RISING COMMUNAL POLARISATION – A THREAT TO INDIA’S FUTURE: Prof. Faizan Mustafa

Thank you very much sir for giving me an opportunity to express my views. Many years ago, when I was admitted to Aligarh Muslim University, they didn’t had ragging but they had something which was called ‘introduction’. Seniors will call juniors, raise all kinds of questionsand the question put to me was ‘explain India in one word’. I said ‘diversity’. So, I thought that I had fully satisfied my seniors and my introduction will end but then one of my seniors said, No, give one more word, as he had another word in mind rather than diversity. Then, I said ‘tolerance’ and that was the end of my ‘introduction’. I am at loss to see where we have reached. We have reached such a stage that when the new members in Lok Sabha take oath you get slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and you get slogans of ‘Allahu Akbar’. This is not the kind of India which the framers of Indian Constitution had envisaged. I think we need to appreciate that we had huge communal riots all over, pre-partition, post-partition, partition was absolutely flawed because nations are not created in the name of religion and should not be created, and the way Bangladesh was created within 25 years proves that religion has nothing to do with the nation. Nevertheless, at the time of framing the constitution when we had all the power in the world and no one could have prevented the framers of the constitution from declaring India a Hindu Rashtra, they decided in their wisdom to be a secular state. Of course, today many people say that the word ‘secularism’ was debated and rejected, true, because of the framers of the constitution thought that it was so obvious that it need not be stated specifically in the constitution of India. Similarly, the word ‘federal’ is not there in the constitution but the Supreme Court has said that federalism is the basic structure of the constitution. The word ‘judicial review’ is not there in the constitution, word ‘separation of power’ is not there in the constitution but all of them have been held to be the basic structure of the constitution. In 1973, before Mrs. Gandhi through 42nd amendment in 1976 got the word ‘secularism’ inserted, Supreme Court had said that secularism is the basic structure of the constitution. Why did we at that point of time, when we had all the power and every justifiable reason to make India to be a Hindu Rashtra, didn’t make Hindu Rashtra. Because, though our country was divided in the name of religion, we went for secularism because secularism is the core of the modernity. We wanted to progress, we wanted to create scientific temper. I know that many religious people are there in the audience, but let me say it bluntly, that after all, all religions are backward looking in the sense, they all are old. Hindu religion is 10,000 years old, Christianity is 2000 years old, Islam is 1400 years old. We are talking of a futuristic India, after all for any religion you need to look backward, but India of 1950s wanted to look forward. Therefore, we said that while people will be free to follow whichever religion they want, state will not have any religion of its own. State will maintain equidistance from all religions. State shall be religion neutral. Why, because even it is not in the interest of the state to be a theocracy. If a state has a particular religion as the state religion, it is neither in the interest of the state nor in the interest of the religion. If there is a state religion state shall dominate that religion, state will try to put its views in that religion and dominate that religion. So, for the autonomy of the religions, it is in the interest of the religions that we adopt two sword theory. Of course, we could not get that far that we adopt the Jeffersian wall of separation in India, nevertheless, we said we believe historically in ‘sarv dharm sambhav’, we believe in tolerance of all religions, state will not have any religion, people will follow whatever religion they want.

Mr. Dubey referred to ‘conversion’, when the word ‘propagate’ was discussed in the constituent assembly, the Christian members specifically insisted that word ‘conversion’ should come in because ‘conversion’ is there in the clauses of International Covenants on Human Rights. Yet, we assured them that ‘propagation’ will itself cover ‘conversion’. Then you got Swatantrata Party governments in Orissa, MP, these were the governments of the feudals and they passed Anti-conversion laws. Then you got a Supreme Court judgment, a very regressive judgment saying propagation doesn’t include right to convert. Even if you look at the Sri Lankan constitution which gives Buddhism a prominent place, yet its freedom of religion specifically includes that you will have a right to adopt a religion of your choice. But our Supreme Court said that you may communicate whatever your religious doctrines are but you cannot convert. India’s greatest constitutional writer H. M. seervai has said that this judgment is productive of great public mischief and must be over ruled. Today, when we have liberalised Article 21 & 14, there is no reason that the Supreme Court should not review this judgment.

