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Reclaiming India in times of polarisation

The past holds profound lessons for the future.

Reclaiming India in times of polarisation

A voice for all: The book has a poser for Muslim leaders: Why should a Muslim leader speak only on matters of concern for the Muslims; why should he not speak as a citizen for everyone? AFP

Aditi Tandon

The past holds profound lessons for the future. So when Salman Khurshid reconstructs India’s pre-Partition times to make the case for Hindu-Muslim unity in these polarised times, the argument makes complete sense.

Visible Muslim Invisible Citizen: Understanding Islam in Indian Democracy by Congress veteran Khurshid is a bold attempt to speak to the Indian Muslims about what they need to do right and to the Hindus about why they need to do more to preserve the country’s plural heritage. Former law minister Khurshid minces no words when confronting the ills plaguing his people, going as far as to say that Indian Muslims are caught in the morass of their own making. 

He equally reasons that the onus of halting the ongoing march of communal forces lies with the liberal Hindus. 

The book speaks of how, over the decades, progressive Muslims have made common cause with Hindu baiters of traditional Islam, particularly the Muslim personal law. 

The stark mention here of the Shah Bano and Shayara Bano cases makes the read interesting even as the author argues that the BJP government’s legislative push against triple talaq is more a means to usher the Uniform Civil Code than an attempt at gender justice. 

The intent of the Bill, the book argues, is to chip away at the Muslim personal law without appreciating Islam’s just provisions about gender such as provision of equal divorce rights to both men and women.

This argument may sound Congress centric but Khurshid exhibits the courage to admit that Arif Mohammad Khan, one of the few Muslims with the potential to reform the community, was let down by his own Prime Minister.

The reference here is to how Khan’s request to implement the Supreme Court order in Shah Bano was defeated when late PM Rajiv Gandhi buckled under pressure from the conservative Muslim clergy.

Replete with historical references of how Indian Muslims can lay claim to patriotism, the book poses searching questions to the Hindu majority. 

It also confronts the dilemma of our times — can one be a Muslim leader in India and also be more or must he choose between the two. It’s the dilemma a few other communities face, the author reasonably argues.

There are occasions when Khurshid confesses to Indian Muslims criticising a section of their own over greeting the Hindus with a namaskar. Here the author has a poser for Muslim leaders as he asks why should a Muslim leader speak only on matters of concern for the Muslims; why should he not speak as a citizen for everyone?

The book powerfully captures the predicament of the minority and how it’s slipping into a limbo as forces of Hindutva rise and Muslim participation in politics shrinks.

The author, a Congress man, honestly addresses accusations that his party has abandoned Indian Muslims on the altar of vote-bank politics and done little to make Indian Muslims feel at home in India.

Reflecting on Rahul Gandhi’s temple runs, Khurshid argues that the Congress’ soft saffron switch is deliberate. The author defends his party and wants Muslims to believe that its secular ideological moorings are intact and the Hindutva push strategic. He even seeks active Muslim support in this strategy saying the community would need to make sacrifices to fortify the forces of liberalism.

This conclusion is debatable as is Khurshid’s conviction that acts of terror as seen in the Mumbai blasts or Batla House encounter are part of a cause or effect chain and attempts to understand these acts of subversion should not be branded as anti-national.

The book goes on to list four major setbacks the Muslims faced in India – the 1857 uprising; the Partition; the Babri Masjid demolition and the 2014 General Election verdict with Khurshid describing the present challenge (from the BJP) as different in that the adversity of Indian Muslims in the current case is a consequence of “distorted democracy”.

Provocative and generalised as the author’s statement about the 2014 verdict may be, he leaves the Indian Muslims with one piece of final advice. “There will be another time to revive the Sachar Committee; now is the time to strengthen the hands of the proponents of that report,” the book concludes hoping the new generation of Indians will reclaim the idea of India our freedom fighters fought and died for.

Are you a Muslim?

What Ghalib said: 

Salman Khurshid’s book explores how Muslims with a liberal outlook are prone to being described as progressive often intended to mean un-Islamic and therefore considered unrepresentative of the community. To mirror this typically Muslim dilemma the author recounts a reply Mirza Ghalib gave to his British interlocutor when asked if he was a Muslim. “I am half Muslim. I drink wine; I do not eat pork,” the poet laureate retorted. It’s also reported that when the official photographer was preparing to shoot Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s portrait and urged him to put his cigar away, Jinnah yelled saying, “I am your leader, damn you, not your prophet.”

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