by Asghar Ali Engineer

(Secular Perspective, Feb. 1-15, 2003)

After the carnage in Gujarat and subsequent victory of Narendra Modi-led BJP in Gujarat has intensified threat of Hindutva forces. The Hindutva forces not only celebrated the victory in Gujarat but also declared their intention to repeat the Gujarat model in other states in coming elections. It is not so surprising after all that even the Prime Minister Vajpayee when asked about it, confirmed it. When reporters asked him would you repeat Gujarat model in other states he said, ìWill Godhra be repeatedî?

The implication of this cryptic reply is that if Godhra is repeated (or created?) in other states Gujarat model will be justified and the BJP Government will neither owe responsibility to prevent Godhra-like occurrence nor the subsequent events that followed in Gujarat. Thus the BJP owes no responsibility to enforce rule of law but rule of hate, blind revenge and violence.

Such hateful and revengeful Hindutva (which believes in even worshipping weapons on every Dasehra day) is bound to terrify minorities against whom its ire is directed. A question now is being asked what should be the response of minorities to the aggressive Hindutva? Should they submit to its demands for complete submission and accept the concept of Hindu Rashtra and status of mleccha? Or should they resist such demands and fight back with equal militancy?

I think no saner elements would advocate either course. To submit to such demands would amount to demise of democracy in our country and to fight back militantly would only strengthen the hands of Hindutva forces. What is better course then if both the above courses are not advisable? Before we discuss this we would like to throw some light on the stand taken by Jamat-e-Islami during sixties. It is again being advocated by some Muslims today.

The Jamat-e-Islami had advocated during the sixties that Muslims should not participate in the electoral process for two reasons: one, the Jamat was against secular politics and, second, it thought, as Sir Syed did in nineteenth century, it is in the interest of security and progress of Muslims to keep away from turbulent politics.

But both arguments go against the grain of democracy. Of course the Jamat has also accepted secular polity in India and no more advocates that Muslims keep away from electoral politics. Neither is tenable any more. Every one has realised that democracy can work only if it is secular. Hindu democracy or Islamic democracy prioritises religion over the notion of citizenship. In secular democracy citizenship is most fundamental, not religion. In Hindu Rashtra or Islamic democracy a Hindu or a Muslim will be more privileged than a non-Hindu or a non-Muslim. Thus such a course cannot be acceptable.

Not to participate in the electoral democracy is equally highly doubtful course. It clearly amounts to debunking democracy just because an aggressive section of majority community so demands or because it misuses electoral politics for forcing majoritarian values on minorities. Misuse of democracy cannot be negation of democracy. It amounts to throwing away baby along with bath water. Moreover, all Muslims cannot agree to such a course. They are 150 million in India and no leader of such a huge community can succeed in building consensus in the community on such a controversial course of action. Also, the Indian democracy will collapse if a community of 150 million keeps away from electoral process. There is no such precedent in any country of the world. If we add other minorities to this the problem assumes more massive dimension.

We have thus to evolve proper strategy for meeting the menace of Hindutva to the minorities. This can more easily be done by meeting this menace by winning the confidence of that major section of majority, which is aware of this menace or can be made aware of it. Hindutva forces, one should note, would ultimately set up an highly authoritarian regime and would undermine democracy. Thus the majority community should also understand that it is menace not only to minorities but also to majority itself. Its democratic freedoms would be in peril.

It is not true, as often claimed by the Hindutva forces, that Hinduism cant yield to theocratic or authoritarian set up and that only Hindus can be secular and democratic. Hinduism may not be a religion with one god, one prophet and one book but it does have many sects and panths with rigid shastric traditions and orthodoxies. The Hindutvawadis do talk of Manuvad and even advocated Manuís laws in place of modern Indian constitution. Originally the Constitution Review Commission was set up with a clandestine agenda to import Manuís laws back into the Indian mainstream. But thanks to hue and cry raised by democratic forces in the country that it did not succeed.

This shows that an aware secular democratic forces from the majority community can better stall Hindutva forces than an aggressive minority or minorities. However, most of the minority leaders either lack this wisdom or have ambition of their own to acquire instant leadership by using highly emotive issues. The Shah Bano and Babri Masjid issues, if handled with tact and wisdom by Muslim leadership, would not have had such disastrous implications they had.

There is need for think tanks at state and national level to tackle such controversial issues. The minorities should not respond to any emotional controversies impetuously without giving serious thought as to the consequences of taking a particular stand. Some ambitious leaders take hasty stand and put entire minority community in danger. The latest example is of an imam of the mosque in Gujarat appealing Muslims for coming out in large numbers to vote for the Congress and this appeal was published in a Gujarati paper Gujarat Today.

The BJP think tank immediately thought of exploiting it and various news paper advertisements were issued appealing the Hindus to come out in large numbers and vote for the BJP to frustrate the conspiracy against the Hindus. This also helped the Hindutva forces in registering 2/3rd majority in Gujarat. I was told by some secular Hindus in Gujarat that the imam was close to the BJP and he did so at the instance of the Sangh Parivar. Whether the imam was BJP agent or not it proves that how the Hindutva forces can exploit to hilt any mistake made by minority leaders.

Thus whenever such controversies arise ñ or are made to arise by the Hindutva forces ñ the minority leaders must restrain themselves and debate the issue preferably in a meeting of think tank from all possible angles and then take any stand. There are several issues like the Ramjanmabhoomi and Babri Masjid, which should be left to democratic and secular forces from majority community to fight it out. If this issue had not been projected majority versus minority and had been projected as secular democratic versus majoritarianism it would have had very different consequences.

The whole nature of fight would have been different. Of course the democratic secular forces also did not intervene effectively in the matter (the Congress Government led by
Shri Narsimha Rao even allowing demolition of the mosque) and the whole nation had to face the consequences. The country would not have faced bloodbath in Mumbai in 1992-93 and in Gujarat if secular forces had effectively intervened in the matter.

The secular and democratic forces in majority community also have high stakes in strengthening secularism in the country. A pluralist democracy cannot survive without secularism. Our Constitution incorporated pluralism even without mentioning the word ësecularí as equal citizenship rights irrespective of caste, creed or race is not possible without secular politics. If the Hindutva forces win the greatest danger will be to our constitution and our pluralism.

Also, it is important for minorities, especially for Muslims to thoroughly imbibe democratic and secular values. A progressive and secular outlook is very necessary. Clinging to old traditions in the name of religion is not in the interests of the community even otherwise. There should be great stress on modern education and concerted efforts should also be made to modernise madrasas. Those who resist modern knowledge will have no where to go.

We should also convince the Hindu majority that the Qurínic term kaifr does not apply to them. It had its connotation in the Arab society in which the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) preached. Our ancestors like Mazhar Jan-I-Janan did precisely this. The RSS, the most important and ideological force behind Hindutva has convinced many Hindus that Muslims consider them as kafirs and the Qurían requires all kafirs to be killed. This misinformation campaign has to be fought very effectively to carry majority of Hindus with Muslims.

It is also necessary for various minorities and weaker sections of society like dalits and tribals to come together along with secular and democratic forces of the majority community. One should not, however, form a separate block of minorities and dalits. It only provokes large majority to consolidate itself and goes to the advantage of Hindutva forces. In Gujarat the Hindutva forces have effectively used dalits and tribals against minorities. One has to deeply reflect on Hinduvaís success in doing so.

On the whole it is very complex problem and minorities have to take various aspects of this multi-dimensional problem to tackle it effectively and successfully. It would also require constant evaluation of fast developing political situation and adopting effective strategies from time to time.   

* Centre for Study of Soceity and Secularism, Mumbai.

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