A couple years back, I spent my down time playing a video game called Plague Inc. The game starts off with you playing as a bacteria, parasite, fungus, or of course as a virus. Your objective is to spread yourself across the globe infecting as many humans as possible, eventually leading to the culling of all of humanity. To win, you must silently evolve and spread, careful to not alert too many humans nor remain too isolated. On the way, you cause travel bans, mass hysteria, political clashes, etc… Sound familiar?
Now, we are seeing an eerily recognizable reality to the fantasy of that game. Coronavirus-19 has become the modern plague of our times. And while it is no where near the level of Plague Inc’s apocalyptic end game, COVID-19 threatens to upend many of our society’s given structures and force the world down a new path.
On August 15, 1947, an ancient civilization manifested into a new nation. Near the stroke of midnight, Jawaharlal Nehru, freedom fighter and India’s first Prime Minister, would make one the greatest speeches of the 20th century – “A Tryst With Destiny.”
One passage stands out the most which is integral in this piece:
“A moment comes, which comes, but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”
The Soul of a Nation
The idea of the soul, or Atman, has been a central topic in Indian philosophy. Most strands posit it as eternal, unchanging, and inherently good. Liberation is achieved when one identifies with the soul and disassociates with the body.
But what defines the soul of India?
Nehru tried to define this soul or “idea” of India in his book, The Discovery of India. Nehru idolized India’s diversity, tolerance, and tradition of pluralism. Most Indians today and in the past would agree with these values.
But problems arrived with the body of this newly born India state. Its hands were tied by excessive government regulations where profit was a plague, and a mercantile people’s instincts were silenced. The feet of the masses marched behind the banners of caste (for Hindus) and religion (for minorities) rather than behind the Indian tricolor or tiranga. The brain or “intellectuals” of India veered into a Red Sea where Marxists rewrote books to vilify India’s indigenous culture and deify its conquerors as civilizers of the heathen brown savage.
Post-colonial India became a state ruled by Brown Englishmen exploiting mass corruption while spitting on mass tradition. To maintain this equation, balance was achieved by pitting community against community; while feudal lords doled out sops and calculated political arithmetic. This all changed when a new variable entered the board – unity.
Truth is One
Ekam Sat Viprā Bahudhā Vadanti – Truth is one, the wise know it by many names.
— Rig Veda (1.164.46)
I’ve quoted the above several times before. The reason I do is because how integral this verse is in explaining India. Nehru’s idea of India indeed traces itself to this verse spoken thousands of years ago. However, what Nehru and his disciples did not acknowledge is that their “Idea of India’s” origin was rooted in this Vedic verse. They would think of any and every reason to explain India’s inherent diversity and tolerance other than its actual cause – the soul of India: Dharma.
Ekam Sat is the social contract of the Indian experience. As long as people abide by it, sectarian peace can prevail and has in India for millennia. When ideologies came that did not accept Ekam Sat, India has witnessed terrible bloodshed in the name of God or lack there of. This is not to say that India was some peaceful fantasy land for all of its history, but it is reasonable to say that inter-and intra-religious violence amongst Dharmic sects has been extremely minimal compared to its foreign analogues.
But how did this unity manifest itself in modern India – an India of hundreds of colonial and cultural divisions filled with struggle and strife?
The Price of Saffron
Two currents would force the struggling streams of the Indian state into the beginnings of a singular and mighty river: saffronization and economic liberation.
It was in the late 1980s/early 1990s was when India’s reincarnation truly began.
Across the Arabian Sea, Saddam Hussein launched an invasion into Kuwait in 1990. Oil prices and India’s oil payments jettisoned while exports slumped with its balance sheet teetering. India was now forced into an IMF bailout conditioned on massive economic liberalization. The curse of the Kuwaiti invasion would turn into India’s blessing.
Political whirlwinds would give air to an upstart party in the BJP, which would grow in strength and numbers over the years. Reaching a zenith in 2014 with a massive victory of Prime Minister Modi, the BJP now began laying ground for a new India. On a foundation of welfare, infrastructure, and promotion of indigenous tradition, Modi would build the first pillars of rebirth in 2019 with an even greater mandate than prior.
Through this trident of tectonic maneuvers, Modi and the BJP signaled their intent to the world in 2019 – India would no longer sit by and be defined by haughty intellectuals or journalist editorials; India would define itself, and it was now defined by reclamation.