Coming forward, at the time of drafting of the constitution we opted for spirit of enquiry, scientific temper, modernity and didn’t allow religion to dictate us but Indians are essentially religious. Since, Indians are essentially religious, there we people who started this mixing of religion with politics. Whatever politicians may do I don’t mind because it is the job of the politician to get power and to get power they do all kinds of things and that’s why in the entire world today democracies are dying, democracies are in danger, what we saw on 6th of January in United States should serve as a serious warning to all modern democracies that just having elections doesn’t meaning your democracy is successful, democracy is good but majoritarianism is not. If you have hatred for others, if you polarise your society its not good. You don’t need military coups anymore, there will be no military dictator who will take over power by replacing an elected head of a state. Today, the danger of democracy is not from the bullets but it is from ballots. Political parties are not properly performing the function of gate keepers of democracy. They are nominating people for top positions who can polarise, who can get them votes. I can excuse politicians because they are selfish, they are power hungry but what about the judiciary? I think that the greatest impetus came from the supreme court’s judgment of Hindutva. Here was a political party making an electoral promise in election speech that if we are voted to power, we will Maharashtra as the first Hindu state, and our Supreme Court is saying since Hindutva is not a religion it is not a corrupt electoral practice because Hinduism is a way of life. True, Hinduism is a way of life but for that matter every religion is a way of life. In any case if you look at Hinduism more closely it has all the characteristics of a great religion, is indeed a great religion. Therefore, I feel this judgment of the Supreme court gave legitimacy to mixing of religion with politics. Narsimha Rao tried to separate the two, but failed then this whole Babri Masjid movement, where in my opinion, the muslims also committed a mistake, they couldn’t realise how much communal poison is there amongst the people, at least after the demolition of Babri mosque in 1992 could have worked out some kind of a solution. When you have such kind of communalism then by just believing in rule of law, trying to solve the problem through courts of law is not a solution. If the majority community believes that this is the exact place where Lord Rama was born, even though there is no Sanskrit inscription whatsoever proving it that’s why the SC said that neither the ASI report said that Lord Rama was born here and a Ram temple was demolished to construct a Babri mosque, but this insistence that we will just get a court judgment and no indulgence in bargain shouldn’t have been made. Shankaracharya tried it, Ali Miya has also written about it, I think that there was some blunder committed by the muslim leadership of the Babri Masjid Action Committee which didn’t appreciate and see the writing on the wall. We are still not seeing the writing on the wall, we are still into protection of personal law etc. I think that today we have reached such a situation that I had to write in The Hindu that let us have a Hindu rashtra. Mr. Dubey referred to it, Mr. Puniyani referred to it that there is a feeling of frustration because, psychologically speaking, what hurts the human beings the most is the feeling of being unwanted. Now, that feeling has been taking place amongst many people, this is how much forward we have moved in our communalism. As Harsh Mandar would say, in 2002 Gujarat if at any locality there was some serious communal incident committed there were 3-4 other people who rose to the occasion, protected muslims and tried to save them. In the last 20 years or so we have become indifferent, the way young people have been lynched, old people have been lynched I think we must now accept that communalism has reached its zenith and nothing will convince the hardcore soldiers of Hindutva except declaration of hindu rashtra. Not many secularists will accept it but I think we should start some conversation as to what kind of hindu rashtra we want. Okay, have hindu rashtra. If the lives and property of the people are to be protected then a state declaring something as state religion is not a big deal. In any case, if I state practically for all purposes that we are tilting towards a particular religion, what is there in seeing that we are a secular polity and secularism is the basic structure of the constitution.

