Politics

Modi Has No Right to Honour Kalam Till He Disowns His Minister’s Insulting Remark

“Despite being a Muslim”, APJ Abdul Kalam “was a great nationalist and humanist,” culture minister and senior BJP leader Mahesh Sharma had said in a TV interview.

File photo of Narendra Modi paying tribute to A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Credit: PTI

July 27, 2017 is the second death anniversary of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, arguably India’s most loved president ever. As part of various commemorative activities, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a memorial to the scientist-statesman at Peikarumbu in Rameshwaram, his ooru.

The only problem with Modi’s act of appropriation is that when a senior cabinet minister in his government insulted Kalam’s faith as a Muslim and questioned the patriotism and humanity of millions of Indian Muslims, the prime minister remained silent.

The minister was Mahesh Sharma, entrusted by Modi with promoting ‘culture’. This is what our official custodian of Indian culture told India Today TV during the course of an interview:

“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)

This disgusting comment establishes two things: Mahesh Sharma does not think Indian citizens who are Muslims are naturally inclined towards patriotism or even humanism. And second, that he believes Kalam had to transcend his faith in order to become ‘such a great nationalist and humanist’.

It speaks volumes that the TV channel, in typical fashion, didn’t see anything reprehensible or even newsworthy in the statement the minister had made. There was a brief controversy when The Wire publicised Sharma’s comments but any expectation that he would be asked to resign or be reprimanded ended when the government gave Kalam’s former home in the Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone to Sharma as an official residence. It was almost as if the prime minister and his senior colleagues were trying to drive home the point to critics that they had no problem with what Mahesh Sharma had said.

And why would they? Sharma is a man schooled in the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and V.D. Savarkar, which holds that India is a ‘Hindu nation’. Modi too is the product of the same school, though as prime minister he has an obligation to uphold the constitution, which rejects this notion and considers all Indians as equal regardless of their religion.

In a workplace where some employees display their religion or caste on their forehead or wrist or head – as is their right – Kalam, like millions of other Indians of all religions, chose not to do so. He spoke and wrote in Tamil, his mother tongue, which is also the mother tongue of all Tamils, whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Buddhist, and revelled in the music and culture of his state as Tamils tend to do.

To the Nagpur-trained, north India-oriented parochialists of the Sangh, all of this seemed ‘unIslamic’. They rushed to embrace him as an exemplar of what Indian Muslims ought to be like without realising that Kalam was nothing more or less than a typical Indian Muslim. In their ignorance or prejudice, they failed to see that all the qualities they claimed they saw in Kalam were already present in Muslims across the length and breadth of the country, in the same plus-minus ratio as ordinary Hindus embody the qualities of a ‘model Hindu’ – like, say, Kalam’s scientist, U.R. Rao, the legendary head of the Indian Space Research Organisation who died this week.

Accepting this reality would, of course, puncture the Sangh myth that Muslims are in some sense less Indian than Hindus, an idea that is a foundational principle of the RSS and Bharatiya Janata Party’s politics.

If Modi really wants to honour Kalam and respect the sentiments of millions of Indians who embraced him as the people’s president, he must not only disown and condemn the statement Mahesh Sharma made but make it clear that those who question the patriotism of others on the grounds of their religion have no place in his council of ministers or party. I can’t think of any better way to pay tribute to the memory of the ‘missile man’.

  • K SHESHU BABU

    The intention of bringing Kalam has always been to ‘ neutralise ‘ the setbacks caused by Gujarat riots. The significance of projecting his ‘ religion’ is to wean away some Muslim community who face hatred from vigilantes and aggressive hindutva forces. Kalam stands above all religions as a great scientist and humanist regardless of his appropriation….

  • S.N.Iyer

    Modi’s double speak is legendary. He is basically an orator and not the Delphic oracle. Kalam will always represent and stand out as a proud Indian, a scientist and above all humble- a quality which Modi cannot even spell or dream off. All his efforts to link up with Ambedkar and such greats is only for promoting himself for a personal benefit or for political gain. Despite his so called fight against corruption, he had close relations with Jayalalithaa who has been convicted for corruption but yet he maintained a close connection with her just to get her help his party to get a foot unto T&N as well as to get her party’s votes in the Rajya Sabha. His visit to T&N for the Kalam function is perhaps linked with his party having links with the AIDMK. Nothing that Modi says or does is without an ulterior motive to promote his party. having played a deep game in Bihar to topple the Govt there , his next target is probably T&N or anyother party!

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    “……he must not only disown and condemn the statement Mahesh Sharma made but make it clear that those who question the patriotism of others on the grounds of their religion have no place in his council of ministers or party”.

    Not a chance of that.
    Modi is ultimately a devout follower of the RSS and an acolyte of it’s ideologues Savarkar and Golwalkar. He has proven his credentials through action and inaction, and his words and silences. Silence shall continue to be his recourse in this case.

  • Amitabha Basu

    Narendra Modi is a diehard RSS man and he is in full agreement with what Mahesh Sharma said about Kalam, and therefore against Indian Muslims, as Modi himself has said about ‘cycle puncture repairers’, ‘pacchis bacche paida karne wale’, etc. etc. So there is no question of his expressing anything against Mahesh Sharma. As regards APJ Abdul Kalam, despite his humility and several other exemplary qualities that he possessed and exhibited, his real credentials as a scientist or technologist have been questioned by many. His acceptance of Presidentship when proposed by the BJP, his deafening silence on the Gujarat pogrom and no hesitation in hobnobbing with the Hindutva-vadi Sangh parivar, raise doubts as to the seriousness of his secular principles.

  • Amitabha Basu

    Narendra Modi is a diehard RSS man and he is in full agreement with what Mahesh Sharma said about Kalam, and therefore against Indian Muslims, as Modi himself has said about ‘cycle puncture repairers’, ‘pacchis bacche paida karne wale’, etc. etc. So there is no question of his expressing anything against Mahesh Sharma. As regards APJ Abdul Kalam, despite his humility and several other exemplary qualities that he possessed and exhibited, his real credentials as a scientist or technologist have been questioned by many. His acceptance of Presidentship when proposed by the BJP, his deafening silence on the Gujarat pogrom and no hesitation in hobnobbing with the Hindutva-vadi Sangh parivar, raise doubts as to the seriousness of his secular principles.

  • Anjan Basu

    The Chief of Counterfeit Grief ( as Prof Apoorvanand once memorably described Modi) also happens to be the Chief of Counterfeit Admiration. Expecting him to conduct himself according to the tenets of common human decency is like asking the leopard to change its spots.