What is a moderate Indian Muslim to do? @Chetan_Bhagat

With a typical sleight of hand, that somehow always escapes his presumably loyal following of his column 'The underage optimist' in a national daily, he absolves the 'moderate Muslim,' resignedly sighing: 'What is a moderate Muslim to do?'

Proclaiming “It’s not moderate Muslims’ fault”, in an uncharacteristically generous moment pop-pundit of Hindutva, Chetan Bhagat, lets moderate Muslims off the hook, even as he sets the stage characteristically for reviling their religion alongside. To quote him in full flow: “religion (Islam) gets associated with terror, hate, intolerance and violence. Even though people from other religions don’t say it, you (Muslims) can feel their prejudice towards you. With every incident, your religion gets more tainted.”

With a typical sleight of hand, that somehow always escapes his presumably loyal following of his column “The underage optimist” in a national daily, he absolves the “moderate Muslim,” resignedly sighing: “What is a moderate Muslim to do?”

Before answering the question, let’s first turn the question round and ask Mr. Bhagat, in the context of what is happening in India under the champion he has been cheer leader for, “What is a moderate Hindu to do?”

Your religion, Mr. Bhagat, is increasingly in danger of being hijacked by extremists. Absent intervention by the Mr. Bhagat’s champion, can it be taken that this takeover of Hinduism by a narrow, right-wing philosophy has government imprimatur? The assault on minorities is the obvious part of what is happening.

What is actually happening is the subversion of Hinduism from the inside. Its tolerance and broad philosophical streams within are being slowly and surely contaminated.

What is a moderate Hindu to do? Is he to keep up his political support for Mr. Modi who is presiding over all this in the hope that economic dividend will sweep such social costs under the carpet? Or is he to speak up, stand up and be counted, before his religion is distorted? While Mr. Bhagat believing people associate “terror, hate, intolerance and violence” with Islam, thinking people will never ascribe distortion resulting from cultural nationalism to Hinduism, one of the humanity’s great succours. They will place the blame where it rightly belongs, at politics door. 

Mr. Bhagat will be well advised to use his prolific pen introspectively to sermonise for the moderate Hindu, who has handed over power to Mr. Modi, to rethink timely. It is not only Hinduism at stake; it is over time the nation. The relatively greater power that moderate Hindus have to preserve Hinduism - in contrast to the moderate Muslim’s ability to preserve Islam from extremism within and Islamophobia without - implies that they can do much more and should do so. Should the silent majority of moderate Hindus remain silent, leaving the defence of their faith to a minority of active, courageous, secular-minded Hindus alone? Can these stalwart guardians of Hinduism match the government-backed politico-cultural formations running rampage across India? Mr. Bhagat, do answer: “What is the moderate Hindu to do?”

Leaving Mr. Bhagat with a taste of his own medicine, it is worth dissecting his answer. He believes that moderate Muslims cannot reclaim their faith. It requires the “UN and NATO” and “an organisation equivalent to the UN for all the world’s religions, backed by world leaders.” Since the NATO is part of the problem, Mr. Bhagat’s referring to it as a knight in shining armour reveals his lack of political sense, easily attributable to his IIT-IIM, and therefore technical as against political, background. As for the UN, it is indeed doing all it can. Since a “UN of world religions” makes little sense – perhaps his allusion to inter-faith dialogue – we shall let it pass here.

Clearly, then Mr. Bhagat has no answer to his question: “what can be done?” Which brings one back full circle to the beginning: to the aim behind his article.

It is apparent that it is Mr. Bhagat’s smoke-screen to cover what is happening in India by alighting on what happened in Pakistan, and then typically riding off on his favourite hobby horse, minority-bashing.

But then, since he has raised the question of significance for readers of this journal, the answer bears an attempt on two levels: one is internal to India in relation to the onslaught on Hinduism and India, and the second, external, in relation to the problem that defies Mr. Bhagat.

Internally, India’s moderate Muslim majority has to stay engaged with moderate Hindus, strengthening them strategically against their rabid counterparts. The first ones to take a hit will be this, vocal secular Hindu minority. Once they are silenced, Hinduism would be up for grabs with the secular Hindu majority bought off with the economic sops that they voted Mr. Modi into power for. Since Muslims will be next in the queue, the majoritarian nationalists will rely on provocations to gain an excuse to tamp down the minority to second class citizenship.

Moderate Muslims have their task cut out. They are to in the interim emerge as the leadership of Muslims so as to prevent such an outcome over the middle term. They are to work in tandem with the secular Hindu vocal minority in arousing the secular Hindu silent majority to deploy its vote, this time to overthrow the pretender who has taken over their faith and country in their name.  

Externally, Mr. Bhagat’s reliance on the NATO as an answer suggests that moderate Muslims need to dispel the argument for a “military solution,” an oxymoron if ever there was one.

The heinous act in Peshawar that set Mr. Bhagat off on his article was not without a context. Part of the context has been persistence of colonialism in the form of external interference and military presence in Muslim lands in general and in the region in particular.

Clearly, while there is every call for the terrorists who planned and perpetrated this crime, and such likes crimes in the region including in India, need to be administered their just deserts, other measures than military ones need highlighting and pursuing alongside. Ending the militarised environment in such lands is the answer. Take for instance the AfPak region. This crime originated partially in lack of the peace surge accompanying Mr. Obama’s military surge. If the former had kept pace in terms of developmental and educational efforts in the “ungoverned space” between Pakistan and Afghanistan, such crimes would have been prevented. To wit, firstly, moderate Muslims world-wide have to fight this notion that terrorism has only a military solution. Secondly, moderate Muslims in India need to weigh-in against cultural nationalism-inspired strategic and intelligence pro-activism on India’s part. 

And finally, back to Mr. Bhagat’s platitudinous comparison, “that Hindu radical groups don’t have as much power as Muslim radical groups do around the world at present.” Unlike Muslim radical groups that are pursued and hunted by respective states across Muslim lands, Hindu radicals instead have the power of a nuclear armed state being placed at their disposal by its very government! They have fulfilled the epitome of Tzun Tsu’s art of war: taken over the government of a nuclear power and without a fight, democratically empowered by the secular, but silent, Hindu majority, sadly bought off by the mere promise of “acche din”!

Firdaus Ahmed is author of Think South Asia and Subcontinental Musings that can be downloaded from his blog,

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