Amongst hyperventilating outlets publishing misinformation after mischaracterization, much of the international public has been caught dazed by what is happening in India. The BJP’s shambolic public relations department does not help either. In all 3 actions, India is placing primacy on indigenous tradition and history. It is addressing the festering scars that have been open since partition and caused by conflict from ages past.
In Narendra Modi, they have found the Special One. His background, achievements, and character have captured the Indian imagination. He is an every man coming from humble roots who has given a precedent of defiance to those of doubt. Modi has not only given hope to the average Indian, but also a mirror.
He has laid out the corruption and hypocrisies of the old elites. His orations give the tales of an ancient people, speaking to the deep seated cultural trauma and perseverance of India. Modi’s Hindutva is breaking the Brown Englishman’s idols and killing its sacred cows, while reminding India of its old ideals and sanctity.
But the old elites also have an even more alarming fire at their doorstep – caste is breaking down.
With urbanization, increased economic mobility, and indeed with the strengthened of Hindutva, people are identifying as Indian or Hindu first rather than their caste like in the old days. Social media and the internet have broken the stranglehold of academia and mainstream media to deliver narratives that are much more in tune with reality today, history yesterday, and the future tomorrow. The carefully carved world of postcolonial India is crumbling to ashes. And the BJP is intent on dashing those ashes away as a preparation for reincarnation.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s “Idea of India” was only partially correct. India is not just the land of diversity and pluralism. India is the land of Dharma, of ancient traditions, and uniquely indigenous narratives. It is the land of Ram, of Krishna, of Buddha, of Mahavir, and of Nanak. It is the land of Chanakya, with a state that seeks to improve diplomacy and statecraft. It is the land of Yoga and meditation. It is the land of science and spirituality; of Aryabhatta and Aryavarta. It is a land of the Dharmachakra, where the wheel of change forever turns on the spokes of Dharmic virtues.
It is the land where the soul of a civilization, long suppressed, is reborn today in a new avatar.
What are you guys’ predictions on the upcoming turbulence (if there even is any)? With 2020 US elections, an infuriated Iran, weary Gulf, and a quiet Turkish shadow in the backdrop – we may be set for an interesting scenario in the tinderbox of the world.
PS: Latest development in Iran; apparently a pretty culturally/theologically significant event –
Watch: First Time In The History of Iran, Red Flag hoisted Over The Holy Dome Of Jamkarān Mosque,Iran. This is one of the most significant Mosque of Iran
As the United Kingdom’s Labour Party swallowed a staggering loss, it’s clear that we see a pattern across the world. Election after election, Left parties collapse against either centrist or frequently right wing parties. Does this imply a victory for the “Global Right?”
The crux of Joseph’s argument lies in the fact that Leftists have become constantly concerned with grand humanitarian conflicts and cosmopolitan problems while Right Wingers are more concerned with “skin in the game” local issues. The Leftist leader shouts in a city square about human rights abuses in Israel, America, India, the UK, etc… (all while conveniently ignoring much, much worse abuses in less pluralistic and less democratic countries). The Right Wing leader is on the hinterland battleground listening to disaffected and ignored voters about their latest economic or communal ailment. The Left has become caught up in the noise in the air while the Right have their ears to the ground.
Of course, you may notice that lately there has been some hobnobbing amongst many “nationalist” or Right Wing leaders. Yet this exercise will only go so far.
Consider this – put an American Evangelical Christian and an Indian Hindu Hardliner in a room together. While they may both agree on their disdain of radical Islam, they will reach an impasse when the Evangelical explains to the Hindu Hardliner that they will burn in hell for eternity for not believing in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Hindu Hardliner will then tell the Evangelical to stop sending missionaries who destroy indigenous Indian culture with their conversion agenda. This clash will overwhelm any commonalities in the long run.
Bring a group of Leftists from disparate places such as London, New York, and New Delhi and you will have free flowing conversations about the liberation of Palestine, proper pronoun use, and how one needs to read more Marxist theory for communism to work.
Even on economics, Right Wingers from different nations will have vehement disagreements. The British Tories are distinctly to the left of American Democrats. Narendra Modi (who many times is described as “Far Right”) has enacted more “Socialist” policies in 5 years than Bernie Sanders will probably ever do in his lifetime. Modi has achieved the wildest economic initiatives of American Democrats yet is labeled as India’s doom and gloom; which is in direct contrast to his staggering electoral victories.
