November 23, 2000


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Arvind Lavakare

A shrill cry for appeasement

Below is an excerpt from a public speech made by a senior Indian politician:

"I recall how in the past Muslims contributed to the League propaganda of the two-nation theory and how they took part in League politics… It was to put an end to this dual loyalty that we agreed to create Pakistan so that those who preferred to abide in that faith can find a place where they can pursue it. In India there is no place for such persons. If they stay in India, it can only be as loyal citizens; otherwise, they have to be treated as foreigners with all the attendant disabilities. They should live in India like brothers and in harmony with non-Muslims… I want Hindus and Muslims to forget the past and live happily together. To make it possible, let Muslims in India search their conscience and ascertain if they are really loyal to this country. If they are not, let them go the country which claims their allegiance."

Here's another gem from the same leader:

"I am a true friend of the Muslims although I have been described as their greatest enemy. I believe in plain speaking. I do not know how to mince matters. I want to tell them frankly that mere declarations of loyalty to the Indian Union will not help them… They must give practical proof of their declarations. I ask them why they do not unequivocally denounce Pakistan for attacking Indian territory… Is it not their duty to condemn all attacks of aggression against India?"

No, no, the above words are not of Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena supremo with an acid tongue. Rather, they belong to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India's first home minister and deputy prime minister. The first extract above was from his speech at Rajkot on November 12, 1947, and the second was part of the one he made at Lucknow on January 6, 1948.

It's a sad and telling commentary that even more than half a century later, the Muslims of this country still need to be wooed on the grounds of citizenship. That happened at Amravati in Maharashtra the other day. Thackeray that day felt compelled to give a word of advice to the BJP president who had some weeks earlier appealed for Muslim support with his comical reference to the Ram genes in their Muslim blood. Thackeray's realistic advice to Bangaru Laxman was "Don't woo Muslims to your party just because of their religion. Bring them closer to you as citizens of India."

Thackeray's premise is justified going by the very recently published letter of Syed Shahabuddin, a former officer in the Indian Foreign Service. The fiery Muslim leader's letter says, "The Muslim Indians are already in the mainstream, as they share the trials and tribulations and perform their duties as citizens. But they reject the national mainstream which is defined in terms of cultural submergence and religious assimilation."

How obdurate the Muslim community is in clinging to all its religious trappings was proved the other week when All India Muslim Personal Law Board refused to even discuss the question of the triple talaq at its Bangalore convention although the item was high on its agenda. And how indifferent the community is to the majority Hindu sentiments came through in that same Shahabuddin letter which arrogantly asserts that, with regard to the Ayodhya dispute, "There can never be a negotiated settlement when the VHP demands the surrender of the very site the negotiation is all about."

Notice how it doesn't matter a wee bit to Shahabuddin that, according to the March 1951 order of the Faizabad civil judge, "at least from 1936 onwards the Muslims have never either used the site as a mosque nor offered prayers there." Nor does Shahabuddin seem to care for the veritable oceans of Hindu goodwill that will surely flood the Muslims if they welcomed the Ram temple at the disputed site.

The fact then remains that despite Shahabuddin's claim to the contrary, the Muslims as a community choose to remain to themselves and their mosques, conspicuously aloof from the mainstream of India's nationhood where give-and-take can mean so much emotional bonding.

For instance, how many Muslim outfits do you recall protesting against the hijack at Kandahar or the Kargil aggression by Pakistan? How many Muslim writers, artistes and organisations do you recall having actively helped the half million and more Kashmiri Pandits driven out of J&K by ruthless ethnic cleansing?

On the other hand, the community's own persecution complex seems unending. Thus, when cricket match-fixing talk first began to focus on ex-captain Azharuddin, he had the gall to publicly propound the thesis that he was being targeted probably because he belonged to the minority community.

Even the supposedly broad-minded opinion maker, Asghar Ali Engineer, is not free from this complex. Although given unlimited access by our "secular" English press to air his views on Muslim themes -- a licence denied to his Hindu counterpart, veteran journalist M V Kamath --- Engineer has never supported the liberal concept of a uniform civil code despite it being enshrined in our Constitution as a directive principle of state policy. He has never really exhorted Muslims to emerge from their ghetto mentality even as he keeps mourning about their many grievances.

On the other hand, he has rarely let a chance slip by to attack the so-called fundamentalism of the Hindutvawadis. In his article on November 10, 2000 in The Hindu he even makes the accusation that "our biggest problem is the aggressive politics of the Sangh Parivar" and that "the minorities are suffering its consequences." No evidence is, of course, cited in support.

Conveniently forgotten, however, are the recent vicious student activities in the Aligarh Muslim University campus, the Deendar Anjuman bomb blasts in Hyderabad, and Abdullah Bukhari's plentiful jihadi pronouncements from Delhi's Jama Masjid all these long years that he reigned there.

When the assembly election was on hand in Maharashtra last year, there was loud talk of Muslims offering support to the Nationalist Congress Party in exchange for the formation of a minority finance corporation and the deputy chief minister's position. Such horse-trading has, in fact, been a standard practice for the Muslims in our great and grandiose "secular" scenario.

They themselves have never offered to give up the privileges they get but that are denied to the majority community or to other minority groups.

Take the ministry of civil aviation's annual subsidy given for the operation of Haj charters. That subsidy is going on for years and was placed at Rs 1.12 billion in the Government of India's budget for 2000-2001. No such subsidy is given to Hindus going for pilgrimage to Kashi, Kedarnath or Badrinath, or to Christians going to Bethlehem during X-Mas. Similarly, the national budget for the current financial year provides for Rs 50 million for promotion of Urdu language, Rs 10.75 million for appointment of Urdu teachers and, believe it or not, Rs 115 million for "modernisation" of madarsa education! All this, mind you, from a "saffron" government which, says Engineer, "has seriously weakened our secularism."

Mercifully, Engineer concedes that that "There are some schemes available for economic and educational development of Muslims." His caveat, however, is that "The bureaucrats are rather reluctant to implement them with a sense of commitment for various reasons including corruption, lethargy, and prejudice."

Engineer's solution therefore is "the creation of an awareness of these schemes among the poor and illiterate Muslims and also pressure on the government through political parties and MPs to increase budget allocations." For this purpose, he recommends that Muslims should align with centrist and left-of-centre parties. Note that there's no appeal to Muslim politicians like G M Banatwala (of the Muslim League) and Ghulam Nabi Azad (of the Congress) to go merge in their communities and shake them out of their pitiable dependence on outside messiahs of the "secular" kind.

In short, the prescription is to let the Mulayam Singhs toil for the Muslims while Azad kow-tows Soniaji and the Muslims grovel in their ghetto mentality while continuing to complain about their innumerable grievances.

All it boils down to is a shrill cry for appeasement. And it has succeeded so well all these decades that even Bangaru Laxman believes that the Haj subsidy is not appeasement.

Arvind Lavakare

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