India, the world’s largest democracy, continues to be run on a Constitution that has secularism built into its framework by way of ‘one man one vote’, equal opportunity provided by the Centre to all citizens, same protection of law given to everybody by the concerned state government that have autonomous control on law and order, a self-regulating Election Commission that prohibits communal appeals during electioneering and the mandate that the political executive governing the nation would not carry a denominational stamp.
The rise of BJP through the electoral process in recent years has led the opposition to build certain narratives in an attempt to politically undercut the former – whipping up the fear of ‘majoritarianism’, running down the call for nationalism and stepping up on the traditional advocacy of the ‘Muslim cause’.
Domestic politics in India has seen many familiar pulls and pressures and violations of democratic norms but the ruckus raised on an allegedly deprecatory comment about Islam reportedly made by a BJP spokesperson through a reference to Hadis – the record of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad that had been a subject matter of prolonged research by scholars of Islamic jurisprudence – has given anti-Modi lobbies in India and abroad a handle to intensify the political ‘proxy war’ against the BJP regime.
A supposed indiscretion made by a ‘party’ functionary is leading to the demand for a ‘national apology’ and the protest is being taken to a point of assertion that one faith stood above all others in the matter of sensitivity of its followers.
It is true – and this has to be respected – that according to Koranic injunction, Islam was presented as the ‘perfect’ religion and that too for all times to come because the Prophet was Khatimul Anbia – the last of the messengers of God.
However, this is a matter of belief within the Muslim community and cannot obliterate the concept of equal respect for all religions that a democratic secular State like India’s follows. There are strong laws against the offence of hurting the religious sentiments of a community and creating communal disharmony which apply to all faiths and meet the requirements of a multi-religious and multi-cultural society.
Religion defines the relationship of an individual with one’s God while culture – which has a positive input from religion – harmonises the relationship of one person with another member of the society. Any religion given to excessive exclusivism can become problematic for democratic polity that derives strength from a shared culture of the land even while respecting all faiths.
India puts all religions on an equal footing and makes no distinction among its citizens on the grounds of caste, creed, region, class or gender. This is how Mahatma Gandhi’s call that all Gods are the same found expression in his favourite prayer ‘Ishwar Allah Tero Naam’.
While allowing free exchange of thoughts on teachings of religions, this approach did not countenance any deprecatory remarks on any one’s faith and Gods. Handling of any transgressions in this regard by the democratic government of India is an internal matter of the nation. India has the second largest Muslim population in the world and its freedom of religion, including ways of offering prayers and choice of livelihood, are fully protected.
Muslim countries do not have to act as the protector of India’s Muslim minority which have full rights to protest against any hurt caused to its religious sentiments by any citizen, through permissible ways.
If the protesters indulge in mass violence on the street, however, they would face a deterrent response from the state. This is particularly important because enemy agents are known to have exploited such situations.
The Islamic countries can express their concern over an event violating the religious sentiments of Muslims in another country, but they should not take to an offensive against an established democratic dispensation on that count.
They would in fact help the cause of democracy if they affirmed their acceptance of all faiths and their Gods, in the first instance. It is not advisable to project religion into national and international politics and use an isolated event of indiscretion of a ‘party functionary’ to run down India as a nation and join the political lobby against the Modi government as such.
Any offence relating to spread of communal hatred punishable under the Indian law has to be taken up for investigation by the state police concerned regardless of who committed it and the accountability for that cannot be shifted from the state government to the Centre. Law and order handling must be kept above politics.
India’s international relations under Prime Minister Narendra Modi are based on the enlightened strategy of developing bilateral friendships for mutually beneficial economic and security interests aligned with the cause of world peace.
This policy was followed towards democratic states, Islamic regimes and even autocracies, in recognition of the sovereignty of every nation. Hopefully these relationships will not be allowed to get diminished by any acts that put religion above nationhood and flaunt superiority of one faith over the other.
India would do well to reaffirm its equality of approach to all religions and put down any misdemeanour of using derogatory remarks against any faith and its Gods, sternly under the laws of the nation. Our diplomacy should specially engage with other countries – including the members of OIC – to make the point that in a democratic and secular dispensation, sensitivities about matters of faith are to be equally respected regardless of the community.
Nothing that divides the world on the basis of religion can do any good – modes of worship may differ but this should not come in the way of a culture of unity and should not produce a divide among Indian nationals.
The Preamble to our Constitution describes promotion of unity and integrity of the nation as its prime objective even as the Constitution goes on to describe the system of governance of India as a Union of States.
It is regrettable that minority politics in this country has led to a tendency to deprecate the idea of nationalism itself and consider the mandate of saluting the national flag or standing up during the singing of the national anthem as an ‘imposition’ on any minority.
It is time India moves ahead on the path of national unity and inter-community harmony and puts the focus back on ‘development for all’. Common people of all communities ultimately have the same concerns of livelihood, security and future prospects of their children.
In a democracy run on the electoral system of one man one vote, any political party would strive to gain a majority and come into power. It is logical that the majority community may return a much larger number of representatives to Assemblies or Parliament – this would not alter the secular mandate that the Constitution upholds.
Any legislation that is against the right to equality will not stand judicial scrutiny. Beyond the personal freedom of worship all Indians are equal politically. However, the reality of caste, creed and region-based politics has prevailed in independent India – an upshot of this is the realpolitik that made opposition parties realise that against a majority community divided in multiple ways, the support of the large minority is crucial in elections.
Injection of religion into domestic politics is injurious enough – the fallout of the controversy about the alleged ‘insult’ caused to a religion by a ‘party functionary’ in India taking the form of protest of the Muslim countries directed against India as a sovereign nation, has created the impression that there is projection of religion into international politics as well.
This should stop in the interest of preservation of the identity of the democratic world at large. India on its part remains committed to building mutually beneficial relations with the Islamic countries regardless of their differing systems of governance.
(The writer is a former of Director Intelligence Bureau. The views expressed are personal)