Following Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma’s statement that former President A P J Abdul Kalam was a “great man who was a nationalist and a humanist, despite being a Muslim”, the opposition Friday lashed out at him for his “ignorance”, and claimed the BJP was following a “divide and rule policy”.
“I am a Muslim, I am a nationalist. My father and grandfather were nationalists… Modiji has made such ignorant people ministers. Doesn’t he know that thousands of Muslims had laid down their lives for this country’s freedom. Doesn’t he know that scores of Muslims were martyred in wars after Independence? Were they not patriots?” Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed said.
“And how surprising is it that the people who are practising the divide and rule policy, which the British had employed, are distributing others certificates of patriotism. What can be more laughable and shameful… Modiji has made such illiterate and ignorant people ministers who do not even know about the country’s freedom struggle,” he added.
The CPM, too, condemned the statement. “These people, who demonise the whole community, feel that the people in the community being nationalists is something to be commented upon. People who are saying all this are those who have never been part of the freedom movement. In fact, a large number of Muslims fought for the freedom of our country… It is a shame that a minister is talking like this,” CPM politburo member Brinda Karat said.
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi also condemned the minister’s statement. “It is highly condemnable what the culture minister has said about Kalamji. Who are we if we are not nationalists? This is all RSS ideology. The question is if PM will keep him in the Cabinet,” Owaisi said.
Muslim outfits said the statement reflected the mentality of the RSS. “The culture minister is speaking like an RSS man. He seems unaware that India is a conglomerate of different cultures, languages and religion. It is disappointing when a man occupying such an important position speaks like this… This almost sounds like preparation for a civil war,” Zafarul Islam Khan of the Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawrat said.
“This is the mindset of BJP-RSS, not just today but since Independence. They look at Muslims as anti-nationals harbouring the views of the Muslim League, not realising that people who subscribed to that thought left years ago for Pakistan. The sad part is that earlier such people would spread their venom from the fringes, now these are the people in government,” said Arshad Madani, president of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind.
The BJP, meanwhile, sought to do some damage control. Maintaining that Mahesh Sharma did not mean to say that Muslims are not nationalists, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargeya said no one can question the patriotism of
“I am sure he didn’t mean to say so. May be he got some words wrong. There are lot of Muslims in the country who are patriots and we must not question their integrity,” Vijayvargeya told The Indian Express.