India can either continue on its divisive path or take the inclusive road. The Ibadatkhana Movement is a step in the right direction
The Ibadatkhana Movement, that began recently in the Bay Area of California, USA, is going to be of historical importance for the future of India. I explained this to the members of the newly-formed Ibadatkhana Committee and its chairman Tassawar Jalali at a meeting in Jalali’s San Jose home recently. Here’s a gist of what I said there. As mentioned in my article, India’s National Aim, this world really consists of two worlds, the one of the developed countries like North America, Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and China and that of the underdeveloped countries, which also includes India. Our national aim must be to transform India and get into the ranks of the developed, highly industrialised countries. Without doing so, we will never be able to abolish poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, gaps in health and education and other social evils which are plaguing our nation.
This transformation is only possible by a historical, united, people’s struggle, which will be fiercely opposed by powerful vested groups, both internal and external, which feel that their interests will be jeopardised if the transformation succeeds and India emerges as an industrial giant, like another China. So unity among Indians is absolutely imperative if our struggle for this transformation is to succeed. The present reactionary, neo-fascist regime in the country, whose leaders have feudal mindsets, has an ideology which destroys the unity of our people by propagating and spreading religious hatred against minorities. All its talk of sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas (national inclusiveness, progress and trust) is empty, fraudulent and hypocritical rhetoric. Ever since it came to power in 2014, lynching and attacks on Muslims and vandalisation of churches have continued unabated. Hence this regime is in reality anti-Indian as it preaches an ideology contrary to the very nature and identity of India as a country of great diversity. Hence it has to be combatted by all genuine patriots who wish to see a prosperous nation.
Of late, the economy has tanked and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has declined (it is said to be five per cent, though Arvind Subramanian, former Chief Economic Adviser to the Government says it is really 2.5 per cent), the manufacturing sector, agriculture, real estate, power and so on, are all in the dumps and spiralling downwards. Unemployment has reached record heights (as admitted by the Government’s own National Sample Survey). Farmers’ distress is continuing unabated with thousands committing suicide and every second child is malnourished (according to UNICEF reports and the Global Hunger Index). All this is bound to generate massive opposition in India in the form of popular demonstrations, and so on, which will soon begin. Hence to divert public attention from the real problems the country faces, which the present Government has no idea how to solve, it resorts to gimmicks like Yoga Day, surgical strikes, cow protection and abrogation of Article 370.
In addition, the Government needs a scapegoat who can be blamed for all evils, like the Jews in Nazi Germany. The scapegoats in the current Indian scenario are the Muslims, who are fair game for cow vigilantes and hoodlums, again, to deflect attention from the real massive economic problems the country faces.
At present, the country is standing at a crossroad in our 5,000-year-old known history. It has two options, either continue on the path of self-destruction being pursued by the present rulers, the path of polarising society on communal lines and oppressing minorities, marginalising them and denying them any space in the public discourse, or the inclusive path shown by Mughal emperor Akbar. His policy — called suleh-e-kul (universal toleration of all religions) and giving equal respect to all religions and communities — alone can lead to the country’s prosperity. This is the path being shown now to Indians by the Ibadatkhana Movement.
Ibadatkhana was the house of worship built by Akbar in 1575 at his new capital in Fatehpur Sikri. In it, scholars of all religions met amicably and discussed what their religion had contributed to benefit mankind. This was remarkable, considering that at that time Europeans were massacring each other in the name of religion. The Catholics were killing the Protestants, the Protestants were killing the Catholics and both were murdering the Jews.
The Ibadatkhana Movement, though it relates to India, could not begin within the country since today freedom of speech has been suppressed and the media is largely muzzled or sold out. Any dissent and opposition to the Government invites slapping of criminal or sedition charges, invocation of the notorious Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and long terms in prison. So opposition to the present regime, which is taking India towards the dark abyss of fragmentation and destruction, can only begin in the free space available in America. Later, of course, the movement will spread to the Indian subcontinent.
(The writer is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India.)