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Dear friend Tarek,
Hope all is well with you in India. I had noticed when some twitterati tried to enlist your support in condemning me for my last column where I had argued that Narendra Modi was not the great prime minister some believed him to be, you refused to join the RSS/BJP’s social media marauders, euphemistically referred to as trolls. You simply and truthfully stated that you and I agreed on many things but “differed on Modiji”, implying your belief in his greatness.
I must tell you that I was angry that you had been threatened for expressing your views on Indian politics on Indian soil. Over the last few years the torrent of attempts to suppress and deny freedom of expression in India by some Indians has made me sad and concerned for the state of Indian democracy. The basic decency of listening to the other and frankly saying your piece is at the heart of any true democracy. If after almost 70 years of democratic experience, a significant number of Indian citizens don’t honour that basic premise of democracy, I am afraid the leaders and citizens alike are failing India.
We have known each other for several decades. I have long admired your firm and consistent stand for progressive values of secularism and social justice. You have relentlessly and for long opposed Islamism as a force inimical to principles of egalitarian social justice and social solidarity. And for that you have determinedly faced the danger of physical threats and violence. I have supported your struggle against Islamism just as you have mine against the often violent forces of Khalistani separatism that have threatened and done physical violence to me. We have both vigorously supported and long cherished the idea of a united, progressive and secular India. You have been deeply emotionally connected to India, often describing yourself as an Indian born in Pakistan. For you and me, the civilisational Indianness goes beyond any borders drawn by the colonial rulers in 1947 or the subsequent creation of Bangladesh. It extends beyond any religion, language or region. We both believe in the larger cultural and civilisational India, larger than the India within its physical national borders.
Tarek, your recent forays into the Indian media including Fatah’s Fatwa have earned you the deep admiration of the right wing forces such as the RSS. You, who happens to be a Muslim, are being celebrated as an affirmer of the right wing Hindutva’s often distorted and twisted feelings and perceptions of Indians who happen to be Muslim. But the right wing Hindutva hasn’t ever pretended to be building an inclusive India of your dreams or mine. Their inclusion is not the inclusion of the minorities into a generous and compassionate country that has celebrated diversity from times immemorial — at least several millenia before it became fashionable in the rest of the world; theirs is the equality of the majority — not the equality of all with lots of room for diversity to flourish with dignity and respect. Their equality is on their terms, not on egalitarian principles. The right wing Hindutva empathises only with whosoever worships or thinks like them. Its idea of equality seeks total submission to its own truths.
The right wing Hindutva has an obsession with what one may term “the Hinduness” of all Indians. Yes, at some point in history all of us in the Indian subcontinent were Hindus before some became Buddhists, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs and Christians or of other faiths. But the Indianness of your present Indian admirers doesn’t concede or respect the Indianness of those who won’t make a confession of their past Hinduness. In their twisted worldview there is little or no room for anyone being a proud Indian unless sanctified by the public confession of their ancient Hinduness. Yet all Indians, including Hindus, Muslims, Christians and others, are and have been proud Indians.
Tarek, you know that as a result of the last several decades of the Wahabi financed distortions of Sunni Islam in Pakistan, today’s Pakistani Islam is very much different from the unique Indian Islam the Pakistanis had inherited as part of their Indian heritage. With that fundamental change in its Sunni Islam, Pakistan has become a factory for terror recruits for the Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS and other terrorist organisations. On the other hand, with only a very few exceptions, Indian Muslims have proudly shown that there is a peaceful middle way for harmonious societies; the choices aren’t limited to Donald Trump’s racist and xenophobic nationalism ; Al Qaeda’s, ISIS’ or Taliban’s world of brutal hate and violence or the RSS/BJP inspired narrow religious nationalism. Recently, Sartaj Mohammed became one of the finest examples of Indianness and Indian Islam. He became India and Indian Islam personified when he simply stated that his dead terrorist son couldn’t be his if he, the son, couldn’t be of his motherland India. I can’t even begin to imagine Sartaj’s hurt, pain and anguish; but his soaring steely Indianness touched my soul just as I am certain it did yours.
My friend, in reality your ‘celebrity status’ in India is an expression of the majoritarian right wingers’ unfortunate but rabid minority complex. You are giving vent to the feelings they have had bottled up inside them for decades; you are saying out loud what they have long whispered to each other. To them you are a God-sent tribune of their long suppressed dreams. As a Pakistani or, as you put it, as “an Indian born in Pakistan”, you lend respectability to their majoritarian grievances. In you they feel reaffirmed. Rightly or wrongly, in your words they find an expression of their long felt majoritarian urge for a uniform India of uniform Indians–an urge to build an India where all will act, think, feel and perceive alike.
The situation India finds itself in is the result of the several decades’ long perseverance and struggle of the RSS and other like-minded outfits and politicians to bring about in India a spirit of nationalism based on the majority religion; in other words to turn a secular India into a country of the majority’s religious nationalism. The RSS’ persistent and successful nurturing of the insidious minority complex in many Indian minds belonging to the majority is now fuelling the BJP’s brand of nationalism which is quick to brand men and women disagreeing with them ‘the other’–the enemies of the country. The engineered elevation of the controversial Yogi Adityanath is the latest successful assault of the dangerous BJP/RSS brand of nationalism that is now dominating the politics of India.
My friend, happy sojourn in our motherland. May your “Fatwas” help enhance peace, democracy and prosperity in the Indian subcontinent!
DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Indian Express