Shame on You, Mr. Culture Minister

Mahesh Sharma’s utterances about Muslims, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and other matters are not casual off-the-cuff remarks; they have to be seen in the context of the guidance provided by the RSS to the government

Union Minister for Tourism & Culture Mahesh Sharma being offered sweets as he unveils a 365 kg jumbo laddoo to celebrate Prime Minister Narendra Modi's birthday at FICCI Auditorium in New Delhi on Thursday. Credit: PTI

Union Minister for Tourism & Culture Mahesh Sharma being offered sweets as he unveils a 365 kg jumbo laddoo to celebrate Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday at FICCI Auditorium in New Delhi on Thursday. Credit: PTI

“Despite being a Muslim”, APJ Abdul Kalam “was a great nationalist and humanist.”

With these shocking words – uttered casually at the end of an interview to India Today TV a few days ago – Union Minister of Culture Mahesh Sharma has not only insulted all Indian Muslims but also the former President of India.

The minister was asked about the controversy over the renaming of Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi. He defended the decision by noting that the Mughal ruler was not someone that people considered ideal and then added,

“Aurangzeb Road ka nam bhi badal kar ek aise mahapursh ke naam par kiya hai jo Musalman hotey hue bhi itna bada rashtravaadi aur manavtavadi insaan tha  – APJ Abdul Kalam, unke naam par kiya gaya hai.”

(The name of Aurangzeb Road has been changed to the name of a great human being who, despite being a Muslim, was such a great nationalist and humanist – APJ Abdul Kalam, we have named it after him)

Just in case Sharma claims I am distorting his words or quoting them out of context, here is the video clip from the channel (watch from 16’16’’):

So now that we have established that the minister actually said what he said, and that the context in which those hateful words were uttered provides him no alibi or escape route, let us consider what they tell us – about Mahesh Sharma the individual; about the Narendra Modi government in which he serves as an important minister; and about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the organisation he swears allegiance to and which he describes as “nationalist”.

Bigotry plain and simple

The first thing we can say is that Sharma, for all his moralising, is a garden variety bigot who does not believe Indian Muslims are really Indian. If you are a BJP supporter and believe the minister said nothing offensive, substitute the words “Hindu” for “Muslim” and “Atal Bihari Vajpayee” for “APJ Abdul Kalam” and then see how awful that sentence sounds.

Let us be very clear. Even Kalam – whose popularity the BJP is trying to cash in on by getting a road named after him – must suffer the ignominy of having his patriotic credentials certified in this way by the small-minded men who are running the government. In the Culture Minister’s perverted worldview, being Muslim is a handicap that the former President had to overcome in order to serve the country.

Kalam was an extraordinary man – a scientist and administrator who was open to embracing the culture and philosophy of others in a way that fewer and fewer Indians of all faiths tend to be these days. There were many handicaps he had to overcome in a life he devoted to his country, such as the poverty he was born into, and the indifference of the Indian system towards providing quality education to its poorer citizens. If at all being Muslim was a handicap, it was because of the ignorance and prejudice he must have encountered along the way from people who questioned where his loyalties lay – and not because his religion made him have any doubts on this account.

Elsewhere in the same interview, Mahesh Sharma makes a pitch for the compulsory teaching of lessons from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Gita in school but demurs when asked whether the Quran and Bible will be given the same status. This can’t be done, he says, because only the Hindu texts reflect the “atma” or soul of India.

There are many naïve people in India who believe their religion, caste, language or region is superior to others. Some among them might even become MPs and ministers. It is hard to say whether the minister’s belief in the exclusive claims of his religion to the “soul of India” is the folly of a simpleton or the product of cynical majoritarian politics. Either way, how can a person who takes his oath of office on the Constitution of India defame an entire section of citizens in the way Sharma has?

