Within a gap of a few days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Sonia Gandhi addressed prominent Muslim forums. Modi was at Vigyan Bhavan on the evening of March 17 to address the World Sufi Forum, which brought together scholars, clerics and theologians from over 20 nations. Sonia Gandhi’s message was read out by Ghulam Nabi Azad at the National Integration Conference organised by the Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind on March 12.
Their messages were as different as chalk and cheese. Modi’s speech reflected the glory of Sufism, its impact on India, how Islam is fundamentally a religion of peace, the inclusive as well as plural nature of India and, most importantly, the need to delink terror and religion. Sonia Gandhi had one overarching message: That India is passing through a critical phase, secularism is in danger and how it is important to unite to protect India’s secular ethos.
The pivotal theme of Modi’s address was in sync with his vision of “nation first”. His speech celebrated India’s diverse culture, its pluralism and highlighted the positivity in every Indian, which is now resonating across the world. He made it clear in very certain terms that the country derives its strength from the fact that people of all faiths (he also mentioned non-believers) call India their home. In contrast, Sonia Gandhi conveyed a very dark message, a view that there is nothing right in this country. Her references to the “critical phase” India is passing through summed it up. The undertone was one of impending gloom and cynicism.
What Modi said in front of a global and local audience inspired confidence not only in India but also in values of humanity. Somebody listening to Modi would return home convinced about the inherent positivity and united fabric of India. Unfortunately, the message of Sonia Gandhi seemed like a deliberate attempt to manufacture negativity and create fear among the minority communities so that the ballot boxes of a select few are enhanced.
Modi’s words at the World Sufi Forum provided a healing touch, something that is characteristic of a statesman. He was clear, firm and categorical in rejecting any link between terror and religion. He came down heavily on those who used violence in the name of religion, saying it is the most anti-religious thing to do. He showered praise on Sufism and spoke about how it has contributed to a spirit of peace and harmony. When Modi said that out of the 99 names of Allah not one has any connotation with violence, the entire Vigyan Bhavan erupted with loud applause. When the leader of the world’s largest democracy makes such emphatic points, who will not feel reassured!
If there was something special about the World Sufi Forum, it was the happiness all around. No sooner did Modi take the stage people began cheering Bharat mata ki jai. When he finished, he received a standing ovation. Later, a smiling prime minister heard the soulful qawwali. Earlier in his speech, he had lauded the contribution of Sufism to music and, in particular, the legendary Amir Khusrau.
As leaders, people can either inspire people and fill the air with positivity or choose to instill fear and negativity in their minds. Very often, the latter is guided by petty political interests whereas the former lot reflects their confidence and faith in the strength of the people.
Modi preferred to use the Sufi Forum to highlight India’s salient characters and dispel notions about Islam and terror. He used the platform to ask the world to unite and create a garden of peace where kindness and compassion replaces violence. Sadly, Sonia Gandhi merely went on about how there is nothing right in India, manufacturing a sense of fear, even if it meant showing the nation and 125 crore Indians in poor light.