Not surprisingly, the successfully concluded World Hindu Congress in Chicago has raised the hackles of the organized anti-Hindu mafia in India. Some have accused the event of being casteist, others communal. From what I saw of the actual event on the internet, the WHC called for a universal Hindu unity. I can see why opposition parties in India that ask for votes in the name of various castes, including the recent “Brahmin DNA”, would be nervous.
Others accused the WHC of “staining” the reputation of Hindus, most prominently, the NGO Avaaz which spent USD 26,000 on a full page ad in the Chicago Tribune. The same NGO Avaaz, that had earlier morphed the sacred “Om” symbol into a Nazi Swastika (Hooked Cross) and projected it onto the British Parliament.
Yet others wanted to know why the Hon. Vice President of India Shri Venkaiah Naidu would be present at an event that caters exclusively to one religious group. And that too at a cost to the public exchequer. I guess these people have never heard of the hundreds of crores that the Indian public spends on Haj Houses. In particular, one of the “journalists” who asked this question has recently finished a PhD from Aligarh Muslim University, a publicly funded Muslim institution that has been laughing off Supreme Court verdicts, India’s secular constitution and democratically elected government since the 1960s. At least she should have known better. But then you can’t wake up people who are pretending to sleep.
This prompts me to tell you of an episode from the history of the “secular” Indian republic, a particularly embarrassing one. It’s from 1969 when India formally applied to become a part of the Muslim world.
But we didn’t become a part of the Muslim world. Not because our government was held back by our secular constitution. But because the Muslim world refused to let us in, formally berating us Indians “conmen”, “crafty” and “persona non grata.” Exact words. No joke. Read on to find out why.
You see in 1969, the “Muslim world” decided to form its own international organization, something that would be “the collective voice of the Muslim world.” It was called the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference), later renamed in 2011 as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The first conference was to be held in Rabat in Morocco.
Among the countries jostling to be part of the “Muslim world”: secular and democratic India under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
But India made some key mistakes. Because the event was to be held in the capital of Morocco, India asked its ambassador in Morocco to lead the negotiations. This, as it turns out, was a goof up. As the Times of India tells us:
“Of course, as former foreign secretary JN Dixit wrote, India itself goofed up — by letting its ambassador Gurbachan Singh lead the negotiations and not an Indian Muslim leader.”
Sending Gurbachan Singh instead of an Indian Muslim leader was a mistake? You can just feel the “secularism” gushing through the veins of this tolerant Islamic organization, can’t you?
But India did realize its mistake and it tried to make amends.
“In fact, subsequent delegation to OIC from India, led by Fakruddin Ali Ahmed, did not make it beyond Rome.”
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi quickly replaced a Sikh representative with a Muslim just in time to show how secular we were. Blame it on bad air connectivity back in the day, but full marks to Indira Gandhi for her commitment to secularism. And her determination to join this very secular Organization of Islamic Conference.
As you can tell from the opening lines of the OIC charter that India was so desperate to sign:
“In the name of Allah, the most Compassionate, the most Merciful We the Member States of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, determined …. to be guided by the noble Islamic values of unity and fraternity … to endeavour to work for revitalizing Islam’s pioneering role in the world … ”
What a loss for Indian secularism that we could not become a part of this historic endeavour to revitalize Islam’s pioneering role in the world. It’s left a big hole in the “idea of India.”
Okay, so who saved us from formally becoming a part of the Muslim world? When Pakistani President Yahya Khan heard that India was going to join the OIC, he threw a tantrum and threatened to leave Morocco on the pretext of being “unwell.”
For the Muslim world, the choice was clear. They could have Pakistan OR they could have India. Not both.
Who would the Muslim world go for? The “believers” from Pakistan or the “non-believers” from India? What do the “noble Islamic values of unity and fraternity” say?
What if the “non-believers” from India sweetened the pot by withdrawing their Sikh representatives in favour of Muslim representatives?
Sorry, but in the end, a non-believer is just that: a non-believer. And so it was that Pakistan President Yahya Khan received a joint apology from King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, King Hussein of Jordan and the host King Hassan of Morocco. They blamed everything on us Indians, especially our Ambassador who happened to be a Sikh:
An apology was given to Pakistan by Islamic nations, calling Indians crafty, conmen, barring our delegation from entering and declaring our ambassador as persona non-grata.
How do you like your Indian secularism now? Feels great, doesn’t it?
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.