India is a nation of rich diversities. Linguistic diversity is a very unique and proud feature of our national identity. There is simply no other country in the world that has accorded the status of 'scheduled language' to 22 languages as India has done in the Eighth Schedule of its Constitution. As far as dialects in India are concerned, their number may well run into thousands.
The languages we speak may be different. But we are nevertheless one people and one nation. There is a poem by the great Tamil poet Subramaniam Bharati, in which, paying tribute to Mother India, he says that her 33 crore children -- which was India's population then -- speak in 18 different tongues, but they all voice the same sentiment: Unity.
Urdu occupies a special place in India's linguistic bouquet, charming everybody with its hues and spreading its aroma far and wide. It is not confined to any particular state or region. Just as Hindi is spoken or at least understood in most parts of the country, the same is true of Urdu also.
Cultural Nationalism is not anti-Muslim
Is cultural nationalism a religious concept? No. Is it anti-Islam and anti-Muslim? No.
Cultural nationalism holds that India's national identity is defined by its unifying and integrating culture, which transcends its religious and other diversities. This is not something I learnt from books.
I was born and grew up in an environment of cultural nationalism. In the first phase of my book ['My Country, My Life], which deals with the first 20 years of my life that I spent in Sindh, I have described how the social and cultural ethos of Sindh was informed by a remarkable harmony and peaceful coexistence between Hindus and Muslims.
This was primarily due to two factors: the Sindhi language and the propagation of religious tolerance by both Hindu spiritual leaders and Muslim Sufi saints. All the great Hindu and Muslim poets and saints communicated their inspiring ideals through Sindhi.
I have illustrated in my book the best traditions of Sindhiyat by referring to the teachings of Shah Abdul Latif 'Bhitai', who is universally regarded as the greatest Sindhi poet of all times. He composed poems in praise of Rama. I have also referred to Sachal Sarmast, who described himself as a 'Jogi' and advocated brotherhood among Hindus and Muslims under one single benevolent God.
I have described how the Sufi tradition is deeply ingrained, even today, in my wife Kamla's family. Her mother was a devoted follower of the famous Sufi saint, Sain Qutab Shah, whose dargah in Hyderabad she regularly visited. She used to sing Sufi kalaams, gurbani and songs about Ram and Krishna with equal piety.
My wife's sister Sarla and her husband visit Pakistan almost every year to pay obeisance at the dargah of Sain Nasir Faqir, another widely respected Sufi saint.
Kamla would never miss having darshan of Sain Noor Husain Shah, the post-Partition custodian of Sain Qutab Shah's dargah, whenever he visited India. Indeed, when I went to Pakistan in 2005, Sain Noor Husain Shah, who was in Dubai at the time, specially flew down to Karachi to bless my family.
As even Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has acknowledged in his 'Discovery of India', the Indian civilisation -- indeed, the very name 'India' -- owes its origin to the great Sindhu River. Let me recall an interesting incident, which I have quoted from a book by Bhagwan S Gidwani, one of the greatest Sindhi historians. He writes:
'In my student days, at Sadhbela, a famous Hindu temple, at Sukkur in Sindh, I saw Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He was at a langar, the community meal. Recently, a South Indian friend questioned me: How come, no one asked Bhutto, why he was there? For us, it was not too uncommon in Sindh to see Hindus in dargahs and Muslims at Hindu holy places.'
Talking about langars, let me mention that Kamla and I organised Akhand Paath of the Guru Granth Sahib, followed by langar, at our house in 2006. Pratibha, our daughter, sang 'Satnam Wahe Guru' on that day. I invited Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh for the function and he was gracious enough to accept my invitation.
I am mentioning this here -- and I have mentioned it in the book too -- because reading of the Guru Granth Sahib and going to gurdwaras was a common practice among Hindus in Sindh.
Hence, Cultural Nationalism is about recognising, accepting and feeling proud about the shared cultural heritage of India.
I therefore take this occasion to appeal to my Muslim compatriots: Understand cultural nationalism in the right perspective. The tragic Partition of India in 1947, on the basis of the spurious 'Two Nations' theory, created problems in Hindu-Muslim relations in India, besides engendering problems in the relations between India and Pakistan. It is time to remove prejudices and rebuild unity based on our common cultural heritage.
Ayodhya: Amicable settlement needed
There is a related issue which forms a major section in my book, and that is the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya. I am pleased that Urdu readers will be able to read my detailed description of the Ayodhya movement and come to their own conclusions [in the Urdu edition of Advani's autobiography 'My Country, My Life.']
