I am rather intrigued by Asaduddin Owaisi declaring that he won't say "Bharat Mata ki Jai" even if "a knife is put to my throat". This was in response to the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat saying that universities should be "cleansed of anti-national forces" and students should be taught to say "Bharat Mata ki Jai" to instill a sense of nationalism and patriotism, presumably an opinion based on the recent sedition controversy at JNU.
It is beyond my comprehension why should somebody have a problem with "Bharat Mata ki Jai". Whatever Communist thinkers including those at JNU might say, irrespective of academics saying that India is still evolving as a nation, the fact is that anyone who is born and brought up in India should not object from saying "Bharat Mata ki Jai".
I am aware that in communist dialectics, nationalism and nationalities are not viewed as progressive. In every communist regime, nationalist forces were brutally suppressed. The USSR, for example, killed many nationalities and created a supra-identity called the Soviet Union. But the history of the Soviet Union is also reflective of the fact that when the communist regime weakened, with the first available opportunity, all nationalities declared their freedom. After the demise of communism, Pan- Islamism is in vogue; radical Islam, under the influence of Wahhabism, has created the Al Qaeda and now the ISIS; both propagate global Islam and don't believe in national boundaries. But Wahhabism has practically no presence in India.
Indian Islam has been the most inclusive and can teach the overseas radicals many lessons of peace and coexistence. During the freedom struggle, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians fought together for independence and shouted "Bharat Mata ki Jai". In my memory, no Muslim leader had ever raised any objection to this slogan. There have been issues with "Vande Mataram" which is seen by some as non-secular, but not with "Bharat Mata ki Jai".
Owaisi has a penchant for controversy. He has always been in the news for the wrong reasons. In a surcharged atmosphere in which everyone's nationalism is being questioned, and the BJP/RSS is distributing certificates of patriotism, statements like these make things worse. But Owaisi is made of different mettle. He had made a similar explosive statement in 2012, post the communal violence in Assam. He had then threatened "a third wave of radicalization among Muslim youth".
Later, he decided to fight elections for the first time outside Hyderabad. His party MIM contested the state elections in Maharashtra and won two seats. He also tried his hands in the Bihar assembly elections, in Muslim-dominated towns bordering Bihar but lost all the six seats it contested.
His critics have accused him of underhand dealings with the BJP - though no evidence has ever emerged to substantiate this. For example, his decision to run in Bihar was seen as a calculated attempt to divide the Muslim vote, ultimately benefiting the BJP. There is no denying the fact that his provocative statements create equal and opposite reactions from the RSS ranks, and polarizes societies.
Owaisi is in danger of over-playing his hand. Consider Syed Shahabuddin, who, like Owaisi, is a very erudite man. He was an IFS officer. But when the RSS started the Ram Mandir movement in the 80s, he formed the All India Babri Masjid Conference. Shahabuddin crossed the line in December, 1986, making one the most significant mistakes by a Muslim politician in independent India. He and his team gave a call to boycott Republic Day celebrations. The RSS was gifted the opportunity to brand Muslims as anti-nationals.
It was at this time that the RSS had started its campaign to discredit secularism. BJP leader L.K. Advani coined the word "pseudo-secularism". And the secular forces committed a mistake. In the garb of Nehruvian secularism, they did not criticise minority communalism with the vehemence they used for condemning majority communalism. The RSS succeeded in propagating the view that secularism was nothing else but minority-ism. Many avid secular friends of mine turned to the RSS overnight. People like Shahabuddin added fuel to the fire. Leaders like V.P. Singh forgo principles. He asked Shahabuddin to campaign for him in the Allahabad by-elections to garner Muslim votes and asked Arif Mohammad Khan not to visit the constituency. Arif Khan was the man who had welcomed the Supreme Court order in favour of a Muslim widow, Shah Bano, for compensation after divorce against the wishes of the larger Muslim community. The more Shahabuddin and his like made provocative statements, the more it helped the RSS to polarize society along Hindu Muslim lines.
Over a period of time, a similar role was also played by the Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari. He has been issuing fatwas as per his political convenience. And every political party has tried to woo him. During the Delhi Assembly elections in 2015, the Iman issued a diktat that Muslims should vote for AAP. AAP openly condemned the Imam for issuing the fatwa. The party's huge victory broke the myth that religious heads can influence election results.
Owaisi has studied in London. He is articulate in English and has been exposed to modern values. There is nothing wrong if he desires to be the sole voice of Muslims in India. But for this he does not need to take a regressive and provocative stand. Indian voters are informed and knowledgeable. Amongst the Muslim community, there is a thinking that they have been let down by their community leaders. If Owaisi wants to emerge as their leader, he does not need take the route of Shahabuddin or Imam. He has more than enough political acumen to be aware of this. There is a larger plan he is working to. It just hasn't been revealed yet
(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014.)
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