mean a majority of Hindus and a majority of Muslims both," he says.
After the 2014 victory of the BJP, everyone expected their 2019 campaign to be based chiefly on development. But for most of its part, their campaign was about Hindu pride and how Congress 'insulted Hindus' by coining the term 'saffron terror'.
They also fielded Pragya Thakur who succeeded in winning over 60 per cent of votes in a city like Bhopal.
What does all this tell you about the road the majority community in India has taken? Do you think the Hindu Rashtra finally here? If yes, what is the position of Muslims in it?
See, I saw the first season of that Netflix programme called Leila, and I was truly frightened. Not for Muslims, or Christians, or Sikhs, I was frightened for India.
But my own impression and understating of India is -- and pray to god that I'm not wrong -- that a majority of Indians are not susceptible to creating a theocratic state. And when I say a majority of Indians, I mean a majority of Hindus and a majority of Muslims both.
I'm not prepared to believe that the majority that has voted for Mr Modi, has given him a mandate to create a theological state.
There are many reasons for them to vote in this way; right, wrong whatever, but there are many reasons.
This (Hindu majoritarianism) may be a factor for some of them, as it's always been. But that this was a major factor for most of them, I disagree.
And let me add one last thing; this is not official from my party, (but) people are speaking about it in whispered tones.
I believe there are a lot of question marks on the election procedures, which everyone is mentioning. The Election Commission wasn't as tough as it should have been with the people in power.
I think there are major question marks on the (electronic voting) machines.
There's no direct evidence, I agree. But there's been a lot of circumstantial evidence against the machines. And I think so much anecdotal evidence in a democracy is good enough to take a second look.
If all these need to be repudiated, it can easily be done by a forensic examination, or audit, of the machines used by an objective team.
But right now, I think, the question marks are there.
It is often alleged that the Congress shares much of the blame for the plight of Indian Muslims today, a question that you also deal with in your book. The PM even quoted Arif Mohammed Khan in the Lok Sabha who was told by Narasimha Rao that 'if the Muslims want to remain in the gutter, let them be'. How do you defend the Congress from this charge?
Let me congratulate Arif Mohammed Khan that the prime minister is now quoting him; all this while he was quoting the prime minister.
Nobody can say that there isn't a problem about minorities in India; just as nobody can say that there isn't a problem of poverty in India; just as nobody can say that there isn't a problem of population in India; just as nobody can say that there's no problem of environment in India.
So whoever is in power must take responsibility for things that have not been put right. And I assume that's why we're not in power.
But there's a lot that we have done right, even for the minorities. At least give us credit for that.
The problem with this new lot of people is that they give credit only to themselves without doing anything, and put blame on others without necessarily being correct.
As a society, as a country, we have to put our heads together to find the balance between the rights of the majority to live its life the way it wants to live and, on the basis of the Constitution, permitting the minority to live its life they it wants to live.
My view is, there's no fundamental conflict between the majority and the minority.
Yes, there are minor issues which we can talk and settle, like usage of loudspeakers for azaan, or namaz on roads. If a road is getting blocked for a funeral, for a procession, for one festival or another, we've to -- amongst ourselves or through our representatives -- sit down and have a conversation and accommodate each other.
That's all we need. Where's the conflict? There's no conflict.
In the same context, you say in the book that Sachar Committee recommendations could not be implemented despite best efforts of the then government, of which you also were a part. You talk about certain challenges from within the party and the opposition from the majority community. Can you dwell more upon it? Were there some ministers or leaders who did not want the report to be implemented?
One has to understand what Sachar was about. The concept of Sachar was, let us truthfully find out, whether minorities -- and if this means Muslims -- have not got what they deserved to get.
That's a scientific exercise. I mean, you don't have to say that somebody is being partial by saying that Muslims don't have enough PhDs; if they don't have, they don't have. If they don't go to school, they don't go to school. Why they don't go to school you can further socially analyse.
But you can come to a conclusion that they don't go to school (in) enough (numbers), therefore they're not educated, therefore they don't get jobs, therefore they don't have homes, therefore they're not advanced etc.
The point is, how do you put it right in a plural society like ours. There the concept of Sachar was brilliant.
