“Please pray to God for India, that is Bharat” a Sikh friend — a former judge — messaged me at dawn on May 23, the day of election results. “No use, God superannuated long ago and relieved himself of the job of listening to the prayers of the faithful”, I instantly replied. I sent both his text and my response to a Muslim friend, a former state dignitary, who wrote back: “The Creator has other worlds to look after, why waste efforts on a wayward creation.” To my query “which other worlds, the heaven and hell where he is taking care of the houries for the believers and readying fire and filth for others”, he kept mum.
The comments I made reflected my alienation from religion as a whole owing to the inhumanities and communal polarisation it has bred in recent times. The remarks of the other two echoed simmering discontent among the minorities of the country, including their elites, with the recent political landscape. I hate sermonising but I have reproduced these dialogues as a prelude to offering some suggestions, unsolicited of course, to both the rulers and the ruled.
For the minorities, I am reproducing some verses of an eminent Urdu poet, Jagannath Azad: Bharat ke Musalman kyon hai tu pareshan/ Bharat ka tu farzand hai begana nahin hai/ Ye desh tera ghar hai tu iss ghar ka makin hai/ Meri hi tarah hai ye gulistaan tera bhi/ Iss khak ka har zarra-e-taban hai tera bhi/ Ham sab ki tamannaon ko phalna bhi yahin hai/ Har manzil-e-mushkil se guzarna bhi yahin hai/ Jeena bhi yahin hai hamen marna bhi yahin hai.
(Muslims of India, why are you so upset, you are the children of India not aliens, it’s your home, you are its co-owners, like mine this garden is yours too, every shining particle of this land is yours too. All of us have to realise our aspirations here, brave all kinds of difficult times here, live and die just here).
Every word of this poetic gem composed by the great non-Muslim poet after the country’s unfortunate division, when the Muslims refusing to migrate to the other side of the artificially created borders were facing difficult times, is extremely relevant for the community at this political juncture. They have to accept the ground reality, reconcile with the situation and cooperate with the rulers of the day. There is no wisdom in committing the proverbial blunder of “darya mein reh ke magarmachh se bair” (making an enemy of a crocodile, while living in the water).
The rulers of the day, basking in the glory of an unprecedented electoral victory, and their ardent admirers, must also realise that the 250 million-strong minorities of India are equal citizens of the country. They are as patriotic as the one billion-strong majority. A fairly large number of citizens from the minority communities have already voted for the ruling dispensation. Winning over the rest of the community too — not by undue appeasement but by implementing on the ground their human and constitutional rights — will make the regime a force to reckon with. But to achieve this, it is necessary to shun the political culture of hate speeches which, though strictly prohibited by law, are a favourite pastime for politicians of all hues.
The proper course of action that needs to be pursued by the jubilant majority, and the disgruntled minorities, is to shun morbid religiosity and accept the apex court’s injunction that genuine religious beliefs have to be distinguished from superstitions (Durgah Committee, Ajmer v Syed Hussain Ali, SC, 1961). The truth and equality of all religions alike must be accepted and religious sentiments of all must be respected. But that should happen within the parameters set by the Constitution which clarifies that professing, practising and propagating religion is assured but subject to morality, health and public order, and that religious freedom shall be no hindrance for introducing necessary “social welfare and reform” (Article 25).
All citizens, whichever religion they may be following, must also fulfill their fundamental duties under the Constitution “to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom; promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture; and develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform” (Article 51A).
After the bitter and vicious electioneering, what columnist V Mitchell of The New York Times observed in a 2014 article is worth pondering over by all Indians — the majority and the minorities, the rulers and the ruled alike: “It is truly the greatest show on earth, an ode to a diverse and democratic ethos where 700 million of humanity vote providing their small part in directing their ancient civilisation into the future. Its challenges are immense, more so than anywhere else. It is even more astounding that the most diverse nation on earth with all religions and cultures is not only surviving but thriving. The nation where Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism were born, which is the second largest Muslim nation on earth, where Christianity has existed for 2000 years, where Zoroastrians have thrived since being thrown out of their homeland; where three Muslim Presidents have been elected, where a President was also a woman, succeeding a Muslim President who was a rocket scientist and a revered hero of the nation. Where all this is happening is India and it is an inspiration to the entire world.”
This perception of an independent foreign journalist about our great nation, which has to be maintained at any cost, must infuse patriotic pride in the hearts of — to use the opening words of our Constitution — “We the people of India”, as a whole. It must remind us of its diktat that all of us must “abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions” — Article 51A (a).
This article first appeared in the print edition on May 27, 2019 under the title ‘Keep the faith’. The writer is former chairperson of National Minorities Commission.