HOME Minister Rajnath Singh has said that Pakistan is again trying to divide India on the basis of religion. He conveniently forgets history. Pakistan was a consequence, not the cause. The society was divided and both Hindus and Muslims had reached a point of no return. Consequently, they had marshaled themselves in two separate camps with little contacts with each other. True, the Muslim League under the leadership of Mohammad Ali Jinnah wanted a separate sovereign Muslim state, but there was a time when he had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan which gave the Centre three subjects—Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications. It was Jawaharlal Nehru who said the constituent assembly could change anything. That made Jinnah to go back from the Cabinet Mission Plan and he openly said that he did not “trust” the Congress, which claimed to represent the unity of India.
Rajnath Singh would do well to change the agenda of his Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra. It is doing so with a vengeance. After coming to power at the Centre, the BJP has changed the top honchos of institutions because of the orders from its mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Even the Nehru Centre which imbibed the teachings of Jawaharlal Nehru, an icon representing the national freedom movement, has been drastically disturbed. Satish Sahney, the Chief Executive, is a staunch RSS follower. The students at the Film Institute in Pune have been at the receiving end after Gajndra Chuhan was appointed as its head. No amount of protests had made the government relent. Appointments in other institutions, too, had followed the same pattern. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not taken any policy decision which would reflect the Hindutva philosophy. But his speeches and actions suggest a lurch towards the right. The society has a veneer of soft-Hindutva, whether the Prime Minister says so or not. After all, the nation had returned him with an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha and he is making the party’s agenda good.
The Muslims, who are roughly 17 crore, hardly count for in the government affairs. The centre has only one Muslim cabinet-ranked minister and he, too, holds an insignificant portfolio. The community does not voice its demand any more as if it has already accepted the number two position. In fact, it is on a defensive mould blaming itself for the partition of the country. Once I asked a Muslim luminary at the Jamia Millia at Delhi why the community was conspicuously silent? He said that it now wanted only safety for its life and property and had realized that the majority community doubted their commitment to the country. The Muslims, he said, were conscious that they were behind the country’s division and that they would be mistrusted if they were to ask anything more. Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s Martyrs’ Day speech has only underlined the suspicion that the hard core Hindus have about the Muslims. The average Hindu accommodates the average Muslim and both, despite prodding by the leaders, live and do business amicably. The communal riots have dramatically dipped and there are instances when the Muslims have helped the Hindus in rehabilitation and vice-versa. India must admit that it has not been able to establish secularism in the full sense, although democracy has got planted. It is very much visible during elections. The lack of secular ethos is because of the doubtful commitment by Hindus who are in a majority. In fact, it is their duty to put the minority community at ease and give it confidence.
I was recently at Srinagar. An engineer who conducted me was a Muslim. He complained that he did not get any worthwhile job in the rest of the country because of his religion. When the private sector found that he was a Muslim, even though he had all the qualifications for the job, he was not hired. That he was a Kashmiri only aggravated the situation further. Even other Muslims find it hard to get jobs in the rest of the country. The private sector does not normally hire them because of prejudice. And they find it difficult to score in open competitions since they have not had the education in private schools where the fee is steep. The government schools lack the facilities like good faculty and environment which only add to their woes.
I was Delhi editor of The Statesman when a Muslim employee, who had returned to India after his education in England, complained that he did not get a house in a decent locality. To my horror, I found that he was speaking the truth and that it was not possible for a Muslim to hire on rent a good accommodation owned by a Hindu. That was in the sixties. Even today, there is hardly any change in the attitude by the majority community. Rajnath Singh should take steps to ensure that the Muslims get accommodation in localities which have Hindus in majority. Otherwise, there are bound to be areas which are overcrowded and where the Muslims feel safe. It’s of little use to have the routine Iftar parties which every government or, for that matter, party leaders have to placate the minority community.
Even in a sophisticated city like Mumbai, the Muslims had to remove their name plates at the time of riots to hide their identity. It is a pity that Hindu neighbours could not give them enough confidence so that they feel safe and mingle with them without any inhibition. The feeling of security is what they want. It is the duty of government to instill that. For that the security forces would have to stay above the religious pull. It has been noticed that the force when used in riot-ridden localities tends to become parochial. The army is often called to maintain peace because it is not contaminated. Rajnath Singh should take steps to get rid of religious phobia in the force that he commands. Instead, he is giving speeches and blaming Pakistan for the pernicious fallouts of the country’s division.
—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human rights activist and author.