Fear of majoritarianism not unfounded: US historian

Fear of majoritarianism not unfounded: US historian

Events unfolding in India in the past six months, including the "rise of Hindutva politics", is a stark reminder that the fears of rise of majoritarianism were not entirely unfounded, according to noted US historian and author David Lelyveld.


The scholar, who delivered a lecture at Aligarh Muslim University, today said it would be a mistake "to indulge in euphoria" regarding any major dividends from US President Barack Obama's visit to India.

He also felt a large section of opinion in the US "does not agree with the haste with which President Obama has revoked the denial of a US visa to Prime Minister Narendra Modi" and said his decision to visit India would have damaged President Obama's image "as a champion of human rights in the world."


"I am sorry to say that the events which have been unfolding in India during the past six months in which religious fundamentalism and the rise of Hindutva politics are stark reminder that the fears of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan regarding the rise of majoritarianism were not entirely unfounded," he said referring to the AMU founder.

In reply to a question regarding the fallout of Obama's upcoming visit to India, Lelyveld said, "It would be a mistake to indulge in euphoria regarding any major dividends from the President's visit to India. I think that a select group of corporates, both in India and the US, could reap the harvest of President Obama's visit. But for the common people of the two countries, to gain anything substantive, remains a moot point".


He said, "there is a large section of opinion in the USA, which does not agree with the haste with which President Obama has revoked the denial of a US visa to Prime Minister Narendra Modi".


"We may disagree with former President George Bush on many issues but on this, his stand was correct. Mr. Modi was denied the US visa because of US government’s unequivocal regard for the cause of human rights in the world. President Obama's hasty visit to India, disregarding the concerns which President Bush had rightly addressed to, have certainly damaged President Obama's image as a champion of human right in the world," he added.

Speaking about AMU founder Sir Syed Ahmad Khan's work in the field of Muslim women's education in the late 19th century, the historian said he did work on discouraging superstition and outdated customs among women but was more deeply involved in promoting modern education amongst Muslim men, who were languishing in backwardness.

"While Sir Syed had urged Muslim women to rid themselves of outdated customs, superstitions and irrational beliefs, he did not raise the issue of education of Indian Muslim women, primarily because he was deeply involved in accepting the Herculean challenge of promoting modern education amongst Muslim men who were at that time wallowing in inertia and backwardness," Lelyveld, who is a former Dean at the William Peterson University USA, said.

An expert on Indian Muslim educational movements of the 19th century said, he said, "When Sir Syed launched the Aligarh Movement in the middle of 19th century, the issue of women's education had not even been raised in Europe, what to say in the Indian subcontinent".

"It was however the second generation of Aligarh movement leaders who championed the cause of Muslim education in India in the early part of the 20th century' he said.

Talking to newspersons, Lelyveld strongly refuted  claims of some historians that Sir Syed was the founding father of the two-nation theory.

"If there is one thing which strikes me about Sir Syed’s political thought, it is his unflinching commitment to the ideals of a pluralistic society in which all sections have equal access to the fruits of social progress.

"The fact that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan chose to conduct the ‘Bismillah Ceremony’ (the first formal recitation of Holy Quran by a Muslim child) on the lap of his Hindu friend, Raja Jai Kishan Das, is a telling pointer to the man’s passionate commitment to the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity in the Indian subcontinent," Lelyveld said.

He said, "The idea of Pakistan had not even born during the life of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, but whatever little I have studies about the man, I can say that he would never had stood for the concept of dividing the Indian subcontinent."

"It is however, true that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had, towards the end of his life, expressed serious concerns regarding the rights of Muslims in undivided India after the impending departure of the British.

"Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was deeply troubled over the possibility that in a democratic setup, where Muslims would be in a minority, they would have to face considerable hardships to preserve their identity," he added.

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