If you are in the media and dare to say anything good about Donald Trump, you risk being called a lunatic. So it is with trepidation that I admit that I was impressed with something the American President said last week in Warsaw. His words had special resonance for me because I believe they are as relevant to India as the West. He said, “Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilisation in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”
He was speaking of the threat of jihadist Islam to Western, Christian civilisation and values. But almost no country needs to be more worried about jihadist Islam spreading than India, where more Muslims live than anywhere else, except Indonesia. The ideology of jihadist Islam is the exact opposite of the idea of India. What is the idea of India? The Dalai Lama defined it perfectly in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. He wrote, “India, where I now live, has been home to the ideas of secularism, inclusiveness and diversity for 3,000 years. One philosophical tradition asserts that only what we know through our five senses exists. Other Indian philosophical schools criticise this nihilistic view but still regard the people who hold it as rishis, or sages.”
Islamism is based on the idea that if you do not accept the narrow, evil version of Islam, on which the ISIS founded its Caliphate, then you deserve to be killed. Does India have the will to stand up against this violent new interpretation of Islam? It is this will that is being tested in the Kashmir Valley and those districts of West Bengal that border Bangladesh. The violence that we saw last week in Basirhat is being treated as a problem of law enforcement. But is it? In the Kashmir Valley every time there is a violent upsurge, ‘moderate’ Kashmiri politicians say that the problem is political. But is it?
In the long years that I have reported on the movement for ‘azadi’ in Kashmir, I have seen it change from being a place where the values of India were enshrined to becoming our own little Caliphate. This change began in the early Nineties when Kashmiri Pandits were forced out of the Valley, but most of us political commentators ignored what this meant. When liquor shops and bars were forcibly closed, when video libraries were vandalised and women forced to cover their heads, we ignored these things too. If moderate Kashmiri politicians noticed what was happening, they spoke of it only in private, and today it is groups declaring openly that they fight for Allah and Islam that have taken over. So is it a political movement we are dealing with or a religious one that threatens the values enshrined in the idea of India for thousands of years?
My familiarity with what has happened in West Bengal is limited but it has worried me to see Mamata Banerjee fraternise openly with bearded maulanas. In their presence, she veils her head Islamic style, and holds her hands up in prayer Islamic style. These may seem like small gestures, but are they? Do they not send a dangerous message? How much violence must there be under the surface in Basirhat for a child’s Facebook post to cause the violent upsurge we saw last week? It has been reported as just another ‘communal riot’, but is that all it is?
Most Indians have almost no interest in what happens in other countries, so what happened in Mindanao has barely found mention in our newspapers and news channels. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has been forced to impose martial law on the island because the town of Marawi was taken over by jihadist groups, who did this under ISIS flags. This happened at the end of May and Philippines’ troops are still fighting to get it back.
Can something like this happen in India? I believe it has already happened in some districts of the Kashmir Valley and that it can and must be fought and won, but only if we define our values clearly, and do not demean them by trying to imitate exactly those aspects of Islamism that have made it the scourge of our times. Those who are currently hunting Muslim cattle-traders on our highways are not representing the idea of India at all.
They need guidance. This guidance should come from both political and religious leaders. We have some excellent new-age religious leaders who run fine ashrams where you can learn both spirituality and yoga. But not one of them has defined the idea of India as well as the Dalai Lama.