Modi’s Ajmer-Move

Controversy is likely to rage for quite some time on what really prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to send a chaadar on his behalf to the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer Sharif. Would Modi have indulged in this practice if United States President Barack Obama had not sent a chaadar to this famous sufi dargah? There is a similarity between the chaadar being offered by US President as well as Modi. Though the dargah has had visitors and chaadars largely from the South Asian region, this was the first time that a chaadar had been offered on behalf of people and government of the United States. Similarly, while various Indian government representatives have sent chaadars quite regularly to Ajmer Sharif, there is no official record of Modi having indulged in this practice earlier. Not surprisingly, against the backdrop of his communal background, deliberations are taking place on what should Modi’s Ajmer-move really be suggestive of?

While a chaadar from US was presented at Ajmer on 20 April, that from Modi was handed on 22 April. Clearly, this suggests that probably Modi was not prepared to indulge in this gesture. Had that been the case, he would have probably ensured it being sent on his behalf on the very first day of the 803rd annual urs of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. Even former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee sent a chaadar on his behalf a day earlier than Modi could make it. Of course, in essence, it really doesn’t matter who sends it when and with what intention, but where Modi is concerned, one is tempted to analyse what may have really prompted him to display this Ajmer-move. It may be recalled, when in active politics, Vajpayee did not refrain from hosting and attending Iftar parties. On those occasions, he also wore a skull cap.

Modi’s secular approach towards Islam and Muslims cannot as yet be viewed as secular as was projected by Vajpayee. Last year, after assuming power as Prime Minister, Modi displayed a shift in a “secular” approach maintained by his predecessors during the month of Ramadan. He did not host any Iftar party and did not attend the one hosted at Rashtrapati Bhawan by the Indian President. In fact, what stood out last year was the decline in number of Iftar parties hosted in Delhi by members of BJP-led government. Even those who had held these earlier, when their party was in opposition, did not host any last year. The obvious reason doing the rounds then was that Modi was not in favour of religious symbolism and his party associates had no intention to anger him by hosting an Iftar party.

Had Modi’s “secularism” been marked by some religious symbolism, since his taking over as India’s prime minister, his Ajmer-move would not have raised any questions. But the hard fact that Modi gave greater importance to maintaining a distance from religious symbolism, particularly where minorities are concerned, cannot be ignored. The same is marked by his government’s decision to declare 25 December, the day of Christian celebrations, as “Good Governance Day.” The day was selected as it was the birthday of Vajpayee. However, the move angered Christians and secular Indians as it targeted the most important religious day marked by the former. They criticized it as a part of the communal agenda targeting minorities indulged in by Modi’s government.

Within less than a year in office, has Modi suddenly decided to backtrack from pursuing his communal agenda? His Ajmer-move certainly suggests this but with a hitch. Perhaps he may not have indulged in his Ajmer-move had the United States President not displayed such religious symbolism.

If Modi has offered a chaadar at Ajmer primarily because Obama has done so, this suggests that he is paying total attention to every possible move that may help him remain in US president’s good books. And this is certainly not suggestive of Modi turning to actual secularism in the context of Indian socio-political reality. Numerous questions remain unanswered on whether Modi has really ensured any suitable compensation for Muslims and other minorities, targeted by communal riots.

Modi is welcome to send chaadars to Ajmer and other places, but this as apparently understood by him is only “religious symbolism.” Prospects of Modi appearing more secular and friendly towards Indian Muslims by his Ajmer-move are as good as non-existent. And that shall probably remain the case till Modi actually starts taking secular steps to prevent discrimination against minorities and action against those pursuing communal agenda targeting minorities. His Ajmer-move has certainly brought him in headlines but not without raising questions on who is Modi really trying to please? Perhaps, a part of agenda being actively pursued by Modi from day one, since he stepped as the country’s prime minister, is to dominate the headlines. Well, if Ajmer-move can help him remain in top news, he has wasted little time in adopting this strategy. If it could have some importance for US government and its president, how could Modi remain oblivious of its significance?    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 May 2015 on page no. 11

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