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.

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