Finally, we have to acknowledge the grand chasm between international media’s narratives and ground realities. The raucous and slanted theater over the 2016 US, 2019 UK, and 2019 Indian elections show how massively wrong reporting was. This was a validation of localist siege mentalities regarding the media as well as the growing distrust people have in it.
What is a nation?
Is it its citizens? Its borders? Its values? Its history? Its present? Its future?
Of course, a reasonable take is that it is all of the above. The Left’s problem is that it has disconnected from its old base (the working class) partly because it has more or less forsaken the first 3 (notions of citizenship, borders, and local values).
The rural proletariat backbone of Left parties across the world have now been labeled as bigots, uncouth, and “deplorables;” simply because they refuse to digest runaway academic politicking, sneering towards their local tradition, and denigrating of their skin color or religion.
The Left’s relentless attack on their countries’ respective “majorities” has manifested into electoral backlashes. Even in loss, we’ve seen their ideologues double down on this suicidal oration.
Does this mean all minorities should be shamed and hounded for their misdeeds? Absolutely and unequivocally no. All communities in a nation, whether in majority or minority should move to remove their faults and prosper forward. However, the reality is that localist parties have now been given enough ammo from the Left to consolidate majorities in their countries. The Left’s vote bank vetos have lost their old potency and must face the mirror or face the music.
From Revolution to Rosé
The march of muddied boots under red flags used to send shivers up the spine of capitalists. Now capitalists rally around the latest “woke” trend and other inane culture wars that are ripe for the investment into perpetual outrage. Old Left leaders came from factory floors, while the current crop comes from Ivy Leagues and ivory towers. The formally faithful worker base asks for policy changes regarding welfare, wages, and trade; while the bourgeoise urban elite donors and leadership demand new articles highlighting “X-phobia” and identity politics.
And when the Left does decide to finally wade into economic issues, the results have been lackluster.
The topic of the Left’s economic evolution is worthy of a book in and of itself. Every country’s economic situation and externalities are very unique; so it is futile to paint their economic portrait either free market green or a socialist red. However, a common theme across the world has been Left parties holding the torch of economic reform only to run either half measures or trip up over useless communal quarrels.
America is a prime arena as the economic tug of war is in full force here.
While markets have recovered and wildly prospered post-2008, many Americans feel like they missed the ship. These same Americans would propel Trump into power as they saw the Democrats’ half hearted economic agenda failing them. The Democrats would face a wave of economic populism to finish what Obama started, but this would drown under toxic identity politics introduced by the mainstream Clinton camp to nullify Sanders’ swell. The problem came about when Clinton lost and now a new wave of Democrats combined both Clinton’s social agenda with Sanders’ economic direction. As various elections across the world have shown, this is not a reliable concoction.
While older Left parties were seen as champions of the working class, they have increasingly championed policies that hurt them. Open borders and mass immigration rhetoric would be devastating to lower income people with depressed wages and increased job competition. Scathing criticism of the “billionaire class” by multi-millionaire politicians not only looks like ridiculous rhetoric but is absolutely ineffective policy. Billionaires and the mega rich are indeed the global citizens that many Leftists wish they were. As Europe’s failed wealth tax experiment showed, the rich will simply move abroad or tell their accountant to move their money.
A Path Forward
A light in these dark times for the (Western) Left is demography. The youth overwhelmingly favor Left parties in places like the US and Europe (India is the opposite where youth are placing faith in the BJP). American youth even have a positive tilt towards socialism. I can imagine a recession in the near future will shatter the walls to universal healthcare, major subsidies in education, and maybe even UBI.
However, what the Left must work on is ushering in renewed faith amongst the majorities of their nations. A ceasing of incessant attacks on majority culture, customs, and values is a must. It is all right to call out the problems of slavery, imperialism, etc… of the past, but the crimes of the past should not rest on the shoulders of those in the present. Likewise, current issues regarding discrimination shouldn’t be blanketed over whole populations.
Concerning immigration, it is a topic for individual nations dependent on context and demographics. An open or loose border ideal won’t work for most nations if any due to either economic constrains or demographic antagonism.