Sachar's concept was, don't create separate classrooms for Muslims; that will bring about a divide in our society. You make a classroom in which Hindus and Muslims study together, just make sure there are Muslims in that classroom also.
How's that done? One example they gave was, if you build a school near the Muslim mohalla, Muslim children will come. If you build a school faraway then they won't come.
If you build a road in the Muslim mohalla, then they will have a road to use. But it won't have a board saying this road is only for Muslims.
Sachar's idea was, bring people together in whatever they do.
But some of my colleagues felt that's not good enough. You've got to have a separate road, a separate bank, a separate school. That was not what Sachar wanted and that is not what this country should be doing.
This country should bring everyone together.
You deal with the question of leadership in the book. Why is it that, often, Muslim leaders who are more conservative in their outlook are considered to be representative of the community and not the more liberal ones?
Well, it's a good question you're asking and this has been true. But may I put it on the other side, why is that today, a liberal Hindu leader is not treated as a leader of the Hindu people?
Why it has to be an extremely conservative leader who should be the leader of the people? Why is Pragya Thakur a leader of the Hindus and not Digvijaya Singh? They're both Hindus. Digvijaya Singh has done ample for the Hindu ethos. He did a padyatra and a parikrama of the river (Narmada) and that was a cultural symbol as well.
He is not treated as a Hindu leader but Pragya Thakur is, why?
So this is an aberration in our society, where you assume that an extremist will be considered a leader of the people and a moderate will not be. This is the tragedy of our society.
But it has been a practice among political parties, including the Congress, that they go to the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid to appeal the community to vote for that party.
Maybe it's a mistake. Maybe it's a mistake which we're paying for now. We should not have made that mistake.
Please understand that Jawaharlal Nehru also went to Maulana Azad. But Maulana Azad was not Jinnah.
Maulana Azad was a moderate, a liberal. Jinnah was not. Although in personal attributes you might have said that Jinnah was very modern, he drank, he ate pork and etc. While Maulana was a true maulana.
The fact remains that Maulana was a liberal and Jinnah was not, as far as political thoughts are concerned.
The A K Antony report on Congress's 2014 poll defeat suggested that the party is seen as practising appeasement politics. You also mention the incident where Sonia Gandhi said that the Congress is seen as a 'Muslim party'. What are your views on the way the whole matter was dealt with?
These are all issues of perception. I know my leadership. I know Mrs Gandhi and there's enough in the book about Mr Rahul Gandhi, who have said we're not going to be self-conscious about supporting minorities.
But we're not a minority party; we can't be a minority party. When was the last minority president of the Congress?
I don't know if there was a Muslim president (of the Congress) after Maulana Azad. So how are we a Muslim party?
We believe that we're a party of everyone and therefore everyone has a place in it. This is what Mrs Gandhi tried to say.
It is unfairly attributed to us that you're a Muslim party.
Now if we speak about what is right and what is wrong, the BJP immediately says that you're taking the side of someone who's 'anti-national'.
If you're going to put every element of freedom of speech to the test of nationalism, then nobody would speak.
Congress doesn't believe in that. If we had, we could've finished them off.
How do you think the Congress can now reclaim its position among the majority? Was Rahul Gandhi's temple visits aimed at that?
I'm saying clearly that the majority doesn't vote for temples. Temples and religion are important parts of their lives, as mosques and namaz are parts of the life of a Muslim.
But Muslims don't vote for the imam of the mosque. And Hindus don't vote for the temple. There are many reasons for them to vote for a party.
So, I believe, Mr Rahul Gandhi's manifesto is an outstanding manifesto about a modern India in which the sentiment of every person and every group will be equally respected.
We're not a country that will follow a Communist pattern where religion will be outlawed.
Religion will be respected. But religion will not be allowed to dictate what policies there would be for the country beyond what the religious rights are and what the Constitution of the country also approves.
You write of Islamic institutions like the Muslim Personal Law Board and Deoband and you also have a chapter on ‘Understanding Islam’. But what about their role in controversies like the Shah Bano case and the allegation that they do not teach true Islam?
See, many of them are traditionalists, conservative and the problem that one may have with them is that they're too inward-looking.
We live in a plural society and unless I can explain to a Hindu what Islam is, how do we connect? If I keep explaining only to Muslims, how do we connect with the Hindus?