I think now we need to discuss what are the models of secularism. One model of secularism is total separation of church and state (French and American model). The other model is the jurisdictional model, the model which UK had adopted. The queen of England is the defender of the faith, she is the head of the Anglican church but freedom of religion is there, rights of the minorities are there. I have said it that once India becomes a Hindu rashtra, the Hindutva supporters will be the most frustrated. Because, if they think that all these 20 crore muslims will disappear from India, there are living in fool’s paradise. Even in hindu rashtra muslims will have all the fundamental rights. Can right to life be denied to them? No. Can right to equality be denied to them? No. Can freedom of religion be denied to them? No. So, they will have all the rights. What will you write at best? That the Chief Justice of India, the Prime Minister of India, the President of India will not be a non-Hindu? Write it, if that helps in healing, helps in bringing peace. But, look at Pakistan where it is written in the constitution that Pakistan is an Islamic state but everyone who is born there becomes its citizens. The personal law of non-muslims is constitutionally protected. If you are a Hindu Rashtra you will not have a uniform civil code. So, I personally believe that if India has to become a Hindu Rashtra it cannot become a hindu rashtra like Saudi Arabia, it can’t even become a Hindu Rashtra like Pakistan. It has to think of a model like Greece, think of a model like Sri Lanka or think of a model where in the constitution you merely say that Hinduism is the dominant cultural heritage of India. But for all practical purposes, muslims are going to be here, there mosques are going to be here, they are going to have freedom of religion, you still cannot discriminate against because Article 15 is there even in Pakistan’s constitution. Afghanistan is an Islamic state but religious persecution is specifically prohibited in the constitution. In Bangladesh, originally secularism was one of the four principles on which Mujib ur Rahman created the country and then you got a military general who removed it, now, their Supreme Court has restored it and after the Supreme Court restored secularism, they again amended the constitution and brought in secularism. I personally feel that what Ram Puniyani ji is saying, we need to now create bridges. Unfortunately, we have seen lot of bloodshed on this earth in the name of religion. If we want peace, I think there cannot be a lasting peace unless there is peace between religions and within religions. Look at Pakistan, Sunni muslims are killing shias, shias are killing Sunnis, in Iran, Syria, Afghanistan where muslims are killing muslims. We also have lots of conflict between Shivaiites and Vaishnavaiites. So, personally I feel that if we want to move forward we have to try to create some kind of mechanism through which people see that muslims are going to be here. They had an option to leave this country in ’47, they exercised the option of staying back. So, they are here out of their free choice. If they didn’t go to Pakistan in ’47 why will Pakistan accept them today. Which country can accept such a large population. They have to be here as an equal citizen and let us therefore return to the constitutional values. What are the constitutional values? Our preamble we are talking of justice – social, political and economical we need to give them to everyone. We are talking of dignity of each individual. Somebody referred to UP ordinance, UP ordinance has nothing to do with religious minorities, of course the way it is being implemented muslim men are being harassed are subjected to all kinds of illegal arrest, but the law is basically compromising the agency of Hindu women against the Hindu culture as well. If we look at our hindu culture our women had the right to choose their spouse, we had a swayamvar of Ram and Sita, so Sitaji selected Ram. Of course there was a kind of competition. Draupadi got Arjun out of free will.  So it compromises the agency of Hindu women, it treats them not as ordinary dignified human being by saying that they cannot appreciate that muslim men are misusing them and cannot make a right choice. I think it should not be the muslims or secularists who should be opposing the ordinances but the Hind women should come forward. Because, ultimately it is going to take away their freedom to choose spouse.

Finally, the last thing that I want to speak. On the one hand we want uniform civil code on the other hand we are bringing such atrocious laws. Special marriage act is the uniform civil code, special marriage act talked of interfaith marriages.

India has to remain a modern, progressive, liberal and secular country, the responsibility is on the majority community. In a democracy as Chief Justice Lethman of Australian High Court has said that the test of a successful democracy is the amount of protection enjoyed by the minorities. The majority can take care of its interests on its own. Now this whole bogey of minority appeasement, muslim appeasement is all nonsense. So, let the majority community see the danger. They are going to be worst affected. Once violence enters our social life, today it is a muslim tomorrow it will be a dalit thereafter will be somebody else. I think, let us rededicate ourselves on this Republic Day to the high constitutional values. The values of our constitution are beautifully written in our preamble. We want fraternity, we have not emphasised this word ‘fraternity’ enough. We cannot achieve justice, equality or anything if our society is divided. Let there be unity in diversity. Let each and every individual have a dignified life and let everyone get equality of status and equality of opportunity.

This whole business of othering, business of religion being used for political purposes will ultimately harm India as a country. I believe each one of us has great love for our motherland, for, we don’t exist if our country doesn’t survive. If we want to see prosperous, strong, powerful India which will have some moral standing in the world, then, we must uphold our constitutional values and communalism has already done a huge damage to us because our country was partitioned in the name of religion. If it again leads to violence, division, polarisation we will have another big human tragedy on cards. Thank you very much.    

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