In the mid-Fifties, Jawaharlal Nehru had stated that the danger to India’s security from divisiveness based on religion and caste is a more dangerous threat than any external aggression. His profoundly perceptive apprehension stands neglected in the current culture and practices of segments of Indian politics.
That this negation of Nehru’s wisdom is not just an undercurrent but a consciously orchestrated policy of divisiveness is proved by a recent letter written by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to his “Muslim brothers and sisters” which appeared in the Urdu edition of the Rashtriya Sahara on April 25. The letter appeared as a full page BJP election ad. Some excerpts:
* There should be brotherhood in this country and not only should justice be done to Muslims but should be seen to be done. Muslims should be safe. There should be no effort to keep them apart. I say to Muslims that they should not consider themselves apart. We have to live together. We have one future.
* A cricket match has just been played and there were Muslim players in it. No difference was visible. All were drenched in the same joy, in the same colour. I want this colour of brotherhood to be stronger and deeper.
* What happened in Gujarat should not have happened. Let us decide that another Gujarat will not happen.
* If we take the road to peace with our estranged neighbour, then can we not resolve our domestic problems in a peaceful manner? It is very essential to do away with the lack of confidence between the two communities.
* For the promotion of Urdu language, we have decided to appoint 2 lakh teachers. For the modernisation of madrasas, a scheme of Rs 74 crore has been proposed.
Five photographs accompany the ad: the PM wearing a safa, Mohammad Kaif and Sourav Ganguly embracing each other, a maulvi and a pandit embracing each other, Vajpayee and Zafarullah Khan Jamali embracing each other, and a madrasa with students.
The ad makes certain promises:
* Introduce within six months a Minorities Development Agenda for the educational and economic upliftment of the minorities to empower them.
* Give special attention in this agenda to the poor and backward families.
* An assurance that they will benefit from housing and educational schemes etc. of the government.
* Attempts will be made in a planned manner to increase minority representation in government organisations.
* Reorganise the work of the Minority Commission to link it to the problems of minority welfare.
* Further the unprecedented steps taken by the NDA government to promote Urdu and modernise madrasas.
* Strong resolve to free India of (communal) riots.
* To continue the dialogue with Pakistan and to resolve, together with J&K, all remaining problems on the basis of the February 2004,
Islamabad joint statement.
It also posts the NDA’s achievements:
* Big increase in the annual budget of the National Urdu Council.
* Practical steps to link Urdu to employment.
* Increase of Haj subsidy from Rs 100 crore to Rs 200 crore.
* Fourteen embarkation points for hajis all over the country.
* Minority educational institution status to Hamdard University with 50 per cent reservation for Muslim students.
* Total support to the cause of the Palestinian people.
* Refusal to send Indian troops to Iraq.
One is compelled to ask a number of questions about the spirit and motivations of Vajpayee’s ‘letter’. Is the PM implying that Muslim citizens do not consider themselves as an integral part of the Indian Nation and civil society? Leaving aside the occasional political or communal flare-ups, we have a syncretic multi-cultural national identity. Vajpayee’s underlining their separate identity and exhorting them to join the mainstream is a deliberate act of attributing them a separateness from the mainstream of Indian life.
Vajpayee’s letter stresses that there were Muslim players in the victorious Indian cricket team in Pakistan. He forgets that this is not the first time Muslim players have played in Indian Test teams. He forgets Ghulam Mohammed, Mushtaq Ali, Tiger Pataudi, Syed Kirmani — to name only a few. One thought players were selected for the Indian team for their talent — and not because of their religious affiliations.
The reference to the Gujarat riots is blasé. Vajpayee links his peace initiatives with Pakistan as a special gesture to Indian Muslims. Instead of saying that peace with Pakistan is in the fundamental common interest of the peoples of the two countries, he implies that the peace introductory would be specially beneficial to Indian Muslims.
Vajpayee announced that he has decided to appoint 200,000 teachers for the promotion of Urdu and is going to allocate Rs 74 crore for the modernisation of madrasas. Leaders of the Muslim community have pointed out to me that this is an irrelevant promise as there are
not enough institutions to employ 200,000 teachers to teach only Urdu. They have also asked whether the modernisation of madrasas would be somewhat on the lines of what Murli Manohar Joshi has been trying with education in general. The Minority Commission has been in existence for many years. It has been doing as much useful work as resources allow.
One wonders why there’s suddenly a need for a Minority Development Agenda. Vajpayee’s promise to promote Urdu and modernise madrasas immediately comes before his desire to achieve an India ‘free of communal riots’. What conclusion should one draw from this? That communal riots happen in India due to the madrasa educational system? One acknowledges that there are some madrasas which may inculcate an extremist view of Islam. But to paint all madrasas with one negative brush shows a prejudiced mindset.
Vajpayee mentions his government’s intention of increasing financial allocations for the National Urdu Council, for linking Urdu to employment, and draws attention to its doubling the Haj subsidy and creating new embarkation points for hajis. These are not achievements. The allocation of resources is essentially related to the growth of the Muslim population, the increase in the number of hajis, the higher cost of air and sea travel for Haj and the related expansion of airport networks over the 10-15 years.
Vajpayee tells Indian Muslims that not sending troops to Iraq and supporting the Palestinian people are gestures which the community should take note of. Both these points are incorrect. Former Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani told Israelis that they are very close allies of India. One has no objection to this.
But they went on to say that any delay in establishing formal and full relations with Israel was because of the Muslims of India. The government has not issued any strong statement against Ariel Sharon’s violently aggressive policies against the Palestinian people. And the refusal to send troops to Iraq was primarily because the Congress, along with all other opposition parties, opposed the decision.
Public memory is short. One must remember that it is Vajpayee and other BJP leaders who had once stated that one of the major problems facing Muslims in this country is that they have never been inclined to stay in peace and coexist with other religious communities. It is this very leadership which also asserted that Muslims of India should ‘Indianise’ themselves.
Narendra Modi, in the post-Gujarat massacre period, had admonished Muslims to accept that their future safety and well-being depends on their acknowledging and reconciling themselves to the fact that they live in a Hindu majority country.
Whatever claims of change of attitudes the BJP may claim, the fact is that their basic communal agenda is to subvert the pluralistic, multi-dimensional, syncretic identity of Indian civil society. Elections will come and go, but the BJP’s agenda has not changed. It is not likely to change.