Blow to secularism

Hindu-Muslim relations

No doubt, the Bhartiya Janata Party is less rhetorical than before in its references to Muslims.

There can be two reasons for this. One, the party has its eyes fixed on the scenario after the parliamentary elections in early 2014. It would need the support of secular parties to have a majority in the Lok Sabha. Any adverse remark against the Muslims may cost the party and endanger its chances of constituting a viable coalition.

Two, the BJP feels that it can afford to give the impression of being liberal at a time when soft Hindutva has gripped even the leftist parties. The Congress is seen steadily losing its secular credentials in the past few years. If any proof is needed, the Gujarat Assembly elections gave it amply because the party never touched in its poll campaigns the ethnic cleansing which state chief minister Narendra Modi had attempted in 2002 with the help of the BJP cadres and the police force. The Congress thought that it might alienate the Hindu vote by talking about the killing of Muslims during the election campaign.

This must have come as a shock to the Muslims throughout the country because they vote, by and large, in favour of Congress. Yet, it must be the biggest dilemma of the Muslim community to find out which party is liberal. The radicalisation of the community is not the answer, as it is happening. This would be used as an evidence to stigmatise the community. Muslim terrorism has no chance against Hindu terrorism simply because of the numbers.

I realise that some Muslims out of desperation have taken to violence. But this is the path Hindu militant organisations like the Bajrag Dal, Ram Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad want the community to take. The guilt of these organisations has been proved from the bomb blasts at Malegaon, Ajmer and Hyderabad. Initially, the suspicion was on Muslims—as is the police practice—and the Muslim youths were picked up. At Hyderabad, they were beaten by the police.

But a detailed investigation revealed a Hindu hand.

In fact, the random arrests of Muslim youth are the biggest worry of the community. A delegation, including Hindus, has met prime minister Manmohan Singh to seek remedy. His promise to take action has lessened the number of Muslim youths’ detention, but the community is far from satisfied. Many Muslim young men are still rotting in jail, awaiting their cases to be posted for hearing. Worse is the loss of their years which could have been utilised in pursuing higher studies or doing some useful work.

I am more worried about the increasing distance between Hindus and Muslims. True, they have no social contact with one another. But the give-and-take attitude is receding. The only redeeming factor is that there has been no major riot after the Gujarat carnage. This does not mean that the country has managed to curb communalism. Assam is a recent example.

Economic ideology

I was recently in Kerala. I found even the leftists contaminated. This is one state where Christians are spreading their arms as the Hindus and Muslims are doing at the expense of amity. Strange, the best of economic ideology fails when the feeling of religious superiority takes over. In our backyard, Uttar Pradesh, small communal riots have taken place in hundreds. The media has not given them any publicity. In fact, it does not talk about communal riots unless they are really big ones.

On one hand is the example of Delhi where students of all castes and religions came together to protest against the gang rape of a 23-year-old girl and showed that when it was the question of resisting tyranny, all were together. On the other, a procession through a ‘wrong’ route brings out swords from sheaths.

I really believed, like the Congress leaders Abul Kalam Azad and Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, that communalism was the creation of the British and it would go after they had quit. But I have been proved wrong.

The same type of madness which I saw before partition is just below the surface even now. The political parties bring that frenzy to the fore if and when they find it advantageous to them in elections or some other occasions. Even after 65 years of independence, secularism has not taken roots. What it boils down to is that the spirit of accommodation is drying up.

One way to give secularism a chance is to punish those who in any way harm it. The destructors of the Babri masjid are yet to be punished. In the same way, Modi has not been touched for the killing of 1,000-dd Muslims. Convenience or pragmatism comes in the way and the guilty go scot-free.

But imagine the effect it has on the Muslims. The BJP chides the Congress for its complicity in the 1984 killings of Sikhs and the Congress gives it back to the BJP by spelling out what happened in Gujarat. As debating points, the two happenings carry weight.  But what about secularism, India’s ethos?

I have an uncomfortable feeling that communalism is getting legitimacy. More and more people are turning fanatics. Even the police or the other security forces have not escaped contamination. Little do they realise that democracy has no meaning if pluralism is not there. Hatred and bias have to be eliminated from body politics, if democracy has to survive.

I am amazed that Akbaruddin Owaisi in Hyderabad could dare to give a virulent speech to communalise the atmosphere. I am equally astonished that the crowd cheered him. He has no place in a country like India because such people are striking at the very roots of secularism. Whatever the limitations, India is determined to walk the path of secularism. There cannot be any compromise on the basics.

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