The online portal First Post recently carried a piece by one of their senior editors, G. Pramod Kumar, suggesting that the BJP is only promoting Hindu icons and this is an attempt at imposing a monochromatic narrative of Indian history. However, this is a blatant lie, given that the Modi sarkar has announced that it will be commemorating Muslim national icons like Ashfaqulla Khan, Abbas Tyabji and Begum Hazrat Mahal, as well as Christian national icons like TM Varghese, even planning to start schemes named after them. The government is already running a scheme for the religious minorities named after Maulana Azad (who, claims G. Pramod Kumar, has been forgotten by the BJP, though Najma Heptullah, who is the minority affairs minister in the Modi cabinet and who is related to the late maulana, often invokes his name). Also, the BJP government has issued a postage stamp on the Orthodox Theological Seminary (popularly called the Old Seminary), a Christian seminary based in Kottayam, Kerala. Thus, G. Pramod Kumar is either misinformed or may be deliberately lying.
If someone argues that G. Pramod Kumar’s reference was only in the context of the celebrations being planned by the BJP on its completion of one year in office (though one cannot draw conclusions based only on one yet-to-occur event, overlooking everything else), which is technically a party affair rather than a government affair, with a Times of India report mentioning that the BJP plans to have celebrations at specific places like Ballia and Jhansi to commemorate Hindu icons who played a role in the Revolt of 1857, like Mangal Pandey and Rani Lakshmibai respectively. However, the very same report also mentions that Lucknow too would be a city where the BJP celebrations would be observed, and in fact, that is the place where the central ministers are to assemble!
What the TOI report doesn’t mention, however, is that Lucknow is a city which has historically had a high Muslim population, both Shia and Sunni, and the most prominent historical personality from Lucknow during the Revolt of 1857 was Begum Hazrat Mahal, who, like Muslim women like Razia Sultan and Chand Bibi before her, had successfully asserted herself as an empowered woman. Can G. Pramod Kumar assert that her name will not be invoked in the BJP rally, given that, as mentioned earlier in this article, the Modi sarkar has announced that it will float a scheme named after her? Narendra Modi himself, in the run-up to the national elections, had mentioned the Revolt of 1857 as being very symbolic of Hindu-Muslim unity, in Rajat Sharma’s show ‘Aap ki Adalat’.
Also, while G. Pramod Kumar has accused the BJP of saffronizing history textbooks (which has happened in the past, and I even raised this issue with the late Mr. Arjun Singh, a Congress leader when he was HRD Minister. when I interviewed him for my school magazine in 2004 when the UPA had then just come to power, and I cited, among other things, a sentence in my then Class IX NCERT textbook that wrongly suggested that all Muslims withdrew from the Non-Cooperation Movement after the Treaty of Sevres was made to favour Turkey, but just by the way, the very subtle
When I interviewed him for my school magazine in 2004 when the UPA had then just come to power, and I cited, among other things, a sentence in my then Class IX NCERT textbook that wrongly suggested that all Muslims withdrew from the Non-Cooperation Movement after the Treaty of Sevres was made to favour Turkey, but just by the way, the very subtle saffronization of history textbooks is a far cry from the sheer distortion of facts in Pakistani history textbooks, though on a positive note, there are many liberals in Pakistan agitating for changes in the textbooks), the new textbooks are yet to be ready, and the BJP will be mindful of past criticism. It is too early to judge what the textbooks will say. However, the current textbooks from the UPA-II regime do need to be changed, given the blunders they contain.
Another bizarre excerpt from G. Pramod Kumar’s piece is stated hereunder-
“In its 2014 election manifesto, the BJP doesn’t hide an interesting double speak. It says that the party ‘believes in India being one country, one people and one nation.’ In the next sentence it contradicts itself by saying that it also ‘recognizes the importance of diversity in Indian society, and the strength and vibrancy it adds to the nation. The party believes in the principle of unity in diversity.’ One country, one people and one nation is against heterogeneity and diversity. And that exactly is the threat of its cultural nationalism.”
So, while the BJP manifesto for the national elections did acknowledge unity in diversity (and I may add that it even had a separate section dedicated to the religious minorities, promising the promotion of Urdu among other things), is it wrong to suggest that in spite of our diversity, we should be united as one country? Isn’t that the “idea of India” that secularists (count me in) believe in? But G. Pramod Kumar has some problem with the same, which is completely beyond my comprehension.
While I do believe that the BJP has so far failed to fulfil its promises (such as getting back black money stashed abroad in a hundred days) and has made many U-turns (such as on the nuclear deal, GST, FDI in retail, the Henderson Brooks Report and the Netaji files), India’s secular character enshrined in the constitution, which the Supreme Court has held cannot be abrogated by parliament, is here to stay. If anything, the BJP has been inducting new Muslim faces like MJ Akbar and Shazia Ilmi (even though the latter advocated Muslim communalism earlier), and in spite of its talk of no minority appeasement, is also pandering to the minority vote by starting schemes like ‘Nayi Manzil’, and if the BJP is not particularly seeking minority votes, it is doing so to be answerable to the secular civil society (which, in turn, shows the weight the secular forces carry in our democracy), which will ask why schemes are being doled out for Dalits but not Muslims, despite their backwardness, though I do personally believe that schemes should be for all economically backward people, irrespective of caste or religion.
Yes, the BJP has elements that speak a divisive language, as do several other parties (like Karnataka Congress chief G. Parameshwara saying that Muslims needn’t return loans) or their patrons (like Imam Bukhari justifying the destruction of Buddha statues by the Taliban), but not every Hindu right-of-centre person, even in the religious context, supports communal hate-mongering, vandalism and riots. Such relatively moderate people consider checking minority appeasement and minority communalism to be a greater issue than majority communalism (since they believe that majority communalism flows from minority communalism and minority appeasement), and such people are apologists, though not supporters, of Hindu communalism. Equally, however, supposedly left-leaning people are now often apologists for Muslim extremism (including Romila Thapar, who has been quoted seemingly reverentially by G. Pramod Kumar, and Thapar has gone to the extent of saying that it is worth pondering over whether Hindus are actually “by nature more given to killing” than other religious communities, as if religious majoritarian violence in Muslim-majority Kashmir or in our neighbourhood, in Muslim-majority Pakistan and Bangladesh and Buddhist-majority Myanmar and Sri Lanka has not existed!). In this piece, I have attempted to deconstruct and expose such left-liberals’ exaggerated narratives of Muslim victimhood in the Indian context, and how such narratives only boost communalism, both Hindu and Muslim.
Circulating false or even half-true propaganda that makes peace-loving people of minority religious groupings feel insecure and marginalized, and that pushes the more aggressive and hyper-communal elements of the minority religious groupings to radicalization is not secularism. But G. Pramod Kumar and his ilk do seem to believe that it is.
– By Karmanye Thadani
A freelance writer based in New Delhi. A lawyer by qualification, he has authored/co-authored four short books, namely ‘Anti-Muslim Prejudices in the Indian Context: Addressing and Dispelling Them’, ‘Women and Sport in India and the World: Examining the History and Suggesting Policy Reforms’, ‘Onslaughts on Free Speech in India by Means of Unwarranted Film Bans’ and ‘The Right to Self-Determination of Pakistan’s Baloch: Can Balochistan Go the Kosovo Way?’. He has also recently been involved in making an Urdu television serial on Indian nationalist leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.