First, we were told that we are all Hindus under the skin and if by chance we followed any other faith, we ought to return to the fold. Now, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi tells us that everyone is born a Muslim and some adopt other faiths from which they should return to the fold. Both positions are clearly absurd but are being pushed by their proponents solely to garner political support. Mr Owaisi is a sensible man at the best of times, so we must put this irrational remark down to the fact that he is trying to expand his party’s base in Uttar Pradesh which is poll bound in 2017. But neither Mr Owaisi nor the Right-wing Hindutva groups which are trying to reconvert all and sundry have stopped to think of the enormous damage they are doing to society and to the ethos of India which is essentially secular. The bulk of Indians do not want to have any religious or ethnic identity thrust on them, they are comfortable in their skins.
Mr Owaisi, with this statement, has given ammunition to the Hindutva brigade to sharpen its attacks. They will cite this as an example of some larger plot to Islamicise India, something they have been saying for a long time. No doubt Mr Owaisi is hoping to win over the Muslim vote which till now has gone to parties like the Congress and the Samajwadi Party. But a better deal for the Muslims would be for Mr Owaisi to talk of education, something the Muslim community sorely needs in many places. Most Muslims are not interested in getting into this competitive communalism. Such remarks may be good publicity for the AIMIM chief but it does not serve the community he claims to represent well. In fact, by displaying restraint, he could have shown up the Hindutva elements for the regressive and negative forces that they are. Sadly, he has chosen to try and match them.
This conversion and reconversion debate has obscured the real problems that both Hindus and Muslims face. Both have been badly let down by their leaders. The last general election showed that a development agenda can get you votes. So why not let that be the focus? The aim on both sides should be to transcend narrow religious identities and think in a truly national manner. Mr Owaisi has said that these are his personal views and that others may disagree. This does not make them more palatable.