Thursday, 10 November 2011

Religion & Politics- A Dangerous Mix

Just a few days ago, the BJP raised a demand to make the Bhagwad Gita India's national book. I was taken a little aback by the headline. Frankly, it also got me a bit worried to see religion mixing with politics. Perhaps its time India revisited the prophecies of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

Azad is a name that would mean little to Indians today and, God forbid, some may even mistake the name with that of the former president. Like countless prominent Congress leaders from the 30s and 40s (whose surnames were not Nehru/ Gandhi), Azad is a name long forgotten. But his is a name that ought to be remembered in a country where communal unity has frequently proved difficult to achieve.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad

Azad was the one prominent Muslim leader who not only opposed the creation of Pakistan, but also put forward the most convincing argument in support of his stance. Read today, his words sound astonishingly prophetic. Well before the country of Pakistan was even formed, he predicted the future of that nation with an accuracy that sounds almost eerie when read today.

His first prediction was that East Pakistan would break away from the West (which it did in 1971, to form present day Bangladesh). To quote his own words: "...The other important point that has escaped Mr Jinnah’s attention is...that Bengal disdains outside leadership and rejects it sooner or later... I feel that it will not be possible for East Pakistan to stay with West Pakistan for any considerable period of time."

His remaining predictions about the future of Pakistan could well be a description of that country by a contemporary commentator. He said in 1946 that "I feel that right from its inception, Pakistan will face some very serious problems:

- The incompetent political leadership will pave the way for military dictatorship...
- The heavy burden of foreign debt.
- Absence of friendly relationship with neighbours and the possibility of armed conflict.
- Internal unrest and regional conflicts
- The loot of national wealth by the neo-rich and industrialists of Pakistan.
- The conspiracies of the international powers to control Pakistan.

George Bush & Pervez Musharraf

Azad went on to add in that interview: "In this situation, the stability of Pakistan will be under strain...assistance from other sources will not come without strings and it will force both ideological and territorial compromises". 

While that interview was admittedly addressed to Muslims in the context of the demand for Pakistan, the message is loud and clear: religion never has been and never can be the adhesive holding together the fabric of a country- even more so in a multi-cultural country like India which was never intended to be a Hindu nation. Even from a practical standpoint, its hard to see India ever becoming a purely Hindu nation, given how far non-Hindus have become an integral part of the nation.

An Oscar Award winning Muslim composer, a Sikh Prime Minister, a Muslim nuclear scientist turned president, legendary business houses headed by Parsis and a Christian defense minister of high standing- all of them stand testimony to the visionary leadership of India's founding fathers. The secular ethos that they believed in has immensely benefited the country and long may it continue that way.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Anna- the second JP?

I was a bit concerned to read yesterday that Anna Hazare announced his intention to include tribals, dalits, minorities and youths in his team to strengthen the campaign against corruption. 

I have the highest respect for Anna and believe beyond doubt that he is not in the least motivated by personal gain. Nevertheless, I am deeply concerned at the direction in which Anna's movement is heading. While I rejoiced at the politicians being finally forced to bow to the will of the people, I was never in favour of holding a legitimate, democratically elected Government to ransom- a point which I made in an earlier article on this very blog. If that wasn't alarming enough, team Anna's anti-Congress campaign in the Haryana bypolls sent the alarm bells ringing in my mind.

Anna Hazare

My apprehension is that Anna Hazare's campaign, which started off as a crusade against corruption, is beginning to assume political overtones. Anna's intentions are beyond question, but he also gives the impression of a man who has little understanding of politics. Knowingly or unknowingly, he has become a live banner for all opposition parties to rally around in their bid to unseat the Congress.

Many might argue that a non-Congress government at the centre would do a world of good for India. I for one am a lot less sanguine. The more I see of Anna's movement, the more I see shades of the JP Movement. 

Jayprakash Narayan

For the uninitiated: Jayprakash Narayan was the leader who spearheaded the student movement in Bihar in 1974, when the combination of recession, high unemployment and runaway inflation saw the rise of anti-congress movements in Gujarat and Bihar. It was his irresponsible appeal to the armed forces to disobey unconstitutional and immoral orders, which brought things to a head for the increasingly embattled Indira Gandhi, who persuaded then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to declare a state of internal emergency- a period unequalled in notoriety by any other in the history of Independent India.

The elections in 1977 saw opponents of pretty much ever shade of political orientation rally around JP. The unprincipled coalition they formed- the Janata Government- proved a farce that was doomed even before it started. It says something of the mess they created, that the Congress was back in power within three years after the Janata Government took power- when the excesses of the emergency were still fresh in collective memory.

Janata Party

It remains to be seen, which way Anna Hazare's movement goes from here. For sure, the horrors of the emergency will never ever happen again in this age or RTI, social networking and youtube. There's little doubt that any new movement that Anna launches might have the urban middle rallying around him. That little man without a political party, without an army, without any weapons, has forced the Government to listen. Long may the spirit of Anna live.

However, Anna is treading on a path on which others before have tread. He will need to be cautious, lest he becomes the second J.P. Narayan.