That the Culture Minister has questioned the patriotism of Indian Muslims is bad enough. But there is something else that I find even more disturbing. The reflexive manner in which he uttered his throwaway line – ‘Musalman hotey hue bhi’ – tells us he is not ashamed of airing his bigotry in public, not even at a time when he and his government are already under fire for trying to pursue a communal agenda. It is this unapologetic, brazen assault on the honour of 14% of the population that worries me. I see it as a sign of bad days ahead for India.

Time to go

If at all there is a context to Sharma’s shocking words, it is that they were made soon after he and other ministers attended a conclave organised by the RSS to assess the performance of the Modi government. We know  from Ram Madhav that the government’s primary stakeholders – what he coyly calls the “ideological family” – went back to Nagpur “content with the general direction of the country under the new government.”

What that cryptic sentence really means can be judged from the charged-up manner in which the Culture Minister has emerged from this remedial class.

I won’t go into the other ridiculous things Sharma has been saying since the RSS conclave, including his desire to fight against “cultural pollution.” That is a topic we can save for another day. But impugning the Indianness of Indian Muslims – a central part of the RSS’s political agenda since the days of Hedgewar and Golwalkar – is a despicable thing for a minister to do. If Sharma wants to indulge his bigotry, he should resign from the cabinet and do so on his own time.

  • Sujad Syed

    Might is right!

  • N Motwani

    Shame on the Culture Minister! Shame shame!

    Had India been a developed country, this irresponsible bigot would have been sacked by now, or at least publicly humiliated. But Modi has not taken any action which proves that despite his big talk, he and his cabinet do not know how to behave like leaders of a developed country. Shame also on Modi’s fawning media who haven’t raised this crucial issue. Modi called them news traders, so now they decided to become not only Modi but BJP bhakts. Shame that in a secular democracy and a supposedly emerging economy like India, politicians can get away by making such bigoted statements. Shame on the media too for not highlighting the issue and forcing him to apologise.

  • SunnyViking

    RSS lunatics are insensitive and now being minister will reflect in policies as well.

  • The sanghis have gone berserk …

  • Raja2000

    Yeah, feed him more sweets. Diabetes-prone Indians, especially politicians, deserve it. Feed him some more sweets. Then, he will quit speaking non-sense.

  • Siva

    Well, said. I think all Indians have to come to terms with the reality that Muslims are and would always be a part of India. So pitching that community against the rest, whatever the reasons may be, is just going to be detrimental to everyone. If we are starting from scratch, then maybe I would advocate against making a country out of Muslims and Hindus, as their ways of life seem to be quite different, but, the reality is that we don’t have that choice. So we need to make the best of it, and that means we don’t want to create more chasms than there already are. The consequences of an elected government treating such a big section of population as outsiders would have severe consequences for everyone. It’s one thing to not treat any section of population, especially on religious grounds, as special, as is done by Congress, but it’s another thing to not treat them as Indians. Can’t we operate somewhere in the middle?

  • Snaidu

    Offensive, mindless, derogatory to all Indians! First of all this minister is a nobody compared to APJ, he wont even understand the kind of nationalism APJ practiced and his contributions can never be equaled by this minister even in his next 7 lives. And so, he deserves no attention…PM must sack such non-performing ministers! Saying this as a Modi supporter!!

  • Ravi~Kannan~Arjun

    //”Despite being a Muslim”, APJ Abdul Kalam “was a great nationalist and humanist.”//

    This mindset can’t be justified. But here largely the way organised religion works need to be looked into.

    //…compulsory teaching of lessons from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Gita in school but demurs when asked whether the Quran and Bible will be given the same status. This can’t be done, he says, because only the Hindu texts reflect the “atma” or soul of India…//

    Ramayana /Mahabharata /Gita and many other literatures can be made as syllabus bcoz those are all products of this culture and it’s people.
    Claiming qual status to others culture’s literatures can’t be justified and shouldn’t be given.

    Who written Bible and quran…?? Who they are…??? What relationship they have with Indian subcontinent …??… Which Indian ethnicity they belong…???

    @varatharajan, you can’t claim space in my home and vice versa also true.