Over two decades have passed since the Ayodhya issue surfaced on the national scene. A lot of things have happened during this period. I would like to reiterate today what I have emphatically mentioned in my book. The best and the most enduring solution to a sensitive issue like this is to arrive at an amicable settlement through dialogue between leaders of the Hindu and Muslim communities.
I would also like to reiterate another belief of mine: Nothing can contribute to Hindu-Muslim harmony better than a positive gesture by the Muslim community on this emotional issue close to the hearts of millions of Hindus.
Oppose vote bank politics, shun minorityism, work for riot-free India
Let me use this occasion to affirm that my party is firmly committed to secularism as conceived by our Constitution-makers. We chose to support and join the Ayodhya movement only because of the prevailing atmosphere of pseudo-secularism. If secularism had not been perverted to subserve the interests of vote-bank politics, I am sure the course of the Ayodhya movement would have been significantly different.
I wish to make another appeal to my Muslim brethren. 'Vote-bank politics has not helped you. It has helped its practitioners, but not you. It has kept a large section of your community backward, economically and educationally, as the Sachar report has shown. Do not allow yourself to be used by certain political parties for their own narrow ends. Do not allow yourself to be forever typecast as a 'minority,' because it breeds a mentality that sees minorities as being different from the majority. This minority-majority division is harming India's emotional unity and India's all-round progress. Genuine secularism is that which believes in justice for all, and discrimination against none.'
Dealing with Pakistan: How the UPA government has reduced the NDA government's two-pronged approach to a one-pronged approach
Another important section of my autobiography deals with India's strained relations with Pakistan. Indeed, Pakistan in some ways forms one of the running themes in my book, right from the time of the blood-soaked division of our Motherland.
Many subjects are covered under this theme -- the genesis and worsening of the Kashmir problem; the four wars with Pakistan (1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999); the appearance of Pak-sponsored cross-border terrorism as a form of proxy war; the efforts of the Vajpayee government to improve bilateral relations; my own role as India's home minister and deputy prime minister in the NDA government; and my visit to Pakistan in 2005.
I have always believed in a two-pronged approach to dealing with Pakistan: Sincerely pursue normalisation of Indo-Pak relations but make absolutely no compromise on the issue of cross-border terrorism.
This is the approach the NDA government followed. We successfully repulsed the Pakistani aggression in the Kargil War in 1999. Nevertheless, we invited President Musharraf for talks in Agra. When he refused to acknowledge the problem of cross-border terrorism and instead described the terrorist activities in Jammu & Kashmir as 'freedom struggle,' we made him go back empty-handed.
Our sustained pressure and deft diplomacy resulted in a major victory for India. For the first time, Pakistan committed itself, in a joint statement issued in Islamabad in 2004 after a meeting between Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Musharraf, against the use of any Pakistani or Pak-controlled territory for terrorist activities aimed against India.
It is sad to note that the UPA government has changed India's policy towards Pakistan from a two-pronged approach to a single-pronged approach -- namely, normalisation of relations with Pakistan at any cost, even at the cost of continued export of terrorism from Pakistan.
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has been less than honest in explaining to the nation why he agreed to the obnoxious joint statement issued after his meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Yusuf Gilani, in Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt last month. The joint statement, as has now been widely accepted in India, contains two of the worst blunders committed in India's diplomatic history.
Firstly, it delinks or de-brackets the bilateral dialogue process from Pakistani government's action to stop terrorist attacks on India. Secondly, it tacitly holds India guilty of fomenting trouble in Baluchistan.
Nothing that the prime minister has said so far in Parliament by way of an explanation has convinced the Indian people. They have seen verbal gymnastics on the part of ministers and Congress leaders to defend the prime minister's indefensible action in Egypt. The government should either admit that it committed a mistake and promise to erase that mistake, or it should come clean on what it has in mind with regard to normalisation of relations with Pakistan.
It is doing neither. As a result, people have come to believe that 'Daal mein kuch kaala hai' -- something fishy is going on behind the scenes.
It is deeply troubling to see that, even as Mr Gilani keeps heaping praise on our prime minister, the Pakistani establishment is doing everything possible to subvert the process of prosecuting and punishing the culprits behind the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai.
There is a widespread suspicion that, despite all the denials by the prime minister and his colleagues, the joint statement in Sharm-el-Sheikh is a curtain-raiser to the UPA government's surrender to Pakistan on the Kashmir issue under external pressure.
The government seems inclined to 'settle' the Kashmir issue in blatant violation of the unanimous resolution by both Houses of the Indian Parliament in 1995. The country must be vigilant about this.