ARTICLES FROM THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN
Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2017.
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his is in continuation of my last piece in which I have tried to exhort my Muslim countrymen to realise for themselves how their great religion has become hostage to its interpreters, who have stripped it of all its past glory, its love of knowledge and premium on reason, and have equated it today with legitimisation of terror, jihad, and fanaticism.
I turn next to the term "secularism", a term that has been so misused, abused and transmogrified in the Indian political context, that even a moderately educated person can see the calumny behind it.
I have often spoken in public in India and abroad, particularly before American universities and audiences about the true content and meaning of "secularism". Primarily it means complete neutrality by the state in matters of religion, neither supporting, nor opposing it; treating all citizens equally regardless of their religion, without favouring or giving preferential treatment to any particular religion or non-religion; constitutional bar against the state adopting any religion as its state religion; no mixing of religion and politics for vote banks, as religion is a matter of personal faith.
The Wahhabis, who are propagating their fanatical brand of Islam, seem to have indoctrinated their flock through their dissemination apparatus, that secularism demands that every non-Islamic state must guarantee not only full religious freedom to Muslim minorities, but also representation and unwritten reservation in state affairs, administration, religious subsidies, etc. But what they do not advocate is any similar corresponding obligation by Islamic states towards their own religious minorities. Can the Islamic state of Pakistan explain how and why their minority populations are shrinking, particularly the Hindu minority that has reportedly shrunk from approximately 15% during the time of partition to about 2% today? Will our friends in the US, who have a dedicated Commission on International Religious Freedom, kindly take note of this before they pump the next instalment of their retainer amount into Pakistan?
The Congress party could have established its secular credentials, had the government led by Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, and other prominent, influential Muslim leaders like Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Sonia Gandhi, or the present Foreign Minister, Salman Khurshid, raised questions about the discrimination and cruelty being meted out to Hindu, Sikh, Shia and Christian minorities in Pakistan, perpetually subject to threat of blasphemy laws that can be twisted anyhow to issue death sentences. Abduction of young girls, forced marriages and conversions, repeatedly reported in the press have led to mass migration of Hindu families to India. Has our "secular" Congress government even bothered to take a public stand on this or seriously take up this matter with the Pakistan government? Can the Congress party not extend its secularism to demand rights for religious minorities in our neighbouring Islamic state, with the same vigour that it tried to push Sonia Gandhi's spurious Communal Violence Bill, which would have wrecked forever the vast critical mass of social and religious harmony that exists in our country, going deep down to the grassroots? The Sindhi community of Pakistan, both Hindu and Muslim have been campaigning for secession from Pakistan, so intense is their insecurity and humiliation. Their pathetic laments have reached organs of the United Nations.
In India too, the Islamic mindset encouraged by the Congress Party is that it is the obligation of the majority community alone to be secular, with no similar obligation incumbent upon the minority communities. Is it a coincidence, that over the last decade, one sees many more members of the Muslim community, instead of showing greater integration into mainstream India are trying to differentiate their identity from the rest of the population through their dress and physical appearance? The leadership of the Muslim community of India must do a reality check, and must come to terms with what they mean by "secularism", and what obligation secularism entails from the majority and minority communities.
Like the Wahhabis hijacked true Islam through their counterfeit version, which has brought nothing but misery to Islam and its worshippers, the Congress party hijacked true secularism through their counterfeit version of permanently dividing the majority and minority community through vote banks, spreading canards and vicious rumours about the BJP, and keeping alive a fictitious fear of Hinduism in the minds of the minorities. The perception of "secularism" that the Congress party has projected very successfully is that only anything pro-minority and anti majority is "secular". And the majority community, 80% of India's population, have not vocally protested.
Secularism as a political principle, the mainstay of our Constitution summed up in Article 25, came to us only after Independence, though it has always been an integral and well documented part of our social and political ethos. For centuries, persecuted religious minorities from other parts of the world came to India for asylum. Hinduism has never persecuted any other religion, and the essence of plurality and its coexistence are writ large and loud in our philosophic texts, and were also practised in action and spirit when Hindu kings ruled the subcontinent.
There was nothing secular about the Islamic state established after the Muslim conquest of India. Hindus were persecuted on religious grounds, and subjected to the jazya regime. The British ran a religion-neutral state, until they realised the great imperial dividend of dividing the two communities. But they substantially repealed almost the entire criminal portion of Shariat law, except rules relating to family and inheritance through Macaulay's Indian Penal Code. Muslim leaders and clerics adopted it without protest. However, their tryst with secularism was short lived, as their response to the Supreme Court judgement in the Shah Bano proves, and Rajiv Gandhi showed his true communal colours, bowing to the pressure of mullahs and vote banks and following a path that further blocked integration of the two communities in India. Rajiv ought to have realised that all laws must address existing social facts and current needs and that no laws can be claimed to be eternally unalterable except by some unalterable fanatics.
In a background where the Congress party is forever instigating the Muslims to remain apart from mainstream national identity; where it is partnering with Wahhabism that has taken over madrasas and is indoctrinating the young to be anti-secular; where secularism is demanded without believing that it is a universal entitlement and obligation of all faiths, it is imperative that enlightened leaders of both communities must come together and declare their commitment to true secularism. Secularism should not be viewed as a one sided undertaking by the majority community of respecting the rights and sentiments of all the minority communities; the same is incumbent on minority communities too.
India's innate secularism was universally witnessed, when it refused to make transfer of populations a condition for partition. This is a great tribute to the Hindu leadership that despite the strongest provocation in the demand for Pakistan based on religion, we refused to declare ourselves a Hindu state, but chose to be secular, conferring on all citizens the right to profess, practise and propagate their religions.
The principles of true secularism must be introduced in madrasas, and in all other religious and non-religious educational institutions. I am certain that once this happens, and secular values are instilled in the minds of the young, the Congress leadership will cease their anti-national investment in attempting a second partition between the Muslim and the Hindu communities of India for the sake of their vote banks, something they have thrived on.
I will be less than fully honest if I do not frankly declare that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was wholly wrong and those who participated in the operation damaged secularism apart from being liable to prosecutions and punishment. The Great Iqbal had called Lord Ram the Imam-e-Hind and would have gladly allowed a temple to be constructed by Hindus. And I am confident I would have persuaded Muslims to lovingly and reverentially participate in constructing it. A magnificent mosque and temple could have existed side by side, symbolic of our tolerant secularism. But some short-sighted, hot headed leaders willed otherwise. Wise leaders of all shades must now apply soothing honey to smarting wounds which fanatics keep inflicting upon each other. Muslims know that Hindus were only asking for a small compensation for thousands of temples destroyed during Muslim rule. Muslim leaders must accept the apology implicit in Advani's declaration: "It was a very bad day in my life."