Contrary to the current crop of skullcaps even on the tender heads of the Muslim kids, till the recent past, this religious symbolism was seldom on the public view save on some ageing heads of the faithful. So also, while politicians of the day, notwithstanding their ideological divisions, unite to hold iftar parties for the Muslim elite, in the bygone days, when the Congress party used to straddle the political arena like a colossus, there never was such secular farce on show. While it is obvious that the urge of the ‘nose on the ground’ politicians is to cater to the craving of the Muslim minority for a ‘distinctive identity’ in the midst of the majority Hindu milieu, we need to examine the phenomenal upsurge for ‘religious distinctiveness’ among the Indian Musalmans.
If only the tilak sporting fad amongst the Hindus matches with the Muslim penchant for the skullcaps, the newfound minority obsession with their ‘religious identity’ could be attributed to the travesty of the Indian polity. Since it is not the case, we have to look beyond the theories such as the perceived victimhood of the Muslim brotherhood, and look inward to zero in on the source of this social feature that not only stymies the nation’s emotional integration but also corrupts its political environment besides diminishing its once lauded mind. Note this, Narendra Damodardas Modi and Shivarj Singh Chouhan are the birds of the same saffron feather but for the ‘intellectuals’, the former is a ‘divisive’ character for his refusal to don a skullcap and the latter is a personification of ‘inclusiveness’ for no more than wearing the same.
What went wrong that the ‘skullcap secularism’ has become the ‘idea of India’ to our intelligentsia?
Besides being a land of a million mutinies as VS Naipaul had it, India is seemingly a nation of thousand ironies as well! What else it was but an irony that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, its first Prime Minister, was a Kashmiri, whose ancestral land is perennially divided at the dawn of freedom and is destined to be a perpetually disputed territory between the two antagonistic neighbors. What else it is but an irony that after fifty years of its independence, the foreign origin Sonia came to dictate its political course and discourse, and continues to do so to this day, with intent to pass on the ruling baton to her equally ill-suited and ill-equipped son Rahul. But as we may see in hindsight, it is no irony that the first irony had facilitated the second irony.
In the wake of India’s partition, the Muslims who opted to stay put in their ancestral dwellings were economically disadvantaged owing to the fact that they were traditionally uneducated that is as far as the modern secular education takes one. But on the flip side, what with the bulk of the hardcore separatists and the religious obscurantist’s having had migrated to Pakistan, there was an opportunity for the Indian polity to help the minority community to mould itself into a modern national mold. The stagnancy of Nehru’s socialistic pattern of society did not lend scope for the Muslim masses to prosper economically. After all, the State-generated job opportunities were under the control of the Hindu dominant government machinery and given the human propensity to favor their own ilk, the Muslim minority just got the crumbs of the meager development cake. While the Nehru’s economic policy kept the Muslims fiscally poor, his idea of a pan-Indian Hindu Muslim harmony based on the ideals of Kashmiriyat amounted to placing a square peg in a round hole; it is another matter that in the later years, Kashmir’s Muslim separatists had resorted to the ethnic cleansing of the fabled valley by driving out the Hindu Pandits from their midst.
One must not lose sight of the fact that amongst the world’s religious groups, arguably, the Muslims have the profoundest emotional attachment to their religious ways, and that the feeling of neglect and deprivation only accentuates one’s withdrawal into his or her religious shell. While Nehru’s statecraft willy-nilly pushed the Muslims into their socio-religious ghettos, his daughter Indira and the political dynasty that she had founded, instead of redressing their economic wrong on the development plank, sought to woo them as voters by catering to their base religious sentiments. It is another matter that the Lalus and the Mulayams did one better in courting the Muslims to beat the dynasty at its own game in the Hindi heartland of Bihar and the Uttar Pradesh. In all this, the face of the exploiters has changed from time to time (Mayawatis and Nitish Kumars to name a few) but the façade of the exploited Musalmans remained decadent.
However, the open economic model initiated by Narasimha Rao and perfected by Narendra Modi in Gujarat should give hope to the aspiring Muslim masses, and hopefully, they might realize, sooner than later, that their nirvana could only lie in Narendra Modi’s development mantra.