When Jawaharlal Nehru informed Maulana Abul Kalam Azad that he would be contesting the first general election from Rampur constituency, Maulana asked Nehru for the reason behind this decision. Because it is a Muslim majority area, Nehru remarked. Maulana replied saying he would prefer not to contest from there – ‘I am a leader of India, not of Muslims.’ Eventually, he contested from Gurgaon, Haryana, and was elected to the Lok Sabha.
It is not one’s intention to ask why the BJP did not field Muslim candidates in Uttar Pradesh, either during the Lok Sabha poll in 2014 or the assembly elections that are currently underway. It could be that the party did not give them any tickets or maybe aspiring Muslim candidates did not go anywhere near the party. If the BJP really dreamed of ‘sab ka saath sab ka vikaas’ (taking everybody along, development for all) then they should have fielded Muslim candidates and worked to ensure their victory. Then, the entire country, and not just UP, would have gotten the message that the BJP really does want development for all. The party’s mistake is not that it did not give election tickets to Muslims, but that it did not put its entire weight behind some candidates who happened to be Muslims, making them contest, and win, from constituencies comprising Hindus or other communities.
The BJP constantly carps about the appeasement of Muslims and chooses to keep them at a distance. When you show no signs of taking Muslims along with you, how do you expect them to become your fellow travellers?
At the time of returning my Sahitya Akademi award, I had repeatedly stressed one point: there are 25 crore Muslims in the country, where will you fling them? If you throw them in the ocean, it will dry up; if you think of burying them, there won’t be enough land for it. The only solution is that you embrace them.
‘Even if I am the enemy, call out to me with love,
Do it with a knack and see how well a [broken] bone sets’
Fact is, had the BJP ensured the representation of certain constituencies by Muslim candidates, it would have sent out the message that the party is different from what it is perceived to be. It would have been a welcome message to send out. Moreover, for a political party in power, it was not a difficult task by any means. Instead, they give carte blanche to the likes of a Yogi (Adityanath) or a Sakshi (Maharaj). From what I have seen, I can emphatically say that anybody making such reprehensible statements in the social sphere, at home or outside, would be immediately reprimanded. If someone from the neighbourhood indulged in such uncouth behaviour, it would anger everyone. However, instead of being chastised and cut down to size, two frenzied leaders seem to emerge all of a sudden, make statements dripping with ignorance, and the only response the party offer is that these are their personal opinions. In that case, why is the BJP harbouring individuals who are publicly airing views that the party is not in accord? It can only mean one thing – the BJP’s aim is to ensure that there is no possibility whatsoever of any unity in this country.
Considering the magnitude of votes with which the BJP came to power, it could have changed the complexion of the country. When I returned the Sahitya Akademi award, such was the revolutionary gleam in my eyes, the idealism in my tone and the spark in my voice that within 24 hours the prime minister sent word to me for a meeting. But I refused saying that there were many others who had returned their awards, who were more knowledgeable than me, senior to me in years, and they too should be extended a similar courtesy. The media asked me, ‘what will you say to the prime minister if you meet him?’ I said, ‘I will not utter a word; I will clasp his hand and take him to Dadri. When we are near Akhlaq’s house I will tell him:
Seeing as you are not clothed in the black shade of mourning, do this much at least
For a moment, extinguish the light, plunge the room into darkness.’
Because, in essence, the death of a human signifies the death of a community; the death of a community signifies the death of a country; and the death of a country signifies the death of the entire world.
As a poet and as an Indian, all I want to say is that if they want they can extend a loving hand to everybody, and everybody will reciprocate that love. But they do not want to rule over the entire country. They only want to rule over the Hindus. Except that it does not work that way. In the light of our experience of 65 years, one can say with some authority that while any such regime may falsify its place in the pages of history, in actuality it will not survive.
The consequence of the kind of politics that the BJP descends to could well be that India will come to mean only those four or five states that comprise the cow belt. The Bengali will have Bengal, the ‘Madrasi’ (Tamilians) will have Madras (Tamil Nadu), the Assamese will have Assam, and the Gujarati will have Gujarat. As for Hindustan, it will be confined to that part of the map which shows the cow belt. If you cannot implement one law throughout the country, it is a foregone conclusion that you will not be able to keep the country united. If you’re allowed to eat beef in Goa but will face a jail term of five years if you do the same in Mumbai, that can only mean that Goa and Mumbai – though both in Maharashtra – are separate countries!
