Hamid Ansari
Hamid Ansari and Rafiq Zakaria: A Study in Contrasts

Is it appropriate for the Vice President of secular India to speak publicly about the…

Is it appropriate for the Vice President of secular India to speak publicly about the deprivation and discrimination by the state against his community? Is it acceptable for our nation’s Vice President to speak as an advocate of only his community? As India’s Vice President, is it appropriate for him to press for hitherto-denied caste status for Muslims?

Well, the Indian Vice President and scholar Mohammed Hamid Ansari did exactly this the other day in New Delhi when he addressed the golden jubilee function of a relatively unknown Muslim institution with a typical long name.

It’s known that despite being non-committal about his political party affiliation, he is, in fact, the grand nephew of a former Congress President, Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, one of the leaders of the Indian independence movement.

It is also known that it was the Congress UPA-Left government which appointed him as the chairman of the country’s National Commission for Minorities in March 2006, and a year later him its Vice President candidate in 2007, a post he has held since then.

Ansari, 78, has also been the blue-eyed boy of the Congress, having been made India’s envoy to various Muslim majority countries. And, of course, Ansari is a West Asia scholar who has written on the Palestinian issue and taken positions inconvenient to the Indian official line on Iraq and Iran. He questioned India’s vote in the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran’s nuclear programme.

In short, his Congressi secularism leaning towards the Muslim community is proven beyond doubt. It must be recorded that Ansari did not qualify for the Indian Foreign Service in 1961 on the basis of any quota or reservation system.

The pity is that as a scholar on Muslim matters, he seems to have totally forgotten the views of another Congress scholar, Rafiq Zakaria, a long-time minister in the Maharashtra government, who, after the Godhra riots, wrote a must-read book for all in the Congress party and all who worry about the state of the Muslims in India.

In his book “Communal Rage In Secular India” (Popular Prakashan, September 2002) Dr Zakaria devoted the entire last chapter to “What Muslims Should Do?”, and accepting that there is a great deal of anxiety among Indian Muslims who believed there is little they can do to save themselves, he recommended the following.

  1. Confrontation has done no good to the Muslims. The only alternative for them is to change their outlook. Muslims must try and become an integral part of the mainstream. They must wholeheartedly collaborate in enriching composite nationalism. For this, they must get out of their ghetto mentality, break the barriers of alienation and generate a harmonious environment.
  2. They must discard their worn-out prejudices and outmoded habits and adjust themselves to the requirements of the changing times. They must stop asking for doles which will only cripple them, and instead learn to stand on their own feet because the fact is that they have no true friends; many who show them sympathy are not sincere and do so only for electoral gain. Even Muslims from other countries have never come to their rescue. This has been proved time and again, and the wise must now take the hint and correct themselves.
  3. Muslims continue to live in a make-believe world of their own. Their leaders waste their energies in whipping up emotions and bringing more trouble to the ordinary Muslims. There are also the other “warriors”—priests, academicians, journalists—who add fuel to the fire by taking up cudgels on behalf of the community. Indian Muslims have to come out of this quagmire; they must show such self-appointed champions of their cause their place; they must do their best to change the hostile attitude of the Hindus against them and take their proper share in the nation’s development.
  4. Indian Muslims must join hands with Hindus to work zealously for harmony between the two communities. To succeed in this task, they must change their own behaviour, indeed, their entire perception.
  5. Indian Muslims must boldly come forward to undergo all-round transformation in their style of functioning. The younger generation in particular will have to arm themselves both educationally and socially. They will succeed if parents shed their old habits, give up their outdated notions, and help encourage their sons and daughters to get the best education. Merit alone will give them reward; they must never seek patronage.
  6. Indian Muslims must disarm the jihadis and disown the bigotry which has made Muslims pariahs everywhere. They must give assurance to the non-Muslims that their religion stands for “live and let live”. This reformation will rejuvenate Islam itself.
  7. Without compromising the Quranic injunctions (!), Indian Muslims must agree to the introduction of certain much-needed, essential changes in the Personal Law, particularly the enactment of monogamy. There is, in fact, enough scope under the Shariah to amend the laws relating to marriage, divorce, dower and even maintenance.
  8. The controversy on the singing of Vande Mataram is meaningless. It was sung by all Muslim leaders of the Congress during the freedom struggle. Those Muslims who do not want to sing it, may not, but they must stand up when it is sung as a mark of respect to an anthem which has a hoary past and is declared as a national song. Why add hurt to an already worsening communal relationship?
  9. There is the question of family planning on which much of our country’s progress depends. It cannot be denied that Muslims have not taken to it as seriously as Hindus. This has to be corrected. There must be a vigorous campaign for its implementation among Muslims and their leaders in every sector must engage themselves to persuade them to adopt it so that they do not lag behind Hindus in fulfilling this most urgent task, without which India cannot succeed in eradicating poverty.
  10. Muslims must make a sustained effort to convince Hindus that they should have no fear of them and assure them that they harbour no enmity towards them, nor are in a secret conspiracy with Muslims elsewhere to harm them. They must give assurance that Muslims are as much the sons of the soil as Hindus and as committed to the country’s glory and prosperity as Hindus are.

Finally, the punch line. “What Indian Muslims have to understand is that eventually it is not their leaders but they themselves who will have to make their destiny.”

Those words of Dr Zakaria are true 13 years after they were published. He spoke like a pure secular person.

Contrast this what our secular nation’s current Vice President said the other day. And there lies the difference secularism and pseudo-secularism.

By the way, Sabke saath” really means “Support of all” while  Mr Ansari’s Subke saath means “With all” It’s a nuanced, subtle difference, like the difference between “secular” of the Congress and the “secular” of Dr Zakaria.