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Published in the 16-31 Dec 2003 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

The path to hell is paved with good intentions

In his interview to Vidya Subrahmaniam (The Times of India, 18 November, 2003) Arif Mohammad Khan, who does not want to be a 'prisoner of the Congress-BJP dichotomy', has tried to rationalize his ambivalence by misrepresenting history and misinterpreting national politics.

Both Hindu and Muslim communalism formed prominent strands of our national politics during the freedom movement and because they failed to come to terms or find an equitable balance, our country was divided and the nationalist forces had to accept the Partition. For at least 20 years, after independence, the Congress tried its best to promote secular politics against the persistent pressure of the Hindu Right. No doubt the Congress or Pandit Nehru or his government had to accommodate Hindu sentiments and made many compromises e.g. non-removal of the idols surreptitiously and unlawfully introduced in the Babari Masjid in December, 1949, virtual exile of Urdu from their field of education, administration and information, non-prosecution of those who disturbed communal harmony and engaged in communal violence, to mention just a few. It would, however, be unfair to say, as Arif Mohd. Khan does, that the Congress is the 'initiator of communal politics'. To any rational student of history, the forces of Hindu nationalism and of majoritarian democracy are not only the initiator but the creator, the sustainer and the beneficiary of this brand of divisive politics.

The doors to communal chaos were opened not by the legislation to overrule the Chandrachud Judgement, as Arif Mohd. Khan says, but by the young and immature Rajiv Gandhi deciding to play the Hindu card in 1985-86 and reviving the Babari Masjid question by opening its locked doors. His so-called surrender to Muslim conservatism in the Shah Bano Case was nothing more than a damage control exercise to regain Muslim support lost by his Hindu tilt. Incidentally the Supreme Court's latest ruling says that the object and purpose of the Muslim Divorcee's Act, 1986 was to confirm and clarify the Chandrachud judgement not to nullify it! In any case, today the Muslim divorcees are far better placed than non-Muslim divorcees by Section 125 of the Cr. P.C.

Unable to sustain his argument against the Congress, Arif Mohd. Khan falls back on the hackneyed charge of Congress alliance with the IUML in Kerala. He forgets that in the segmented politics of Kerala, where every party openly espouses the interest of its social constituency, the IUML is not regarded as a communal organization. This is why even the CPM, once upon a time, made an alliance with it. Who knows tomorrow it might not do so again, if the Congress breaks up and loses power and the IUML, always anxious to be in power, is prepared to play second fiddle to the CPM?

Arif Mohd. Khan blames the Muslim League for the Partition. India was not partitioned by the Muslim League or by the Muslims but by the British with the consent of the Congress. Had the Congress not succumbed to and resisted the attraction for power, had the Congress accepted the Cripps Formula or the Rajagopalacharia Formula or even the Cabinet Mission Plan, had it not taken the initiative to partition Bengal and Punjab on religious basis, had it agreed to vest residual power in the provinces, the Partition could have been averted. However, the seeds of Partition were sown by Lajpat Rai and Savarkar, not by Jinnah or Gandhi. Of course, the crop was harvested by Jinnah.

True, there is no Muslim leader of national status. This is primarily because the Muslims are a pan-Indian community unlike the Chamars or the Dusadhs or the Yadavs! True also that Muslims have placed their trust in secular politics. In fact, today they constitute the most committed defenders of the secular order which is under siege by the Hindutva ideology which has sympathizers in every secular party. Yet it is absolute nonsense to say that the Muslims are 'controlled' by the Muslim Personal Law Board or the leadership of the Babari Masjid Movement. In fact these organizations deal only with specific issues. Muslims all over India politically support a national or regional party and are in the process of developing local and regional leadership to take care of their religious, political, cultural, economic and, above all, educational needs. Yes, they have to consult each other to compare notes on their experience, share information and expertise, under some umbrella organization so that the national perspective is not lost. But the umbrella organization does not amount to a political party.

All religious minorities desire unity or alliance or at least understanding among the secular parties. To some extent the arrogance of the Congress is responsible for not bringing them together but to a large extent, it is also the exaggerated demands of mini and micro parties. Also the ethos of anti-Congressism generated during the Janata upsurge is responsible to some extent. Anti-Congressism always had an anti-Nehru and anti-secular strand. This has been nourished by the Sangh Parivar and its political front the BJP for its own advantage.

Arif Mohd. Khan is totally off the mark when he asserts that the common Hindu has 'strong anti-Muslim feelings'. The anti-Muslim virus has its concentration in the urban middle class and even in a section of the urban elite, nourished by the Hindu NRI's abroad. The common Hindu in our villages and towns is by and large secular; sometimes in a state of communal tension they may succumb to incitement and take to violence, as dalits or tribals of Gujarat were used by the Sangh Parivar and the Modi Government for enacting the gory drama of Gujarat Genocide. But the responsibility for massive and organized communalization rests exclusively with the BJP and its sister organizations which have a hold on a section of the mass media and the educational and cultural establishment.

The Congress still commands a majority of the Hindu votes. So Arif Mohd. Khan is again wrong to say that the Congress has lost credibility with the Hindus.

Secularism is not a denial of religion or of religious identity, even of religious orthodoxy but of fanaticism and quest of power in the name of religion, or exercise of power to promote religious interests. 

Arif Mohd. Khan has no reason to nurse any apprehension about his Indian identity. He is a citizen by birth, and except for his Aligarh days, he has been a secular nationalist. But secularism has no meaning if it does not respond to the legitimate aspirations and protect the constitutional rights of all religious minorities, including those within the Hindu fold, through equitable participation of all in governance in accordance with the principles of social justice. Secular governance lies in addressing the genuine problems of the religious minorities on the same terms as those faced by other disadvantaged groups and in adopting equidistance and neutrality in inter-group conflict not in overlooking or ignoring the minorities for fear of being dubbed communalist.

In the final analysis, any political activist or theorist, who equates the Congress and the BJP, objectively helps the BJP. Perhaps by adopting a seemingly liberal and non-partition stance, Arif Mohd. Khan is paving his way to the BJP. Need one remind him that the path to hell is paved with good intentions.

Syed Shahabuddin

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