In America at least, I see glimpses of a future winning ticket in politicians such as Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard (though both will most likely not win the primaries) who shun the vociferous social histrionics of much of their party while presenting decidedly Left articulations of economics without wading into full blown socialist visions. They stand their ground all while standing up for minorities as equal citizens instead of coddled vote banks or vilified communities. All this, while tackling the impending massive changes to the economy as the information age veers into full swing.
It is more than clear that Left parties have their work cut out for them. Introspection is the best prescription I can offer them as their current path will only lead to ruin. The world needs their kind for ideological balance, sensible opposition, and checks to an increasingly dominant right wing across the world.
Time will tell when sense returns to the Left. Till then, localism will reign.
The feverish pitch over the Citizenship Amendment Bill has reached a crescendo. The Indian lower house of parliament has overwhelmingly passed it with it now reaching the upper house. Most likely, it will pass with the support of “neutral” parties pushing the bill over majority.
Under the CAB – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Christians (basically persecuted communities of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh) will receive asylum and an accelerated path to citizenship.
Critics label this bill as anti-Muslim and rhetoric from certain BJP members does not help in the defense against this accusation.
But again consistent with the common theme of international coverage of India, we are missing context (or more accurately, outlets are leaving it out purposefully).
What’s A Partition?
Not the Beyoncé song. If you have an inkling of knowledge about subcontinental history, you know about the partition and the Two Nation Theory (TNT). TNT was proposed by an Islamist ideologue named Syed Ahmed Khan of Aligarh Muslim University in the late 1800s. Muhammed Ali Jinnah ran with the idea and eventually convinced enough Muslims to vote for partition (Hindus, Sikhs, etc… were not polled for their vote). In the midst of continued violence (much of it encouraged by Jinnah’s Muslim League), the Indian National Congress would acquiesce to partition. Massive violence followed with millions of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs dead.
However, while Pakistan became an Islamic state, India remained secular (though its minority appeasement down the line really pushes that definition).
It is the shadow of partition that looms large over the CAB.
The Entry Rules?
Defenders of the CAB say it gives refuge to persecuted minorities in true Indian tradition (Baghdadi Jews, Syrian Christians, Persian Zoroastrians, and Tibetan Buddhists have all received refuge in India over thousands of years). However it brings to point the case of Islamic minorities (Shias, Ahmediyas, Ex-Muslims, etc…). Many of these minorities face horrid persecution in the Islamic subcontinental states. Why should India also turn them back?
Now is where the acceptance of partition arrives. CAB critics say by rejecting persecuted Muslims, India validates Jinnah and the TNT. I can honestly understand this perspective. Why should these Muslims pay for the sins and mistakes of their ancestors?
On the flip side, CAB supporters return with saying they are merely accepting realities. Threats of national security, demographic change, as well as a cold hard perspective that India owes nothing to those related to its partition (non-Indian Muslims) are valid reasoning no matter how un-PC they are. In addition, the CAB has no bearing on Indian Muslims.
Even deeper, CAB supporters see this as India fulfilling its duty as a refuge of Dharma in the case of Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs. The near complete obliteration of Dharmic religion from these lands is not forgotten and won’t be any time soon.
The legalese with regards to the bill seems iffy on its constitutionality. The Indian constitution bars discrimination based on religion within India. However it doesn’t bar discrimination with regards to non-Indian citizens.
India’s Home Minister Amit Shah (and probably next Prime Minister), has foreseen this. During a firebrand speech recently, Shah pointed out the litany of laws favoring minorities in India thereby showing a mirror to the Indian state’s institutional religious discrimination. This poses a major problem for the opposition. Add to the fact that the BJP has massive political capital after the Kashmir and Ram Mandir episodes, the centre possesses an insurmountable high ground over its opponents.
But what about a moral high ground?
Western media laments at how India has degenerated to fascism these days. Is this perception reality? Probably not in my opinion.
I think what irks many of these outlets is an assertive India that no longer looks for the approval of the West (or a deracinated brown sahib/a in their place).
What has caught my mind recently is how Western coverage of India is affecting perceptions of India abroad. While some saw Modi as an aberration of a “secular, democratic, and liberal” Indian ethos, now they are beginning to realize Modi and Hindutva are here to stay. Does that mean India will slide into fascism?
