New Delhi: Asserting that extremism cannot be tackled through exclusionary politics, Malaysia’s Prime Minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim urged Hindus and Muslims to recognise “mutual influences of their shared history”, even as he noted that India is even now racked by “vituperative” contestations of the past to “purge it of the presence of minorities”.
President of the ruling Parti Keadilan Rakyar (PKR) Party, Ibrahim is scheduled to inherit the seat of prime minister in two years from Mahathir Mohamad as per a coalition agreement.
Ibrahim had been deputy prime minister under Mohamad, before falling out and leading a protest movement against the government in 1998. This led to his first conviction on sodomy, which human rights activists said were trumped up charges.
Thereafter, he was sentenced to five years again on sodomy charges brought by the Najib Razak government in 2015.
His alliance with Mahathir led to a surprise and decisive victory in the May 2018 general elections, which swept away Razak’s United Malays National Organization (UMNO) for the first time in Malaysian history.
After getting out of prison, he was given a royal pardon that allowed him to contest and win a by-election to return to parliament.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Ibrahim at his official residence on Thursday.
At the start of his valedictory speech, he said that it was hard for him to imagine addressing such a gathering just a few months ago.
In another part of his lecture, he alluded to his imprisonment, noting that “prison allowed him to read a lot of books”.
Providing his overview of the current state of global politics, he noted that the rise of Asia should not be seen as a threat. “We cannot afford to face the future as a competitive zero-sum game. The new world order must be multifaceted and collaborative. It must not simply be competitive,” he said.
Ibrahim, who noted that he had been visiting India for four decades, used Indian history to illustrate the contradictions and continuations of the past into the present.
He said that “some inconvenient truth of atrocities will remind us about acts have been perpetrated in name of religion and that all are culpable”.
“Medieval India had many instances of temple destruction committed by rival kingdoms against each other… between followers of different deities as well as between Hindus, Jains, Buddhists. Later on, the Islamic expansion in India saw destruction in various phases of temples, Hindu in particular, again ostensibly, in the name of religion,” he said.
Also referring to the Crusades, he said that these same forces are also present in modern India.
“It is hard to ignore these dynamics at work in India. No country more publicly and vituperatively contests its own history, not to reclaim from colonisers, but to purge it of the presence of minorities. The awful history of communal history during Indian independence continues to be incited and tragically enacted due to visions of the past that embraces the thesis of partition.”
Ibrahim said that it was due to “Indian sages, historians and scholars” that the “open, tolerant mosaic of the subcontinent’s past” was reclaimed. “Hindus and Muslim need to recognise the mutual influences of their shared history,” he added.
This was the “moral lesson” to be learnt “as we contemplate tackling insurgent ideologies”. “No one is won over by exclusionary ethics of self-aggrandising fervour. It is common humanity that draws people together,” stated Ibrahim.
He said that nationalism around the world was fuelled by “hydra-headed fear” of the Other. “Let us not dupe ourselves by conflating nativism, nationalism or patriotism.. these are nothing but manifestation of unbridled populism,” he said.
Ibrahim described “extreme identity politics and polemics” as being contributors to creating an atmosphere where “there is a seductive call to violence”.
Describing Jawaharlal Nehru as the “very embodiment of India”, he referred to his famous ‘tryst with destiny’ speech and compared it to the Malaysian experience.
Ibrahim said that in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in Malaysia, the incumbent ruling party had played “the race and religion card”, but the “majority rejected it”.
“If the world were to take one lesson from the Malaysian story it is this – managing a coalition of bitter rivals and different ethnicities and religions is at times Olympian, in the effort required,” he said.
Earlier referring to the rise of Asia, he said that the region wanted a “balanced relationship” between India and China. He described India as having vast contradictions unleashed by the 1991 economic reforms, with the capitalist forces leading to entrepreneurship but also fuelling inequality and corruption.
“The enigma deepens when we consider India’s rich culture and democratic process against autocratic dictatorial regimes of her neighbours. Speaking of which, China’s economy looms large,” he said.
The Malaysian leader said that it was “common sense” that it was just not in India’s interest, but also for the region that New Delhi had a “balanced relationship” with Beijing.