Bukhari is within his rights to not invite Narendra Modi

  • Uddalok Bhattacharya, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Nov 06, 2014 14:05 IST

Being liberal in India is difficult, even more difficult perhaps is being proper. The criticism that the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, is facing for having done no palpable wrong in organising the anointing ceremony of his successor adequately bears this out. And the way the critics have lumped issues gives rise to the doubt whether the “argumentative Indian” has been born at all.

The first point of attack on the Shahi Imam has been that he did not invite the Indian prime minister to the occasion, which is yet to take place. The answer to that is correct to the point of being boringly trite: Is it obligatory on his part to do so? Is it a government function that he is holding? And since reciprocity is the cornerstone of any kind of jurisprudence, or civil society, for that matter, the imam may be fully justified in asking (if he does so): Does the prime minister or the prime minister’s office invite him to their functions? Is it incumbent on the CPI(M) to invite the prime minister for something that relates to an internal matter of the party? If India is democratic, and if worthies on the social media have any pretence of honouring it, let one thing be granted, that is respecting one’s private space, which is precisely what the imam has said.

The second point of criticism is how he had the audacity to invite Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. What prevents him or for that matter anyone from doing that? Wasn’t it just five months ago that Sharif came to grace the swearing-in ceremony of the new government? And if Pakistan is an unfriendly neighbour, wasn’t it Benazir Bhutto who came to attend private (that is non-government) functions in New Delhi after having said “war with India will last a thousand years”, as prime minister at that? Indian territory, to date, is not out of bounds for Sharif. Nor was it for Bhutto, which is why anyone was within his rights to invite her.

The imam’s remarks about why he did not invite Modi? Well, he made those remarks because he was asked to do so by the media. And he did so without transgressing the limits of decency, which is perfectly democratic.

Some people have said anointing successors in this manner lacks legitimacy in Islam. This may be a valid point but has no relevance in this case. If there is any wrong-doing involved here, let it be admitted, it has been going on from the time of the first Shahi Imam in 1656.

Carl Jung has been interpreted by some to have said that the line separating the ‘conscious’ from the ‘unconscious’ is often blurred in eastern societies. At a mundane level the brilliant man was not wrong.

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