On the other hand, many domestic Modi supporters would say that Modi is fulfilling a “secular, democratic, and liberal” ethos that India lacked for so long under Congress rule! Of course in both of these scenarios, I am speaking of white collar middle class folks’ perspectives. Other demographics would say Modi is fulfilling his role as a Hindu leader giving refuge to the persecuted Hindus in lost lands (this may honestly be the biggest vote catcher for the CAB and primary driver of the BJP’s push).
As the world becomes more globalized, it will be interesting how influential Western media outlets will be on the increasingly connected youth of developing nations including India (the caveat is India’s youth are more pro BJP than older generations).
Yes, opinions can change as we age but it is fairly apparent that your average millennial takes the word of BBC/NYT/Wash Post as gospel. We will have to see how a Western left wing government reacts to India, especially one whose constituency is in congruence with this “India = Fascist” narrative. Throwing in the wrench of India’s rising economic clout, these parties will have a bit of a conundrum.
Though it must be said, do that many Westerners even really care about India?
Find more about Indian, American, and Geopolitics at my blog – The Emissary. Thanks again to the Brown Pundits!
There are various images I could have chosen to represent Islam in India. One could use the Taj Mahal, the ruins of a temple, a mural of a bloody battlefield, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the beauty of Indo-Islamic art, and so many more images. Islam in India has had a long and complicated history. People have argued till tongues became swords over the impact of Islam on India and its relation to the people. Indeed, one could argue the most lasting impact of Islam on the subcontinent is its partitioning by Jinnah and his cohorts on that fateful day in 1947; when Mahatma Gandhi’s dream was ripped apart in a bloody separation of an ancient people.
But while this post will examine the past, I want to focus on the now and future of Islam in India. That is why I chose to have possibly the most beloved Indian in history, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, as the heading photo for this post. But we will talk more about him and what he encapsulates later; let’s take a look back at the sands of time.
I’ll be upfront and say I have an overall negative view on Islam’s past impact on India.
One of the most eminent historians ever, Will Durant, wrote this of the Islamic invasion of India:
“The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex of order and freedom, culture and peace, can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within.” – The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage page 459.
History has witnessed monsters that have killed millions – Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, the Spanish conquistadors of America, etc… – but Durant singles out the hundreds of years long siege of Islam on India as the bloodiest of them all. Millions dead, raped, or forcibly converted. Temples, universities, and entire cities lay in ruin. An indigenous culture repressed and humiliated all because they believed in a different god.
While this image is grave, it’s not what I want you to leave with in regards to India’s Islam. Amongst the carnage and deep darkness that swept the subcontinent, there was light.
Islamic rule in India produced great art, literature, opulence, but most beautiful of all – syncretism, the trademark of India. Akbar was one of the first rulers who recognized the underlying similarities between Islam and Hinduism; so much so, that he integrated both religions into his own system – Din-I-Ilahi – or the Religion of God (original…I know).
The Varanasi poet and weaver, Kabir, won the hearts of both Hindus and Muslims. His poetry would be recited till this day as an epitaph to his spirit of spiritual harmony. His musings would change how religion was practiced across North India, including influencing a newly born religion – Sikhism. Guru Nanak would continue Kabir’s compare and contrasting of Hinduism and Islam, while providing his own unique philosophy.
The Mughal prince, Dara Shikoh, even wrote a treatise on the similarities of Vedanta and Sufism in a book – Majma-ul-Bahrain (The Confluence of Seas). Dara would translate the Upanishads from Sanskrit into Persian as he was fascinated by the concepts found in this mystical and ancient book. Dara would become convinced that the Upanishads were the Kitab al-Maknun (The Hidden Book) mentioned in the Quran.
India had a habit of making foreigners and foreign ideas attain a saffron hue as time went on. The Dargahs, Qawwalis, saint veneration, and many cultural practices of Indian Islam would be completely alien to the rest of the Islamic world. Much of this was due to local spiritual influences that had been present for millennia. Religion turned grey as time went on with Hindus revering Sufi saints and Muslims seeking the blessings of Hindu sadhus.
Perhaps this was due to the old pluralism of the Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita (Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains had already lived peacefully with each other). Or maybe due to the emphasis of oneness and the mysticism of the ever popular Sufis of the subcontinent. Either way, one has to acknowledge that pluralism indeed did succeed as India saw Hindus and Muslims live side by side and intermingle.
