“Jai Shri Ram” chant is sought to be the new “must” for Muslims in India after Vande Mataram. In the current times, any self-styled “Hindu” mob can now catch hold of any Muslim man or men anywhere and force them to chant Jai Shri Ram, failing which they could be thrashed or even lynched. If a Hindu opposes this, he could be termed an “anti-national”. That’s what some unabashedly pro-government artistes have said in so many words in an open letter. Their letter has come in response to a letter sent by another set of artistes to the Prime Minister, who expressed their concern at the new “Jai Shri Ram” campaign by the self-styled nationalists.
The pro-government artistes say “their aim was to tarnish India’s international standing and to negatively portray PM Modi’s untiring efforts for effective governance on the foundation of positive nationalism and humanism, which is the core of Indianness”. They also further indulge in their favourite no-brainer whataboutery, asking why the other artistes didn’t condemn on several other occasions when Hindus were under attack.
At the outset, the intellectual bankruptcy of this whataboutery business in a protectionist bigotry regime needs to be countered with a question: what is your take on the several incidents of mob-lynching in the name of cow and about this new trend of assaulting Muslims and forcing them to chant “Jai Shri Ram”. Did you condemn it immediately after it happened? You have notionally condemned it now to be just on record, isn’t it? Forget about how the other group’s expression of dissent affects India’s image. What do you think about India’s international image vis-a-vis these incidents? Do you think these incidents enhance India’s international image? They will never answer these questions simply because they are as impossible to answer as the question: do you beat your wife every day? They can’t answer them in affirmative or negative. That’s the inherent thuggery of whataboutery.
So, should Muslims be forced to chant Jai Shri Ram? Let’s ask Rajkavi Prasoon Joshi as poets are supposed to be neutrally sensitive to all, irrespective of caste, creed, colour, gender or any other distinctions. Let’s know your response, Mr Joshi. Do you think it’s right to do so? Do you think it enhances India’s prestige or brings us a bad name?
Forget even that. We don’t look at everything from the perspective of “what others would say”, do we? For example, we don’t quarrel in the family not because “it doesn’t look nice” or “what others would say” but because it’s not nice to quarrel, isn’t it Mr Joshi? Or do you think India is a family in which only Hindus should have a sense of brotherhood among themselves and minorities must be treated as “suspect neighbours”?
If that is so, then V Shantaram, one among the most respected doyens of the Indian film industry, deserves to be despised for his classic film Padosi (Shejari in Marathi). Shantaram must be retrospectively condemned for his attempt to underscore Hindu-Muslim unity, isn’t it Mr Joshi? The film has a character of a dam builder, who drives a wedge between two best friends and neighbours, a Hindu and a Muslim, to break their opposition to the construction of a dam near the village. Sinister for Shantaram to have projected this builder trying to usher in development in the area as the villain, isn’t it Mr Joshi? And what a romanticised hollow symbolism on Shantaram’s part to have made a Muslim actor play the role of the Hindu neighbour and vice-versa. Let’s retrospectively take back Shantaram’s Padmabhushan and Dadasaheb Phalke awards for this “anti-national” bid to project a man trying to “effectuate” development to underscore the need for a seemingly unnecessary Hindu-Muslim unity, would you say?
The likes of Joshi and Agnihotri also need to answer a few more questions. Can they cite one example from the “unquestionably liberal” Hindu fold, comparable to the likes of Bismillah Khan, who, despite being a devout Muslim, prayed at Kashi Vishweshwar temple and played his blessed shehnai there as obeisance to the Hindu God, caring little about the “illiberal” Islamic fold to which he belonged? Is there any Hindu, dear Mr Joshi and Mr Agnihotri, who has broken the orthodoxy of his religious beliefs and practices to shine as brightly as Khan in that respect? Or any Hindu, who has happily forsaken his religion-denoting name to live all his life with a name of another religion — like Dilip Kumar, Madhubala, Johnny Walker, Jayant, Ajit, Meena Kumari, etc did? Waheeda Rehman refused to do so. So, does she need to be retrospectively condemned? Or should we spare her as she more than compensated for it by marrying a Hindu?
To end the questionnaire, let’s talk about two more writers — one more well-known than the other. Who wrote B R Chopra’s epic TV serial Mahabharata’s dialogues? Rahi Masoom Raza, isn’t? And you won’t know about a man from Nagpur called Farogh Nakkash, who died unsung a few years ago. Living in a dilapidated house in Nagpur’s Mominpura area, he had transliterated Mahabharata in Urdu couplets. This newspaper had featured him many years ago.
There are several Muslim lyricists and music directors who have produced extremely evocative pieces of art and literature, bringing out the nuances and the essence of Hindu culture and ethos. The list is long and goes a long way to disprove several pre-conceived notions that lie at the core of the self-righteousness of a section among Hindus, which, fortunately, is still in minority, like its Muslim counterpart, but is, unfortunately, on the right side of today’s powers-that-be. In the current atmosphere of zealotry, even the likes of Joshis get their poetry out of rhyme, and even reason.