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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 27 New Delhi June 27, 2015

We Must All Resist BJP’s Two-Nation Theory

Monday 29 June 2015

Ayodhya has become the epicentre of a cyclone that threatens to spell disaster for the political fabric of this country. For the fourth year now, it has virtually taken over the centre-stage of national politics.

What has been achieved so far is that actual confrontation is averted almost at the very last moment by a desperate move to buy time, so that a little more space may be available to tackle the dipute over the question of the proposed Ram Mandir, requiring the pulling down of the Babri Masjid structure. The strategy so far pursued has been the insistence on the part of the government—initiated by Chandra Shekhar and pursued meticulously by Narasimha Rao—for dialogue between the two contending parties which, if fruitless, would be referred to the judiciary for the final verdict. As a part of this exercise, the government arranged for the meeting between the representatives of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the All-India Babri Masjid Action Committee alongwith some of the Ministers, which took place twice in October, and for the last time on November 8.

However, this approach could not be pursued because of the intransigence of a section of the militant Hindu camp represented by the VHP and its allies threatening to resume kar seva from December 6, which would have meant the defiance of the existing court ban on all construction in the area under dispute.

On the issue of leaving the entire question to a judicial verdict, the BJP has so far taken an ambivalent position. Without categorically stating whether it would either accept or reject any court verdict on the dispute, it raises the point that in matters of faith, one cannot take the court as the final arbiter. The VHP goes further and makes it clear that court verdict or not, it would not budge from its clamour to pull down the Babri structure. In recent days, some of the pronouncements of the VHP leaders have a disturbing ring—neither the tenets of the Constitution nor of any verdict by the judiciary could come in the way of faith. In other words, they insist on having their way without any compromise.

The Prime Minister’s position so far has been unexceptionable in upholding the role ofthe judiciary as the arbiter of disputes between citizens, and reminding the country about the injunction of our democratic Constitution guaranteeing the rights of the minorities. He reiterated this in Parliament on July 27, 1992, and repeated it in his address to the nation on August 15, that his party and government stood “for the construction of the temple without dismantling the mosque” at Ayodhya. Here is the precise parameter of any and every initiative for the settlement of the dispute at Ayodhya.

Rich Coexistence

If one were to present the reality that India is today, it is not the Ayodhya dispute or the historicity of any particular structure. The fact of the matter is that in thousands of villages and towns of this country, millions of people belonging to different communities, Hindus and Muslims, have since centuries lived and still live together in peace and amity.

Neither our politicians nor our media brings out this abiding reality. Only when there is tension or a clash does it become news. What is very often forgotten is that in the rich soil of our motherland there has sprouted a remarkable unfolding of a composite culture as the fruit of a thousand years of Hindu-Muslim encounter and the coexistence of these alongwith other faiths. There are countless symbols, rituals, shrines, epics and poems underlining this rich coexistence.

If one goes to the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, one of the most important centres of pilgrimage in south India, before one approaches the deity, Lord Ayappa, one visits the shrine of Vavar Sami, a Muslim saint, where a Muslim priest applies vibhuti on the foreheads of pilgrims destined for Sabarimala. Pilgrimage to Amarnath in distant north is made possible by the ready hospitality of Muslim villagers all along the route, while one-third of the proceeds from the temple goes to the family of Adam Malik who, hundreds of years ago, found the holy cave.

Turn to literature. The first great epic in Avadhi, the language in which Tulsidas wrote his Ramayana, was by Malik Mohammad Jaise. Ostensibly, it is a love story of Ratan Sen and Padmavati, but actually full of mystic thoughts and images like those of Krishna and Arjun recurring in the text. Abdul Rahim Khanekhana was in continuous correspondence with Tulsidas and the two influenced each other considerably. Abdul Rahim’s Sanskrit verses in praise of Lord Rama remain the high point of devotional poetry. Even a Persian poet like Ali Hazeem loved Benaras so much that he settled there and wrote gloriously of our composite culture. Poet Iqbal described Rama as the “Imam of Hindustan”. Greater devotional poetry was seldom written than by Syed Ibrahim Raskhan in Brajbhasha. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the whole school of Vaishnav saint poets influenced many Muslims to write in their idiom. To this day, Oriyas sing Muslim poet Salbeg’s lyrics to welcome Lord Jagannath.

There’s Much that Binds

Turn to music, Alauddin Khan was Ali Akbar Khan’s father and Ravi Shankar’s father-in-law. His house in Maihar has images of Saraswati. He regularly visited the nearby Sharada temple. Visit Mallikarjun Mansur’s house in Dharwad and the most prominent picture adorning the walls is that of his guru, Alladiya Khan, Gangu Bai Hangal in Hubli has Abdul Karim Khan’s picture next to her pooja. Here again the interaction is continuous and the list could fill many pages.

At the level of popular religions, visit Goga Merhi in Ganganagar, Rajasthan—the structure is both a temple and a mosque. “Praise be to Allah” is carved on the gate of the temple and an idol in the inner chamber of the mosque. The pujari of this temple-mosque is Khushi Mohammad. At Pirana, 18 kilometres outside Ahmedabad, is the shrine of Imamshah Baba looked after entirely by Hindu Patels. Imamshah Baba preached that Mohammad was an incarnation of Krishna.

Not just shrines; what about the living traditions? The Manganiar singers of Jaisalmer are Muslims but to this day they sing Meera Bai, Balleh Shah and Shah Abdul Latif in the same concert. Meos of Bharatpur are Muslims tracing descent from Arjun and Bhim. When they sing of Ali, the Prophet’s cousin, Ali emerges as a folk hero from Alwar-Bharatpur.

There is too much that binds us. We have to keep constantly reminding our people of these wonderful symbols of our unity, defying all philistinism. A glimpse of all this, incidentally, I have learnt from a rather underplayed Doordarshan programme produced by the very perceptive media practitioner, Saeed Naqvi. But curiously, the Doordarshan authorities did not care to pursue this programme with all their loud talk of national integration.

Nor have our political parties been campai-gning on a national scale for Hindu-Muslim amity. Barring Mani Shankar Aiyar’s solitary venture of Ram-Rahim yatra—which also did not get the publicity it deserved—why is it that no political leader has undertaken a pilgrimage for communal harmony? If the venom of the so-called two-nation theory led to India’s partition, let not the hangover of the same pernicious theory lead to the desecration of the very integrity of our motherland. Ashok Singhal and his comrades in VHP will resent, but the fact of the matter is that what they are trying to enforce today is the assertion of that same two-nation theory.

(The Pioneer, November 25, 1992)