Identity in Indian political landscape

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Identity in Indian political landscape

Thursday, 09 November 2023 | Prafull Goradia

Identity in Indian political landscape

Both Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir must strive to understand each other's viewpoints, fostering mutual trust and loyalty within the community

Several columns have appeared in the national press, which have cautioned New Delhi that after the current honeymoon of prosperity passes in Kashmir, some good old troubled days of pseudo-terrorism are likely to return. As of now, the valley is part of a Union Territory, not a state. There is no assembly and consequently, not much of politics.

No doubt, the prolific tourism seen in the last two years, plus the developments such as the coming malls, cinemas and expansion of railways have all helped distract the attention of the ‘moderate’ separatists. All these factors have led to the current peaceful atmosphere, which some column writers have chosen to call a “current truce”.

If this is true, a substantive reason for this would be a big gap in communication between the Indian state and its Muslim populace. Islam accords little importance to nationalism, unlike Christianity, under whose jumbo umbrella nationalism grew. So much so that it replaced Christianity itself as a political ideology. It was nationalism that eventually defeated and uprooted communism in early 1990. The appeal of the Communist Manifesto slogan, “Workers of the world unite” was over. Leon Trotsky’s thesis was a permanent revolution, which meant that there was no need to attend to any nation until the last member of the world’s proletariat was unchained. The communist ideologues believed that the nation was an enemy of the working class. Similarly, for its reasons, Islam has never been interested in the nation, and is, therefore, either indifferent or hostile to ‘vatanparasti’ (loyalty to the nation). The Prophet’s religion has consistently promoted ‘majahabparasti’ (loyalty to religion) as a total prescription for an ideal life. In the bargain, several Muslim leaders have preferred the expression ‘Muslim Indian’ to ‘Indian Muslim’, implying “religion before nation”, not “nation before religion”.

The late Muslim leader Syed Shahbuddin would argue, till the cows came home, that he was right in saying “Muslim Indian”. Chaim Weizmann, leader of the World Jewish Conference and later the first President of Israel in 1948, emphasised a similar concept when he said: “There are no American Jews, British Jews, Russian Jews, German Jews or French Jews. There are Jews in America, Jews in Britain, Jews in France, Jews in Germany and Jews in Russia”.

The Jews have consistently been supra-national, which is one of the reasons many Christians in Europe have suspected them of being anti-national, whenever Jewish interests have clashed with national ones. The classic example was Adolf Hitler's repeated assertion that it was the Jews who helped defeat Germany in World War I. How and why did Germany surrender to the Western allies while German troops were still standing on French soil?

In India, the Khilafat Committee, incidentally, presided over by Mahatma Gandhi, declared that if Afghanistan were to invade India, Muslim soldiers would not fight to defend India. This prohibition covered all potential Muslim invaders. This obscurantist injunction was later affirmed by the Muslim League. This principle was later applied and quoted by the then-Pakistan cricket captain Wasim Akram in the nineties. When his team lost to Bangladesh in the 1996 Cricket World Cup, Akram said to a journalist that he had no problem “losing to a brother Muslim team”.

In all probability, the Islamic proclivity to supra-nationalism has not even occurred to most Muslims. They haven’t been told, nor explained the reasons for it. Indian political leaders must clarify this publicly, so that they realise why, sometimes for reason, they are suspect when it comes to their national loyalty. The moment a Muslim is seen applauding a stylish shot played by a Pak batsman, Hindus often take this to be a symptom of pro-Pakistani sympathy. The British do not react in this manner when they see a Briton of Indian origin applauding a boundary hit by an Indian batsman in an India-England match.

This psycho-syndrome is relevant in the context of Kashmir for both Muslims and Hindus. For Hindus, so that they are not perpetually suspicious; for the Muslims in the Valley to realise that their conduct can be prejudicial to their co-religionists in the rest of India. The fact that the Muslims of India with their families have been resident here, out of their own choice is not insignificant. Whatever political parties say or claim has only passing significance. The fact is that India is a majority Hindu-state. Any normal person would like to be a welcome citizen rather than a suspect. Therefore, all his/her actions ought to be acceptably patriotic and not doubtful in the eyes of the majority.

The Hindus also want to feel that their co-citizens are good and loyal. To be perpetually suspecting others is no way to be happy. It is, therefore, important for the community’s leaders to candidly articulate the factual situation, rather than say one thing and mean quite another.

There were several patriotic Muslims, as proved by Brigadier Usman (1948, Kashmir Valley), Havaldar Abdul Hamid in the 1965 war against Pakistan, and others. On a macro scale could Bangladesh have attained its independence from Pakistan had India not intervened? But these sacrifices in blood and treasure are forgotten when it comes to episodes like sporting contests and diplomatic and political standoffs.

(The writer is a well-known columnist, an author and a former member of the Rajya Sabha. The views expressed are personal)

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