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Now, Saudi in construction business!

What do you expect to gain from Saudi Arabia's offer to renovate Jama Masjid, asks Sunil Lala.

india Updated: Jan 10, 2006 15:17 IST

It does not make any sense. Maybe it's all this Boston snow that's making me hallucinate. Maybe all my years in America have taught me that if it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, then, in all probability it is a duck. Or maybe it is just my exaggerated sense of smell that can pick up a stink pretty fast.

Did Saudi Arabia just make us an offer to renovate Jama Masjid? I am not sure I understand. Is Riyadh in the construction business now? Has it switched from exporting extremist ideology to now helping countries like India rebuild their Islamic monuments? Wasn't it supposed to be the other way around, where India offered its construction expertise to oil rich but technologically challenged countries in the Middle East?

And why is the Indian government "mulling the offer"? What's there to mull? Don't we have our own civil engineers and our own architects and our own construction crew and equipment? Since when have we started relying on technical or financial assistance from brutal, despotic regimes stuck hopelessly in the medieval times? What's next - a bid from the Taliban to paint Aligarh Muslim University? An offer from Pat Robertson to reconstruct some old dilapidated cathedral in Meerut?

I do not make these statements to cast aspersions on Islam or on Christianity. I believe in a secular India, and I believe in the equality and absolute freedom of all religions. No, I make these statements to cast aspersions on all radicalism - be it Hindu radicalism of the Shiv Sena and VHP, the Islamic fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia and the Taliban, or the ultra-right Christian ideology of that perpetual clown, the reverend Pat Robertson.

And what, in God's name, is Imam Bukhari's role in all of this? Why is he so ecstatic about this offer? Again, I might be mistaken, but doesn't his area of expertise concern the religious texts and teachings of Islam? Or did he just complete a PhD program at MIT on India's ancient architecture and the methodology for restoration of historical monuments?

Why is he so worried about insults to the Saudis? Should he not be more concerned about providing education and the right tools to poor Muslims in India so that they can participate equally and fully in its tremendous growth, and reap the financial and social rewards? Instead of worrying about King Abdullah's ego and the ease with which it gets bruised, should he not be more worried about the insult to India when a clueless king interferes in its affairs and offers to renovate monuments that do not concern him? Doesn't Saudi Arabia understand that India is a proud, democratic, and secular nation, and will not tolerate any unsolicited meddling by countries that resemble religious cults rather than responsible nation states? Doesn't the Imam understand that?

And why does India continue to coddle these despots anyway? Why in God's name is a tyrant the chief guest at our Republic Day parade? Couldn't we find a more suitable head of state? Doesn't our government know about the atrocities that are committed every day against Indians who live in Saudi Arabia? Doesn't our government realize that our citizens are treated like, pardon my French, horse manure in that country? Isn't it true that Indians cannot even buy land in Saudi Arabia? Am I incorrect when I say that this is the country that uses three and four year old children, often from India, as slave labor and as jockeys for camel races?

Isn't it a fact that Saudi Arabia's largest export, apart from oil, is Wahabism - an extreme form of Islam that spreads vitriol not only against all non-Muslims, but also against all other non Wahabi Muslims? Isn't it a fact that this is the country that treats half of its own population - the women - with such disdain, that here in the 21st century, they are not even allowed to drive a car? Isn't it true that these corrupt, immoral sheikhs think of the country as their personal fiefdom? I mean, for God's sake - its very name comes from one single family that has ruled it with an iron fist for decades now. Why are we, to use an American term, hanging out with these folks?

How can we call ourselves a progressive country on the verge of becoming a world power, when we cannot help ourselves from stooping so low that we end up licking the feet of a dictator whose only excuse for being King is his fortuitous birth in the House of Saud? Come on India - you can do better than that. What do you expect to gain from this venture apart from complete humiliation? Forget security concerns. How about rejecting the offer upfront, on grounds that we do not deal with unelected bullies? And we do not sign contracts with religious fanatics that thrive on hatred.

I have a better idea. When King Abdullah is watching the parade, how about asking him when his country plans to offer civil liberties to all its residents? How about inquiring when the next round of elections is scheduled in his country? Or quizzing him about his plans for affording rights to Indians who are there to help run a country that his family and his cronies are too busy robbing? Once he provides us with some answers, maybe THEN we can think about doing business with him.

Here's a thought for the Indian government - grow a spine. If you behave like an obedient poodle of every person who speaks in a foreign accent or offers you a handout, well, you'll be treated like one. Stand up and behave like a proud, dignified nation, and you will get the respect that you deserve.

And a note to all religious leaders - Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews and Christians - it is your right (and your sole purpose) to preach your faith freely without interference from the State. What that also means, is that it is the government's right to practice governance, and to practice foreign policy, without interference from you bozos.

Separation of Church and State - get it? Stick to religion. Stick to spirituality. Don't mess with politics. Don't meddle in affairs best handled by career diplomats. And don't ever take sides with any other country against the interests of your own.

First Published: Jan 10, 2006 14:12 IST