It has become imperative to resolve the question of whether all these regions comprise one country or point to a country where anybody anywhere is free to do as they please. The map we know of shows that India is one from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, but empty sloganeering will not achieve anything.
At present there is no political party in this country which can assure Muslims in India that this is their land and they are absolutely safe here – although all the political parties parrot this refrain for the purpose of garnering votes. Why not hold a referendum in the country on whether Muslims should be allowed to stay here or not. Those who do not want them here are in for a rude shock, for 80% of Hindus will say, ‘they (Muslims) are our brothers, they are just like us. They were born here, this is their home; it is here that their lives hold meaning and where they will breathe their last. Sighting the crescent in our sky is their signal to prayer; it is on this very soil that they kneel in adoration; there place is here.’
But politicians swing wildly from one position to the other depending on which one serves their self-interest better. As an election approaches, every party sets up shop and buys votes. Be it the bearded one, the one with the cap or the one with the sacred tuft, there’s a demand for everyone.
It would be fitting to ask why there is no strong leadership among Muslims today. I am of the view that leaders do not emerge readymade from their mothers’ wombs; they emerge from their communities. Circumstances create leaders. Only an individual who enjoys the confidence of the people can be a leader. The state of affairs in the Muslim community is such that a willingness to sell out has prevented any leadership from emerging. I may talk to you in a certain vein, but give me a position somewhere and a VIP car with a red light, and I will readily yield. It takes so little to sell out. That is why there is this drought of leaders in our midst.
We screech that there should be a stringent law to counter sectarianism and that anyone who is guilty of it should be locked up in a prison 1000 km away from the city. Leaders such as Som and Baliyan are created overnight because when they are sent to jail, a 50,000 strong crowd gathers to demand their release, turning them into heroes in an instant. Similarly, when a Muslim kills a non-Muslim, 10,000 Muslims seem to materialise next to him, turning him into a ‘leader of Muslims’.
To bring one child into this world, God waits nine months, and only then is a child born. In our country if a Muslim kills a Hindu at night, hey presto, by morning he is born as a leader of Muslims. The same applies to Hindus as well. This is not beneficial for the country in any way.
It doesn’t matter who the person or party in power is, what is important is that the nation remain secure. Every individual is entitled to security. A Muslim citizen of India does not say he wants only a daadhi-wala (bearded, as in Muslim) as the country’s prime minister. Even the most ignorant of Muslims will not say that they would only prefer a Muslim prime minister. All anyone wants is for there to be no riots. Bihar’s Muslim population helped vote Nitish Kumar to power because they believed that he would maintain peace and prevent riots from happening. In UP now, the Muslim population is looking towards Mayawati because they know that riots do not happen during her rule.
I invite any Indian who claims to be a nationalist to the core to have a conversation with me. Let him decide the time and place. If Allah wills it, they will emerge as traitors; and we will emerge as nationalist Indians. You say ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’. My friend, we kneel on earth and kiss this soil 94 times in veneration while offering our prayers. Do you venerate your land in this fashion? The day you kneel down and kiss the earth 100 times, you earn the right to say that you are more of an Indian than I am. During Partition, our ancestors refused to go to Pakistan. This is our homeland. We will sit by the graves of our ancestors; we will not leave for Pakistan.
Today the state of affairs is such that many a fabrication stating that ‘so-and-so is a terrorist, he has received so much money’ finds it way into newspapers. The accused man is then caught and imprisoned. Everybody ends up believing that he is indeed a terrorist. The situation is such that if the police nab me today and accuse me of being a terrorist, people will assume that I must be one. if I were imprisoned and I would then only able to secure release after 12 years, unable to even walk. This has happened to hundreds of youngsters.
The police catch an 18-year-old boy and release him after 20 years saying he is innocent. By then there’s nothing left of his family. A place where such rule of law prevails cannot be called a country – it is a dungeon. We all stand to lose, if this situation is not rectified.
It has become quite common to dub any Muslim here a Pakistani. It would still be somewhat more understandable if you called us ‘Arabi’. What do we have to do with Pakistan? It is as much yours as ours. It was a part of India after all. Why call us Pakistani? If we are Pakistanis, you are Pakistanis all the more so. This kind of reasoning is regrettable. We call this country our motherland. It is our country, let there be no doubt about this and our mother. The love Muslims have for their motherland is unreserved.
Munawwar Rana is a well-known poet.
(As told to Krishnkant)
Translated from the Hindi original by Chitra Padmanabhan.
You can read the Hindi original here.