Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Shameless & Sham Secularism

A confession here. Sometime back, I had given the same headline to my editorial in our sister publication Business & Economy. I am stealing my own headline simply because I can't think of anything else that can be mor apt and more depressing. Yes, I am talking about the stealth announcement-an announcement without announcing anything-that Salmaan Rushdie will not be attending the Jaipur Literature festival (JLF). As reported in The Times of India, nobody is willing to say anything officially, but cops in Rajasthan have made it clear off the record that Rushdie will skip the meet. We don't know yet if he has done this voluntarily or the organisers were 'persuaded' by the authorities to 'persuade' him to back off. What we know through subtly dropped off the record hints is that the authorities were afraid that Rushdies presence might create a law and order problem and a 'security' threat because some Muslim organizations might stage a protest at the venue. This comes soon after the preeminent Muslim seminary based in Deoband announced that it would be happy if Salmaan Rushdie was barred by the authorities from entering India. The reason goes back about 23 years when India became the first country in the world to ban The Satanic Verses, the controversial book written by Rushdie that inflamed Muslim opinion across the world. Thanks to the book, the then de facto ruler of of Iran, Ayatollah Khoemeni pronounced a death sentence on Rushdie. Incidentally, Rushdie did attend the JLF in 2007. So why the brouhaha this time around? Why, because Uttar Pradesh is staring at a crucial assembly elections and political parties are desperately chasing the 'Muslim vote bank'. It says a lot both about the cynicism and stupidity of our political parties that they think Muslims will start voting based on the fact that Rushdie was prevented from attending a popular literary festival. It says a lot about the nature of shameless and sham secularism in India.

Every time I point this out, my 'secular' friends pounce on me and say that fundamentalism practiced by the Hindutva brigade is far more pernicious and dangerous. They promptly point out to the antics of outfits like Bajrang Dal and Sri Ram Sene. I one recent instance, Sri Ram Sene goons themselves hoisted a flag of Pakistan in karnataka and then started violent demosntartions against it. Thankfully, we were spared a riot. But the fact is-despite a BJP government there, the police called the bluff of Sr Ram Sene and did it successfully. And surely we all know how Narendra Modi continues to be hounded for the post Godhra riots that savaged Gujarat in 2002. Every time Hindutva goons try something funny or fishy, there are hundreds and thousands of sane Indians who pounce on them. It is this robust mix of activism and media-and the innate common sense of most Indians-that has prevented rogue Hindustva outfits from emerging beyond their fringe existence.

But surely intolerance and prejudice if practised by some Muslims needs to be condemned equally loudly. In my Business & Economy editorial, I had pointed out how a pastor in Srinagar was hounded, arrested and harassed because he allegedly tried to convert some young Muslims to Christianity. Not a single word of protest emanated from our secular warriors when the so called Grand Mufti of Kashmir summoned the pastor for a de facto 'court' appearance.

For the love of my life, I cannot understand why or how our secular warriors can be so blind. Every time they let a fundamentalist Muslim outfit or group or a bunch of people get away with their openly fundamentalist views without a protest, it gives more ammunition to rogue Hindutva elements. This time again, rest assured you will hear from many such advocates how India panders to Muslims and how Hindus get shoddy treatment in their 'own country'

The only way you can ask Hindu fundamentalists to shut up is when you do the same to Muslim fundamentalists. Or Sikh fundamentalists. Or Christian fundamentalists. But then, that would be too much of a leap of faith for our secular warriors.


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