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The Raging Guha-Mander Debate Deserves Wider Participation

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The Raging Guha-Mander Debate Deserves Wider Participation

~By Saeed Naqvi

It does not surprise me that the continuing debate on the Op-Ed page of the Indian Express on the Muslim predicament skirts fundamental issues. The debate has been triggered by Ramchandra Guha disagreeing with Harsh Mander on the Muslim question.

Mander’s column, headlined “Sonia, Sadly”, expresses his hurt at Sonia Gandhi’s public expression of fear that the Congress was being perceived as a “Muslim Party”.

In the very first paragraph of his column, Guha plucks out a quote from Mander. “A Dalit leader tells Muslims who come to political meetings: By all means come in large number to our rallies. But don’t come with your skull caps and burkas.”

“Mander is dismayed at this gratuitous attempt to get Muslims to voluntarily withdraw from politics.”  But Guha disagrees with Mander’s interpretation of what the Dalit leader said. Guha is emphatic: “while the words may be harsh and direct, the spirit of the advice was forward looking”, i.e. don’t come in skull caps and burkas.

This, I suspect, is the crux of the matter. Guha is endorsing the new line enunciated by the Congress Party: Keep Muslims at arm’s length just in case the BJP spin doctors pick up this visual to polarize. Rahul Gandhi’s frenetic temple hopping, janeu et al, is in pursuit of this soft saffron.

Apoorvanand, Harbans Mukhia, Mukul Keshavan, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Suhas Palshikar, Irena Akbar, Khalid Ansari, Jawed Naqvi, why, even Mander himself, have all written sensitively, even knowledgably on the subject. But Guha is a class apart: Muslims must give up skull caps and, to balance matters, Hindus their trishuls. His desire to equalize permeates the article. Praveen Togadia and Yogi Adityanath are bad but Guha will have his little orgasm only if Asaduddin Owaisi and Ali Shah Geelani are mentioned in the same breath. Togadia wants Muslims to leave the country. “Occupy their homes” he once famously said in Gujarat. Without batting an eyelid, Yogi heard his cohorts ask for buried Muslim women to be dug out from their graves and raped. Show me a comparable quote from Owaisi or Geelani.

“Yeh ajeeb majra hai ki baroz e Eide qurbaan

Wohi zubah bhi kare hai wohi le sawab ulta”

(Look at the illogical system of the ceremony of sacrifice.

He who slaughters claims the reward for paradise.)

The tragedy is that Guha belongs to the category of people who, because of their celebrity status, imagine that eminence in one field qualifies them to claim proficiency in all the others. His inadequacy on the theme he has rushed into unprepared, derives from a common malaise: he is a creature of uninstitutionalized apartheid which means separate development.

It would be interesting to know if Guha has ever visited Muslim homes or the other way around when he was a child. Did he know Muslims in school or college whose friendship he still values? Even if he is able to blurt out a name or two the undeniable truth will be that he has grown up only with his ilk. He has no experience of Muslims. He is not alone in this category.

A sharp contrast attends my circumstance. I, along with my three brothers grew up only among Hindus. Apartheid therefore didn’t touch us. Since our informal education was continuous since birth, we knew fairly early that Al-Biruni wrote Tarikh al Hind after his extended stay beginning 1017. Moinuddin Chishti, Shahbaz Qalandar and a host of Sufis and Saint poets like Kabir from the 12th to 14th centuries were spreading Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, paving the way for Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana who ended up writing the only Sanskrit verses in praise of Lord Rama. In his brilliant Persian poetry in the 17th century, Chandrabhan Brahman felt secure enough to taunt and tease the Muslim clergy.

Yagana Changezi, a 20th century poet, questions a basic tenet: why must namaz be said in a foreign language? If all of this sounds like nostalgia, let me invite you to Lucknow for an evening of spiritual poetry on Ahl al-Bayt or the Prophet’s family. The poet, Sanjaya Mishra, was a favourite with my mother who died three years ago. She had special vegetarian meals prepared for him.

I have shed light on the tiniest strand in the vast expanse of Muslim liberal traditions. Since the 16th century these have been bound up inextricably with the waxing and waning of Urdu in which Hindus and Muslims equally participated. The first great writer of Urdu prose was Pandit Ratan Nath Sarshar.

How many liberals know that  there is not a single couplet in Urdu which praises the Mullah or endorses orthodoxy of any kind.

Did you know that most of the poetry on Krishna, Rama in the last century has been written by Muslims? I will only confuse the issue if I bring in Kazi Nazrul Islam, Salbeg, Bekal Utsahi or Nida Fazli.

It puzzles me why liberal intellectuals sometimes fall prey to a tendency that the politician has cultivated as a calculated habit: consider the Muslim only as a religious category. Why must Muslim achievements in poetry, music, architecture, systems of governance not be celebrated? Such an exercise would surely cast them in a liberal mould. Guha might then heave a sigh of relief.

A false quest for a liberal Muslim leader almost flows from the above approach. A liberal Muslim leader, I never tire of repeating, is a contradiction in terms. That is an illiberal quest. Are we never going to find a Hindu whom Muslims can trust and the other way around? That must be the only possible way ahead.

Book reviews

The Hill Of Enchantment Review: Ruskin Bond revisits his life as writer

The book not only delineates Ruskin Bond’s journey as a writer but also depicts the changing literary landscape from the 1950s to recent times.

