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Revival of two-nation theory?
Publication Date : 31-01-2013
Muslims in Gujarat, West Bengal or in any other state are Indian citizens first, equal before the law. Extremists or states with weak administrations do not make them lesser citizens. True, the backwardness of Indian Muslims is a point of serious concern and must be urgently addressed.
Muzzafar Beg is one of the sensible voices in Kashmir. But I could not understand why he was mentioning Partition or the 1947 killings when commenting on the controversy over the BJP’s (Indian People's Party) demand for home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s resignation on his remark that both the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sanghand) the BJP had trained Hindu terrorists at shakhas (small gatherings).
On the other hand, a Pakistani lawyer told an Indian Muslim on a television channel that he was worse than a Hindu because he had blamed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for launching and supporting terrorists. Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan says that as an Indian Muslim, he has felt unsafe.
In an e-mail message to me, one well-read Muslim from Karachi says: “We do not have any problems with our Hindu brothers in spite of the fact that our Muslim brothers are being killed simply because they are Muslims in Gujarat.” An Indian prisoner was severely beaten and killed at Kot Lakhpat jail by the staff who made “racial remarks against Indians” (incidentally, the same jail has Sarabjit Singh on the death row).
One common theme that runs through all observations and is reinforced by the fatal jail violence is the same old estrangement between Hindus and Muslims. Partition was considered a solution to the problem when the British rulers were quitting. But it is still a problem. Partition has soured relations between the two communities. Now it is not just about Hindus and Muslims but also India and Pakistan.
I am a witness to Partition. The geographical division was based on religion. Nothing could be more futile than an argument now about who was responsible for it. With the sequence of events stretching back to more than six decades, such an exercise can only be academic. But it is clear that the differences between Hindus and Muslims had become so acute by the beginning of the 1940s that something like Partition had become inevitable.
For Beg to remind one of Partition is to raise a scare, knowing well that another Partition is out of the question. I concede that Indian polity is not as secular as our forefathers wanted it to be or had envisaged. Hindus have a feeling that they are a majority and Muslims suffer from a minority complex.
Yet India is far better than Pakistan whose founder Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had promised that religion would have nothing to do with the state. Jinnah never propounded the thesis that Indian Muslims would be Pakistan’s charge.
Therefore, the intellectual from Karachi propagates pan-Islamic thoughts when he says that “our Muslim brothers are being killed”.
Muslims on this side are Indians and those across the border are Pakistanis. This is precisely what Jinnah said after partition: “You are Pakistanis or Indians and you cease to be Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, not in the religious sense but otherwise.” He buried the two-nation theory there and then.
What happened in Gujarat is a shame and a stigma against the country’s secular face. The result is that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has become a pariah throughout India. Muslims in Gujarat, West Bengal or in any other state are Indian citizens first, equal before the law. Extremists or states with weak administrations do not make them lesser citizens. True, the backwardness of Muslims is a point of concern, something that the Sachar Committee highlighted. However, the report remains largely unimplemented even six years after it had been compiled.
In fact, the problem with Beg and others whom I have quoted is they have not relinquished the two-nation theory mindset. Religion does not determine nationhood. The liberation of Bangladesh buried the two-nation theory for good. The fact that East Pakistan was Muslim majority did not keep it from seeking to dissociate itself from Pakistan.
When Kashmiris project themselves as a nation, they are confusing community with nation. They will be either part of the Indian nation or that of Pakistan if and when the UN resolution is implemented. Their independent status is neither accepted by India nor by Pakistan and I do not foresee the circumstances that will allow three-four million landlocked people to become independent.
In fact, the question is a larger one. Hindus and Muslims who have lived together for centuries have not generally shed their animosity towards each other. The only relieving patch was when even during the Muslim rule, they were together in their struggle against emperors. The British were the villains of the piece. By introducing communal electorates and reservations for Muslims, they injected separatist poison in the Indian body politic that is yet to be flushed out.
Soon after Independence, it looked as if we had got rid of the virus.
Muslims voluntarily gave up reservations and even when the Constituent Assembly wanted to have a provision for reservation for Muslims, they said no. Little did they realise that they would subsequently face discrimination. So much so, that the Sachar panel has now concluded that the plight of Indian Muslims is worse than that of Dalits.
The immediate point of concern for Muslims is that an extremist group of Hindus is indulging in acts of terrorism and the Hindu community on the whole is suspecting Muslims of engineering killings or triggering bomb blasts. Young boys from the community have been picked up by police as terrorists and kept in jail for years till the courts have acquitted them.
True, their innocence is established but by then they have spent their youth in detention. There is no accountability and none in police has been punished for having put them in jail wrongly.
The most serious slur is Shah Rukh Khan’s statement that he, as a Muslim, feels unsafe in India. He is not the kind of person who will exaggerate or try to invent. Terrorist Hafiz Mohammad Saeed seeks to exploit Shah Rukh insecurity and has welcomed him to Pakistan. Of course, the actor has pooh-poohed the offer. Yet India’s secular credentials will remain seriously in question as long as Indian Muslims do not feel as safe as Hindus do. I see the revival of a two-nation theory in the backdrop of such developments.
The writer is a veteran journalist and commentator.