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Published in the 16-31 Mar 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

The Sermon from Talkatora
By Saeed Suhrawardy

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Bhartiya Janata Party president Venkaiah Naidu had to don green headgear to identify themselves with minorities and their aspirations. The occasion was the Minorities Development Convention on February 26, 2004 at Talkatora Stadium, New Delhi. The Minority Cell of Bhartiya Janata Party organized the rally. 
Heading the election of Bhartiya Janata Party and Sangh Parivar, he has changed his headgear so many times that significance of the colour was missed by many. It was merely change of costume according to requirements of the stage. It is necessary that the colour of headgear should synchronize with the ideas in the head.

Not to be left behind his deputy, L.K. Advani did better. He managed to get his Dastarbandi done, before an arranged audience of Muslims. Once again the colour was green. With meticulous care he wanted to convey the message that Muslims have forgotten and forgiven the mischief done by his previous rathyatras.

Unfortunately even very few Muslims are aware of Dastarbandi according to Islamic tradition. Normally ceremonial Dastarbandi or fixing the turban is done on two occasions. It is done when one is appointed spiritual heir (Khalifa) of a holy person in his lifetime or after his death. The second is something like convocation in the European system of education. Dastarbandi is done for students who have successfully completed the entire course of a religious centre of education. That is like doing graduation or post graduation. Of course the graduates get certificates or Sanads also, to serve them for lifetime. Dastarbandi is different from award of certificates. It is a public ceremony by head of the institution or an honourable guest, specially invited for the occasion. Of course the teachers and students are present. For that reason it is remembered by the recipient of the degree as the brightest moment of academic career. The headgear carries sanctity according to Islamic tradition. The colour of Dastar (Headgear) is not important. It may be green, black or white. Saffron headgear is popular with the adherents of Nizami Silsila (Order). 

It is not clear what are the qualifications of Vajpayee and Adavani for the green headgear, adopted to please or ‘appease’ Muslims. They have appropriated an honour, conferred on others for universally recognized and established merit or achievement. Using an old cliché, they have an axe to grind. 

If the BJP leadership had done necessary introspection, they should have realized that they have to address themselves and not Muslims for their political concerns. Sermons of Talkatora variety shall not erase painful memories of demolition of Babari Mosque, the riots that followed and recent Gujarat riots.

The rally was organized ostensibly for the development of the minorities. That was an appropriate occasion for listing the efforts made by them for the welfare of minorities during the reign of NDA Government. What was served was ‘updesh’ (sermon) and promises. The newspapers have reported his speech on the occsion differently. According to Pioneer, Delhi, dated February 27, 2004, Vajpayee asked the minorities to come out of the “fear psychosis” and appealed to them to “think and decide” in the coming polls. “Get out of the fear that is dividing the nation and vote for a Government that would not allow any community to live in fear. 

According to the dictionary meaning of ‘psychosis’, it is a serious mental illness, where one loses touch with life’s reality. The pertinent question is, who has lost touch with reality—those who treat a community as terrorist or a community that reacts to such treatment with fear. The truth is that BJP and the Sangh Parivar are the groups that suffer from acute paranoia and psychosis. They fear Muslims, Christians and all those who have a liberal secular outlook. Muslims are blamed for terrorism; Christians for conversion and liberal secular elements are branded as ‘pseudo secularists’. The latter are chastised for appeasement of minorities. Unfortunately they too had to indulge in ‘appeasement of minorities’ by organizing the Development Convention for Minorities. 

The 13th Lok Sabha provided Vajpayee, his party and coalition partners an ideal opportunity to work sincerely for liberating the minorities from the ‘fear psychosis’. Unfortunately their worst fears are likely to get aggravated by another rathyatra undertaken by Advani. The rally provided an ideal occasion for NDA Government to show what they had done for the welfare of minorities. But they have nothing to offer except ‘sermons’. Their fashionable and facile platitude is blaming Congress for the plight of the minorities. NDA Government had the opportunity to show that they can do better. On the contrary Narendra Modi and Gujarat enacted genocide with impunity. Minorities continue to languish in Gujarat. The disturbing development is that Madhya Pradesh under Uma Bharati, is following the Gujarat model. At the Convention, there was no reference to Gujarat genocide or the atrocities committed on Christians in Gujarat, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, to mention only a few among them. The correct title of the Convention should have been ‘exercise for securing votes of minorities’. They had nothing to show for ‘achievements’. They had no concrete to promise for the future.

During four and half years of their rule at the Centre, they had the opportunity to work sincerely for better understanding between Hindus and minorities including Muslims. Had they done that the atmosphere today would have been different.. There would have been no need of this mock exercise, paraded as ‘Development Convention for Minorities.’ In that context, it is relevant to cite the following extract from the editorial note of Indian Express, Delhi, dated February 27, 2004.

“Vajpayee’s invitation to the minority community to shed their fears and insecurities and reciprocate the BJP’s overture will need to be bolstered by much more. Because in the long run, inclusiveness is also a policy and a programme, it must be seen to be implemented on the ground. Vajpayee’s ‘peace card’ also needs to be owned by his colleagues in BJP-led governments in the states, and especially by them. Here, the news is not encouraging. In Gujarat, the CBI report on the Bilkis Yakub Rasool case has just bared the extent of the Narendra Modi administration’s complicity in hushing up crimes of murder and rape. In Madhya Pradesh, this paper has tracked the revealing contrasts of the Uma Bharati Government. Police officers who acted promptly to contain the recent communal flare up in Ujjain must face inquiries in Bhopal while the sate maintains its studied inaction vis-ŕ-vis officials accused or watching Sangh activists go on a violent rampage against Christian missionaries in Jhabua.”

It is the ‘guilt complex’ of BJP, RSS and Sangh Parivar that makes them think that Muslims do not vote for them. In that context, it is relevant to quote from the column, ‘Final Word’ by Kay Abey, carried in Weekly Indian Currents, Delhi, dated March 7, 2004.

“The BJP, as well as other parties, have reached the conclusion on Mualims, based on presumptions. It is commonsense to presume that when you do not treat someone well, you do not expect any favour in return. BJP’s behaviour towards Muslims has been so outrageous over the years that it presumes that very few people from that community will vote for it. Hence, the BJP’s expectations from Muslim community are an indirect admission that it has not treated the community well.”

There is nothing wrong that the BJP has come to realize that they need ‘Muslim Vote’ for success in the next polls. If that feeling is sincere, it may end the chapter of acrimony between two major communities of the country. They have an advantage. Muslims do not have any special affection for Indian National Congress. But for winning their favour they have to come up with a better and brighter record. ¤

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