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The Hill Of Enchantment Review: Ruskin Bond revisits his life as writer

India’s most loved and prolific writer from the hill, who wrote his first book when he was around 17, Ruskin Bond, turned 90 this year. In his seven decade literary journey, the author has written more than 500 novels, short stories, and poems set mostly in the hills and mountains of India. 

The Hill Of Enchantment published by Aleph Book Company, is a memoir of his writing journey, with the subtitle, the story of my life as a writer. Bond revisits the people, mountains, railway stations, rooms, and markets that shaped him as an author. He says, characters in his novels and short stories are mostly inspired by the people he met in his life. The author confesses that some characters also portray his adopted family, friends and colleagues. 

Expressing that if a writer wishes to create a little magic with his pen he must find a little magic in his life, Ruskin Bond shares that he only has to open his window to see a magical world – clouds racing across the sky. In the book, the author mentioned how Pari Tibba, Fairy Hill, which he could see from his window, and solitude has influenced his books.

In The Hill of Enchantment, Ruskin Bond pens about how his need for privacy and solitude have inspired his first work, The Room on the Roof, published in 1956. He also portrayed how his frequent visits to a railway station led to the story, Time Stops At Shamli and others. Sharing an anecdote, Bond wrote that his frequent visits to railway stations made him so popular, just like a coolie, he did not have to buy a platform ticket to sit at the railway station.

The book also highlights the ordeal of Indian writers in the days dating back to 1950s to get published as compared to modern writers. It pointed out the change in the literary scene in the twenty-first century, which brought literary festivals along with online forums for writers and publishers. The author says, “writers were becoming faces and mini celebrities”. 

Ruskin Bond’s book not only delineates his journey as a writer but also stresses on the changing literary landscape from 1950s to recent times. The book is an utter testament for the aspiring writers. 

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2024 Lok Sabha Elections

Amit Shah claims NDA has already got 310 seats after 5 phases of Lok Sabha elections

Shah was addressing 2 election rallies in Sambalpur where the BJP has fielded Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

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Amit Shah claims NDA has already got 310 seats after 5 phases of Lok Sabha elections

Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday claimed that the NDA has already bagged 310 seats after the completion of 5 phases of the Lok Sabha polls. He urged the people of Odisha to free the state from babu-raj and allow the BJP to form government at the Centre and also in the state.  Shah was addressing 2 election rallies in Sambalpur where the BJP has fielded Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

Shah claimed after the 5th phase of elections, the NDA has already got 310 seats and they will secure 400 plus seats after the 6th and 7th rounds of elections. The union home minister added that Odisha has been ruled by a handful of officers and this election will end the ongoing babu raj in the state.

He said that the tribals of Keonjhar get no benefit even though most of the mines and mineral reserves of the country are located in Keonjhar district. Shah enlisted Modi government’s achievements and said that the prime minister has ensured that there is no terrorism across the country. He added that PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) was with India and it would remain with India.

Shah criticized Congress of being frightened over Pakistan possessing an atom bomb and said PM Modi has given a befitting reply to Pakistan’s terror activities and he does not fear such threat of nuclear bombs. He attacked the previous Congress government for doing nothing for tribals. Shah pointed out that former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee had formed a separate ministry for tribal affairs while Narendra Modi as the PM has worked to eliminate Naxalism in Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

The Union Home Minister said PM Modi has constituted District Mineral Foundation and given crores of rupees for the development of the tribal region. Shah said the budgetary allocation for tribal affairs has been increased to Rs 1.25 lakh crore during Modi government from Rs 25,000 crore given during the previous UPA regime.

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2024 Lok Sabha Elections

Congress accuses PM Modi of communal campaigning, questions his silence on key issues like caste census, reservations

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh’s attack came over Modi’s remarks in an interview to the media in which he had said that he has never uttered a word against minorities, and the BJP has not just today but never acted against them.

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Congress accuses PM Modi of communal campaigning, questions his silence on key issues like caste census, reservations

The Congress on Tuesday alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been indulging in polarisation throughout the election and has prepared a communal pitch, but Congress refused to play on that and pursued its paach nyay agenda. Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh’s attack came over Modi’s remarks in an interview to the media in which he had said that he has never uttered a word against minorities, and the BJP has not just today but never acted against them.

Jairam Ramesh said that PM Modi’s entire campaign from April 19 has been based on communalisation with the Hindu-Muslim rhetoric throughout and has not talked about Viksit Bharat, issues of the farmers, Modi ki guarantee, women, youth workers, SCs, STs and OBCs.

Speaking about the remarks made by PM Modi on minorities, Ramesh said what nonsense was he talking about?  He further added the prime minister is fast losing his memory and he has never had any adherence to truth. Ramesh called PM Modi a jhoothjeevi and said PM Modi does not remember what he said the day before and then claims that he never said it.

Ramesh said the prime minister had raised the issue of Muslim League imprint on the Congress manifesto, the mangalsutra remarks and the allegation that the Congress will give reservations on the basis of religion, which are all bogus statements.

He said this is the prime minister who, when asked some years ago whether he had any remorse at the killings during the Gujarat riots, said even when a small puppy comes under a car, one feels bad. This is the language that he had been using. Ramesh claimed that when Atal Bihari Vajapayee became the prime minister, L K Advani and company wanted a committee to review the basic structure of the Constitution. Ramesh said Congress boycotted that commission and this has always been the objective of the BJP and the RSS.

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