  • Shanvi Rawat

    The strong voice raised by Mr. Varadarajan condemning and explaining the implication of mindless comment of Mahesh Sharma is laudable. As Alaphia stated in her comment, that it is a rare voice I would completely agree. Also,it is a voice which resonates with the secularism and speaks to end bigotry and eradicate zealots, at least from the gubernatorial positions.

  • Colonel Sekhar

    Dear Sir,
    1.Excellent analysis,and words well written.
    2The fact that such a statement has been made by the designated Culture Minister of the GOI,and that most of us are unable to understand the import of the statement long term is also a reflection of each one of us and our own mindsets

  • Shanvi Rawat

    A strong voice raised by Mr. Varadarajan condemning and explaining the implication of insensitive comment of Mahesh Sharma is laudable. It is a rare voice that needs to be heard. Also, it is a voice which resonates with the secularism, which speaks to end bigotry.

  • Indian

    He is MODI’S minister. He is immune to any fault plus he is RSS bhakt all the more reason to declare him another HOLY COW

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  • Ganesh

    There is nothing wrong with the minister’s statement. Waste of an article by Sidharrth

  • Chandra Sekhar

    Every one of these comments and bans are making me realise how grave my mistake was to vote for BJP. Next four years will make me hate BJP forever I guess.

  • Sreedhar Kadambi

    Dear Siddharth what Minister Sharma said in the interview, is very clear that among Muslim community in India we have Nationalist and good human beings also, so he has given example of change of Road name in New Delhi – Aurangzeb Road to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road , I am not able to understand what is the offence against Muslim community in the interview, it looks like your perception is more left leaning which is why whenever right wing party says something good about Muslim community in India, you people will jump to conclusion that the statement is anti Muslim so keep the two communities at bay.

  • Sreedhar Kadambi

    Alaphia why you say brute majoritarianism, is not a insulting to Hindus community?? allowing other religious community practice is brute majoritarianism?? allowing people to criticize openly is majoritarianism,??

  • Noushad Melethil

    What will happen if a monkey gets a garland? The same happened here. What can one say when such people are made ministers?

  • MPNavrozjee

    Mr. Varadarajan has already lost this argument to Mr. Sharma, simply by making it in English, rather than Hindi. The minister’s audience, when he speaks in Hindi, is vast. Varadarajan’s audience in minuscule, and he is mostly preaching to the converted. Want to push back. Perfect your Hindi. Hire a masterji to teach you. Or write in English and pay someone to translate your words to Hindi.

  • Abhinav

    True. Bigots exist in all diverse societies, not just India. Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, in Pakistan.

  • rohit baba

    Our Minister of Culture Dr Sharma does not seem to care for others.

    tHERE ARE FAMILIES STRUGGLING TO MAKE ENDS ,SO THE FEMALE HAVE TO WORK IN THESE FAMILIES .wITH THE RISING COST OF DAILY LIVING. the minister wants the female to stay at home to cook and clean the dishes . the female must not work, gET EDUCATE AND EARN A GOOd INCOME TO support her family. HE HE GOING AGAINST MODIJI SLOGAN BETTI BACHO , Beti to PADAO( educate).
    The MINISTER IS suffering from dELUSION .
    he thinks like every one in the BJP/rss/VHP THAT MOST FEMALES GO OUT TO HAVE A GREAT TIME DRINKING .
    HIS OWN STUPID MIND IF FULL OF wrong things.
    its the government job to see that hard working females in our country have basic security and are FULLY PROTECTED and not left to the mercy of this BJP GOVT, police and thugs

  • rohit baba

    The minister Dr Sharma I HOPE HE HAS EATEN THE 365 Kilo Laddo and become a Diabetic.
    Hey RAM, a few more of these ministers and they will destroy the country.

  • Indian

    I hope he is a minority in all the things that he spews.

  • Saketh Balaji

    What does that sentence even mean? He exists. That is my point. We need to lose all you folks who watch 1 news story and think you know all about how US politics works..