Unfortunately the scars of the past would overshadow much of the syncretism that bloomed in India. During the fledgeling Indian independence movement, an intellectual named Syed Ahmed Khan (1817 – 1898) would propose the two nation theory – an idea that Hindus and Muslims were fundamentally different peoples who could not live side by side in a united India.
Years later, a pan-Indian nationalist would pen the beautiful poem “Sāre Jahān se Achchhā, Hindositān Hamārā” (Better than the entire world is our India) with lines such as “Religion does not teach us to bear animosity among ourselves; we are of Hind, our homeland is Hindustan.” He would then go to school for Islamic studies and return an avowed proponent of the Two Nation Theory and Islamist. His name was Muhammed Iqbal, and he would become a renowned poet, revolutionary, and ideological father of Pakistan.
Muslim nationalists such as Muhammed Ali Jinnah (founder of Pakistan) would seize Khan and Iqbal’s philosophy and go on to campaign for and eventually succeed in creating the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
A large amount of Indian Muslims would end up staying in India. Their population would grow as the population of Hindus in Pakistan was decimated. Muslims would form a significant electoral block in India as the INC would slowly dole out appeasement to capture a loyal vote bank on one side while dividing Hindus by caste on the other side. It was a stunningly effective method leading to political dominance for 60 years.
For all of India’s faults, it is not Pakistan. Pakistan’s collapse into a bankrupt terror state that has annihilated and oppressed its minorities has contrasted with India. India’s minorities have grown in the percentage of population while also rising to the upper echelons of the highest political, intellectual, artistic, scientific, and indeed almost every single aspect of Indian society. That is not to say they do not face discrimination in India, but there should be no comparison anymore between which minorities have faired better in the subcontinent.
With Modi’s rise and the mainstreaming of Hindutva, eyes now rest on the fate and future of India’s Muslims.
India will never rise unless its 200+ million Muslim population rises with it. I have praised many of Modi’s welfare programs as I believe they will reap compound interest on human capital. Much of that interest will accrue on the lower economic rungs of society; rungs which a large amount of Muslims populate. Economic empowerment is integral for India’s Muslims to prosper.
Perhaps the more controversial aspect of Muslim upliftment is cultural integration. Notions of “worship my god or you are condemned to eternal hell” are alien to the Indian ethos. Pluralism is the blood of India. Ideally, all Indians would celebrate each others festivals, holidays, commemorations together. Unfortunately, much of Muslim leadership still meanders in more conservative approaches towards Islam that don’t fit the millennia-old “Ekam Sat” principle discussed in a previous post. Essentially “Ekam Sat” should be a pan-Indian spiritual acceptance, as it forms the basis of Indian pluralism. Whether Muslims theologically justify this by claiming Indian gods/avatars were “prophets” of Allah or any other basis (Dara Shikoh had a number), this thought process is essential to the mainstreaming of Indian Islam.
Another aspect that must be confronted is a more realistic view of India’s Islamic rule. More and more today, that period of India’s history is being demonized (and in many cases rightly so), but too much vitriol is being directed towards today’s Muslims. On the other side, a section of elites (whether Muslim or not) seek to glorify Mughal/Islamic rule as an enlightened age that civilized native heathen Indians. The age’s positive contributions (art, literature, architecture, syncretism) should be celebrated, but the atrocities must be acknowledged and accepted. Exalted glorification of this era isn’t wise nor laudable these days. Just as the British Raj has been exposed, so should the brutal Islamic regimes prior to it be exposed.
A Familiar Echo
It’s at this point where Asaduddin Owaisi, the leader of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), should be examined. Owaisi has always been a firebrand and extremely articulate politician and speaker. He has frequently engaged in Islamist rhetoric; though to give him credit, he doesn’t with baiters from across the border and proudly calls himself Indian. The recent problem with Owaisi though, is his disturbing calls for a pan-Islamic organizing in India.
Does this sound familiar?
But wait – what is wrong with calls for Muslim consolidation if people say it’s okay for Hindu consolidation (Hindutva)? The thing is, we’ve seen what Muslim consolidation has done in partition. The shadow of the subcontinental fissure still looms today. With the recent Ram Mandir verdict signaling a possible new era in India, Owaisi has become more and more outright in his mission to be a leader of India’s Muslims. Opening deposits in as many Muslim majority localities as he can, Owaisi seeks to dent a flailing Congress’s old and trusted vote bank, while the BJP watches with glee as Owaisi cannibalizes a rival.
