By Minhaz Merchant
As we turn our minds to the demolition of the Babri masjid 18 years ago, political and religious leaders on both sides of the Ayodhya divide should try to understand the new India, especially the new Muslim India.A BBC survey revealed that 97 per cent of Indians believe in God a higher percentage than almost anywhere else in the world. But while their faith is precious to them, the young Indian Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jain is focussed on a better life, not a better mosque or temple. And they have a common heritage.
As a group of visiting senior Muslim clergy from Ayodhya, with wisdom born of great learning, said recently to Swami Shri Swaroopananda Saraswati, the highly respected Shankaracharya of Dwarka: Even though our religions are different, we share the blood of the Hindus. The Shankaracharya replied gently: That makes our Lord Ram your ancestor as well.
This is not just about genealogy, it reflects Indias embedded religious diversity.Six of Indias highest constitutional functionaries are Sikh (prime minister),Christian (UPA chairperson ),Muslim (chief election commissioner),Parsi (chief justice of India),Dalit (speaker of the Lok Sabha) and Hindu (president).There is no other country in the world with such breathtaking plurality at the highest level of leadership.
Consider Britain: only Protestant (not Catholic) Christians can be monarch. The law of blasphemy protects only Christian citizens in the United Kingdom. In Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, minorities (including, in Pakistan, even Muslim Ahmadis) have restricted rights. Unlike burqabanning western democracies such as France and Belgium, Indian secularism does not separate church and state. It allows them to swim together in a common if sometimes chaotic pool.
Fundamentalists dislike the concept of liberal Islam flourishing in the syncretic soil of India. Indian Muslims, however, remain rooted in a Vedic civilisational ethic that has celebrated our religious plurality for over 3,000 years. Despite al-Qaidas and the ISIs concerted recruitment efforts, Indian Muslims except renegades from the Students Islamic Movement of India and the Indian Mujahideen have consistently spurned the call to jihad.
Indias innate respect for all religions, which does great credit to its silent Hindu majority, has historically made the country the refuge-of-last-resort for all faiths: Jews, Parsis, Christians, Buddhists. This secular instinct cannot be elided by politicians. Moderate Muslim clerics like Maulana Mahmood Madani of the Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind can,however, play a positive role. As the third-generation custodian of the Jamiat, Maulana Madanis word carries weight with influential Deobandis. The Maulana and other Muslim clerics must liberate the dialogue between Muslims and Hindus from the counterfeit secularism politicians embrace to seek votes.
Significantly, if the Congress loses even half its current Muslim vote due to disaffection over Ayodhya, its overall vote-share could drop dramatically from 28.55 per cent in the 2009 general election to around 22 per cent in 2014.Its Lok Sabha seats would collapse from 206 to under 120.That explains the Congresss careful approach to the Babri masjid dispute as it enters its final judicial lap.The Congress cannot afford to shed even a sliver of its faithful Muslim vote.
But must this be at the expense of ordinary Muslims who vote for Indias largest political party in order to feel protected from Hindutva forces only to end up in social and economic ghettos denied jobs, flats and respect by a resentful majority The cost of keeping the Congress in government is a burden the broader Muslim community should not have to bear.
Indias 160 million Muslims can be a powerful repudiation of the two-nation theory Pakistan has used to justify a theocratic state if they recognise where their true interests lie. Those interests lie, first,in modernity. That involves replacing outdated personal laws unsuited to a progressive, secular democracy.
Second, modernity is linked directly to education. Madrassas teach maths and science, not just the Quran.But the number of Muslim graduates is far lower than the national average. Muslim literacy is 59 per cent against 66 per cent nationally. Modernising the community means embracing a liberal, forward-looking ethic without diluting religious tradition. Indian Jews, Christians and Parsis have modernised themselves economically and intellectually without sacrificing their traditions or culture which originate in the same West Asian geography as Islam.
Caught between fundamentalist clerics and vote-obsessed politicians, the average Indian Muslim hardworking, God-fearing and poor lives in a time warp.He contributes far less than he could to the national economy and to the intellectual and social resurgence that is reshaping India. His leaders pose as his benefactors but are often his worst enemies.
By appeasing rather than educating nearly 14 per cent of its minority population, Indian politicians have choked a powerful nationalist voice against terrorism directed at India by Pakistan. As the 21century ebbs and flows, Indias global ascent cannot be slowed by a marginalised minority. But imagine how much the ascent could gather pace were that minority turned into an economic and social asset: modern, educated and forward-thinking.
The politics of minority appeasement creates a community cocooned in backwardness easy prey for minoritarian politicians. Ayodhya is an inflection point. Used wisely, terfeit secularism that divides.
The writer is an author and chairman of a media group.
Source: Times of India