Ravi S. Jha, Khaleej Times, 16 March 2006
NEW DELHI — There has been a spate of events recently that define a not so surprising trend sweeping across India; a trend where both strength and weakness of a secular democracy is palpable. But more than any change in India, it is this young nation that seems to have been standing up for liberal principles than ever before.
When Hindus and Muslims played Holi together and participated in a lively mushaira (urdu poetry session), an event that was held on Monday night far from the capital, to celebrate cricketer Munaf Patel’s 7-wicket haul over England in a small village in riot-torn Gujarat, one could have easily noticed this new makeover.
When a large number of Muslims joined hands with their Hindu brethren in Varanasi in mark of solidarity, post tragic bomb blasts that rocked the temple town killing two dozen people and injuring hundreds, this change was yet again evident; more and more Muslim organisations have condemned the acts of terror.
And, more so, ask Wahida Prizm — a Muslim girl from Kashmir, who became the first lady in India to escort the passing out parade of Armed Force Medical College in Pune — if Muslims need to prove their loyalty. One could have seen a sense of pride, dignity and honour in her eyes as she led the parade. Her father was gunned down by terrorists not long ago.
In these varying times, when ghastly intentions of militants and divisive motives of politicians are failing them, it is not surprising that politicians like Haji Yaqoob Qureshi, a minister in Uttar Pradesh who declared a reward for the Danish cartoonist’s head, has come up for condemnation by Muslims from all quarters.
If a large number of Muslims have asked for Qureshi’s removal, it is also because of the growing belief of the masses in secular principles that has spurred the need for Muslims to speak and be heard, perhaps, louder than ever before, when the Bharatiya Janata Party feels Hindutva is simmering under the surface, waiting to leap out.
It is not the Muslim masses that want people like Qureshi to continue in public office, but a non-Muslim Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has refused to sack him. There may be a strong reason for leaders to play petty politics, but even that is not getting unnoticed; thanks to complete lack of sensitivity among the political parties.
While the Congress party is shamefully silent on Qureshi’s utterances, BJP says it’s time to go on rath yatras. Writes a leading TV journalist: "The same Congress that uses textbook rules to secure a vindictive expulsion of Jaya Bachchan from Parliament is conveniently inert when it comes to Qureshi. And it’s the Marxists whose need to march with Mulayam has made them silently look the other way."
Veteran editor Vir Sanghvi points out the need for more such transformations where Hindus and Muslims need not surrender at the slightest provocation.
"When the VHP goes on the rampage, it is liberal Hindus who issue the loudest condemnation. When the lunatic fringe of the Muslim community gets agitated about the length of Sania Mirza’s skirt or about a cartoon in a European paper, few moderate Muslim voices are heard," he states. But all that has to change and, fortunately, has begun to. Sanghvi states that every nasty, unpleasant political grouping has a ready-made strategy: protest against a book on Shivaji, an art exhibition, a novel or a movie. "The threat of violence (and in many cases the violence itself) will cause the state to impose a ban and the political grouping will seem important and powerful. That is how the unit of film Water was driven out of India and that is how the Shiv Sena has hounded M.F. Husain."
One does agree that if India is not to become a soft state, then it has to stand up for liberal principles. While Sanghvi has reasonable justification to state how easy it has become for Hindu zealots to caricature the entire Muslim community as comprising fanatics, the Muslims are out in large numbers to articulate reality.
Saeed Sherwani, a known Muslim commentator, states: "Qureshi be dammed for all I care. But it upsets me when the media scream for his resignation while at the same time an Indian chief minister (Gujarat’s Narendra Modi) continues in his post after being responsible for the murder of 3,000 Indians."
He says: "The Muslims came out in large numbers not to protest George Bush’s nuclear deal with India but to protest against the perceived anti-Islamic stance of his administration and to express their anger against blasphemous cartoons. The politicians are taking advantage of this."
"Muslims in Uttar Pradesh are not going to vote for the Left, and if they are going to vote for Mulayam, it is not because of him not taking action against Qureshi, but because the BJP labels them ‘anti-national’, while Congress remains politically insignificant in the state," he asserts.
NDTV’s Barkha Dutt adds: "The day of the (Varanasi) blasts, I got a call from a member of the Muslim Personal Law Board, scared and worried about a ‘backlash’, wanting to condemn the blasts on national television so that nobody misunderstood its response. The subtext is clear. Fifty-nine years after India was born, we are still asking Muslims to wear their nationalism like an identity card." We are still asking for proof of loyalty. Aren’t we?