Because of partition, most Indians will be allergic to Owaisi’s call. Whether one believes Muslim consolidation into a party is okay, necessary, egregious, or disgusting doesn’t matter electorally. What matters is that most Indians will have an overwhelmingly negative view of AIMIM and see this movement as Jinnah Part 2. If one believes Indian Muslims are already sidelined, wait till you see what happens if Owaisi gets his way.
India’s electoral future may mirror Israel’s current situation – A religious Hindu Party vs a secular Hindu Party with a number of smaller parties including a large, shunned Muslim Party just as the Arab parties are in Israel today. That is a death-knell for Indian Muslims as they will become pariahs electorally and their interests will be completely sidelined.
I don’t believe this will happen because of India’s pluralistic spirit, the current integration of Muslims, partition’s shadow, but also demographic pulls – Muslims are a large minority that have dividends in being catered to. But when discussing that spirit of India, we must also discuss Hindutva and Hindu consolidation. Isn’t it also a clear and present danger?
The answer lies in India’s past (Ekam Sat/pluralism) and how future Indians react to religion. For India to keep moving forward, I think it may have to reflect in its past, where religion becomes more composite and syncretic. The Dharmic religions have demonstrated this well enough; the gauntlet is now thrown to the other side and a fork in the road arrives. In a time of turbulence, will one choose the path of Aurangzeb or the path of Dara Shikoh?
When the Maratha King Shivaji rebelled against the Mughal Aurangzeb, Shivaji sent Aurangzeb a letter demanding him to stop his persecution of Hindus. Shivaji sought to reestablish Hindu rule in India but made it a point to be inclusive of Muslims; while Aurangzeb obsessed over a fanatical wish to convert the subcontinent to Islam by any means necessary.
“Verily, Islam and Hinduism are terms of contrast. They are used by the true Divine Painter for blending the colors and filling in the outlines. If it is a mosque, the call to prayer is chanted in remembrance of God. If it is a temple, the bells are rung in yearning for God alone.” –Shivaji’s Letter to Aurangzeb April 2nd, 1679
Again, here we see a triumph of India’s pluralism in the face of fanaticism. And it is this thought process that may be the path forward for both Hindus and Muslims in India.
India’s Muslims are just as Indian as a Hindu, Christian, Sikh, etc… India is an officially secular state (though it could do with less appeasement and more universal civil code) and will be so in the foreseeable future. Bigots and extremists line the coats of each Indian political party. BJP’s extremists frequently attack today’s Muslims for the crimes of the past and constantly question their patriotism. This alienation will never do India well.
I have always thought that there was a clear “civilizational interest” for India’s civilization. Whether it is called “Dharma” or by another word; throughout India’s history, there have been pivotal moments that either furthered or distressed India. And this “Dharma” has been blind to religion.
Take an example of this: Would you consider the self-proclaimed Janeudhari Brahmin Hindu Rahul Gandhi more Dharmic than Muslim Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam? Or how about the “master Sanskrit shloka” speaker and queen of appeasement, Mamata Banerjee, being more pro-Indic civilization than the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh? Would the anti-Ram Mandir (or anti any Hindu interest) lawyer, Kapil Sibal, be more of service to India than the Kashmiri Indian soldier, Aurangzeb, who was brutally murdered by terrorists for serving in the Indian Army?
India’s interests are beyond religious labels. Muslims have become integral parts of the Indian state, society, and now civilization. Muslims need to be integrated economically and culturally for India to thrive. And India’s Muslims need better models and leaders than communalists who stoke identity politics, regressive practices, and an us versus them mentality concerning Hindus.
Abdul Kalam perhaps represents this ideal Indian Muslim (and definitely an ideal Indian for all to emulate). One who devoutly worships Allah and practices his spirituality but also fully embraces the Indian values of Dharma, Ahimsa, and pluralism. Beyond his great service to the nation, Kalam’s fondness for Sanskrit, the Bhagavad Gita, Tamil poetry, playing the Veena, etc… endeared him to the entire Indian population. Kalam was a living breathing amalgamation of the Indian experiment, combining various spiritualities, cultures, and passions. Kalam continued Dara Shikoh’s view of Islam and Hinduism as two beautiful answers to the same question of life and spirituality. This is a mentality that both Hindus and Muslims should embrace. Easier said than done of course, but a worthy aim in the journey of India.