The responses of zealots and politicians do not define India’s response to the NIA officer’s death. What matters is that he has united ordinary citizens in grief and pride.
Why is the nation not mourning the death of Tanzeel Ahmad, a real hero, the way it mourned the passing of Lance Naik Hanumanthappa? This is the question my students asked me today, as soon as they saw me enter the lecture room at the university where I teach.
As a teacher, I found it difficult to explain to them how complex this question is. I could not be harsh, or ruthless enough to tell them about the stark realities involved. Their question also touched me at a personal level, because Tanzeel was my cousin.
He was a loving older brother, so full of life, such a jovial and intelligent person. We would talk for hours. He always had the answer to all my questions. He promised to solve any problem I faced. Nothing could harm me, he said, as long as he was there.
He kept his promise: not only to me, but to this country. The kind of work he did, and the credibility he earned are the results of his honesty and dedication. This is what I told my students: the fact that they asked me about him without even knowing that we were related is proof enough that the nation is mourning. Their concern for his family demonstrated the truth of this grief. After all, we – the people – make the nation.
As I pondered on our response to his death, I found only a few reasons to be upset, but a whole lot of reasons to cheer. Tanzeel is a martyr who has made his family and the country proud. Almost every news channel gave him coverage, and said positive things about him. Social media saw a huge response to his untimely death. All of the country’s leading newspapers carried this news in their headlines. For a change, people forgot about being divisive, and prayed for his critically injured wife. In this hour of grief, all Indians are united with his family. People are praying for them, and are worried about his children. Prayers and wishes are pouring in from all over the world.
It is the nation who is mourning its lost hero, not politicians, or the self-proclaimed dictators of the nation’s conscience. Large political parties such as the Congress preferred not to mourn his death, as they have long suffered from the syndrome of minority appeasement. The Bharatiya Janata Party cannot take the risk of hurting its vote bank by mourning Tanzeel, and anyway, they have other issues to concentrate on.
Religious zealots like Asaduddin Owaisi and Mohan Bhagwat have not said a single word about Tanzeel’s death. But why would they? Tanzeel was not the kind of Muslim they want. Owaisi needs uneducated crowds that he can treat like herds, and Tanzeel had a Master’s degree in political science. Besides, he was not the kind of person who would swallow Owaisi’s ludicrous ideas. So it makes sense that Owaisi did not react.
As for Bhagwat, he and his ilk seem to have acquired the copyright for ideal standards of nationalism and the parameters by which to judge patriotism. By virtue of this, they can declare anyone ‘anti-national.’ In their declarations, they forget to think about, let alone mention, the immense diversity that this country enjoys. Tanzeel was someone who met even the RSS standard of what an ‘ideal’ Indian Muslim is like. He broke all taboos imposed by his religion. Perhaps they think that mourning him may glorify the very same religion, which according to them is the font of all evil.
One group of religious zealots will force everyone to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai,’ and the other will force everyone not to say it. Both are coercive, both arrogant and irrational. With their histrionics, they are confusing the general public. But a person like Tanzeel refuted the various tall claims they made: he, a Muslim, and a graduate of Jamia Millia Islamia – a university that is no more than a terrorist hub, as far as right-wing propagandists are concerned – had a respectable government job, and enjoyed credibility. He was one of the bravest, most honest officers of the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
The politicians who are ignoring his death are telling the public that they don’t like thoughtful, intelligent, and brave people like Tanzeel. They like uncritical followers. Reaching the level of excellence that he did is beyond them. These politicians give more importance to self-styled yogis, publicists and journalists by giving them Z+ security. They don’t care about soldiers who are still asking for an honourable pension. How can these people mourn such a man as Tanzeel?
A violent group of a particular caste destroys public property worth crores, loots and rapes people, and gets the benefits of reservation. In a state where farmers are committing suicide because of acute water shortage, there is a chief minister who threatens people who don’t say ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai.’ Will chanting this slogan solve all our problems? If that were really the case, I don’t think there would be a single Indian who wouldn’t want to shout it.
We give politicians power so that they can ensure everyone’s welfare. We want them to do what is right – that is, what is acceptable to everyone, not just a few people. What elected representatives do is altogether different from what they were elected for in the first place.
But this is what they are: mere representatives, not owners. Why do we need a stamp of approval for them for our pains and sorrows? Why are we complaining that they have not mourned the death of an NIA official? Why are some journalists asking a politician like Niranjan Jyoti what her opinion is?
Indians are affected by Tanzeel’s death – and worried about his family. They are proud of his achievements. He has united us, irrespective of religion, caste, or race. We mourn him. This is what matters.
Mehnaz Najmi teaches at and heads the department of political science, Galgotias University, Greater Noida. The views expressed in this article are personal.