And if a Hindu doesn't explain to me what Hinduism is, how do I connect with the Hindu?
So in a country like India, we need to explain to each other and we need to connect with each other. But I don't know how many times the Muslim Personal Law (Board) speaks to the group of Hindu divines to say 'look at the common areas that we have amongst ourselves'. But they never do, they talk only among themselves.
And my advice would be (that) you're an institution in a plural society so please connect with everybody in the society; don't be self-conscious about your religion and your understanding of it, share it with others.
And I can say that there's much in Islam that others would appreciate as being very modern.
People decry divorce law of Islam. I say the divorce law of Islam is very modern. And Hindus have just about reached that stage 5-20 years ago, where you can have divorce by mutual consent.
Divorce by mutual consent was given in Islam 1,400 years ago. But Hindus and Christians have just got it.
So if we don't talk to each other and we don't share our experiences, how do we know what is good about the other person.
It is often said by people like Arif Mohammed Khan that what the Deobandis teach is not true Islam?
This is both and ignorant and arrogant way of looking at it. Like if I simply say that this school doesn't give good education; why? This school may have chosen that this is the way education should be given, my school may have chosen that this is way education should be given.
We're living in a democratic, plural society. We can say I disagree with their analysis but we can't say that they're bad.
A liberal never says you're bad because you do this. A liberal says that you have your rights, I have my rights. I disagree with you and you've the right to disagree with me.
So I'm not quite sure if Mr Arif Mohammed Khan understands what democratic, liberal discourse is. For him, it's a dictatorial discourse: they're bad, they don't do this, they don't do that, I know everything.
We must have some self-doubt about ourselves. You must have faith in yourself, but some self-doubt about the authenticity of your belief.
These institutions also take a very rigid stand on matters like 'Bharat Mata ki Jai'. If they relent then the Right will lose an issue.
They're stupid. Anyone who says 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' is only expressing a sentiment about one's own country.
You are kind of critical of Muslims for, as you say in the book, 'lining up to vote for the SP-BSP' and ignoring the liberal leaders of the Congress. But the data shows that the minority vote was consolidated against the BJP. Do you think it was the opposition that was disunited?
If the Opposition had united all over the country we would have been in a much better position. But I come back to (doubts over) the (electronic voting) machines.
I believe one should vote for whomever one thinks will be good for the country.
The BJP was out of power for decades. But some people voted for them (even then) because they thought it would be good for the country.
So you should vote not for somebody who can win, but you should vote for somebody who should win is the message we have to give to the people.
Government data shows that there was a 600 per cent increase in beef export from 2009 to 2014. Do you think this could be a trigger for cow-related violence now?
Beef exports are not cow meat exports. Beef exports are buffalo exports. They want to stop it, let them stop it.
Muslims in this country agreed after independence that they will not eat beef, meaning bovine meat. There’s no issue here.
They want to stop export of buffalo meat, they can do so.
How many Hindus in this country are vegetarians?
There may be many, but I’m saying that all the Hindus in this country are not vegetarians. All the people who voted for (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi are not vegetarians.
What path do you think the Congress should take now?
I'm just waiting and hoping that those who have a natural, historical position in our party will take an initiative and invite more and more people to come and suggest and then take the quickest path… we need to get back to our fighting spirit as quickly as possible.
Do you think the Congress Working Committee should be revamped?
I think the party needs to be revamped. But revamping is not just a mechanical exercise that you’re removed and I brought in. I may be worse than you.
What we must understand is exactly, in the changed circumstances in the country, what are the kind of people the country is looking for.
My own view is that the country will change and look for somebody who is radically different from Mr Modi. It will go to the other extreme.
A weaker or a paler version of Modi will not replace him. It will have to be a radically different person who will replace Modi.
And that’s the radically different person that we should seek. Mr Rahul Gandhi is still around, he is still very active in politics. But he had a view that somebody else should be president, we should respect his view.
Do you think the Karnataka government wouldn't have fallen if the central leadership were there to mitigate the crisis?
Maybe. But you know, as Mr Rahul Gandhi has said, there were some internal problems right from the beginning. And psychologically when you’re on the retreat, people take advantage.