Id-ul-fittar, this year, will be celebrated in the midst of a complex situation full of developments that cause worry and concern to citizens of a secular democratic India. As we enter the final year of the twentieth century, according to the Gregorian (Roman) calendar, it somehow appears that India is not advancing to a higher stage of human civilisation at the threshold of the third millennium but is being pulled back by certain forces into medieval bigotry and intolerance. The recent violent attacks against the Christian community, the frenzied campaign for the so-called `liberation’ of the centuries old Sufi shrine of Baba Budangiri in Chikmagalur, Suratkal communal riots in Karnataka, the vicious communal campaign against the Pakistani cricket team, the noted gazal singer Gulam Ali and the international acclaimed painter M.F. Hussain — all point towards one simple fact that religious intolerance has become a weapon for political mobilisation. This, by itself, is sufficient to destroy the syncretic pluralistic culture that has evolved in India over the centuries. Unless strife, hatred and insecurity is banished from our social fabric, India will not be able to enter the third millennium with “its head held high”, as Ravindranath Tagore said. It is, indeed, unfortunate that when the need of the hour is to tackle formidable challenges like poverty, illiteracy, unemployment etc, our attention is being diverted and our unity is being disrupted by such narrow sectarian communal passions!
As the world moves towards the third millennium, it will be interesting to recollect the transition from the first to the second millennium, according to the Hejira calendar (corresponding to 1591-92 in the Roman calendar). In the year 1000 Hejira, Emperor Akbar was on the Mughal throne. Amongst the many pronouncements he issued on this occasion stands out his famous edict on religious tolerance: “no man should be interfered with on account of religion and any one (is) to be allowed to go over to a religion he pleases”. Like the synthetic religion of Din-i-ilahi, Akbar’s attempt to evolve a new synthetic calendar, the Tarikh-i-ilahi did not survive for long. However, the important point to note is that Indian civilisation, even 400 years ago, was breaking from all expressions of religious intolerance and advancing to higher levels of human civilisation. Instead of such an advance being carried forward, we are today, in the grips of retrograde communal forces, who unfortunately hold the reins of State power, who seek to take India back in time and history.
For 50 years, since the establishment of a secular democracy in free India, the vast majority of Indians taking pride in their pluralistic and syncretic ethos have tried to strengthen the unity of our country and peoples. What seems to be forgotten today is the simple truth that the unity of a pluralistic India can only be strengthened by strengthening the bonds of commonality amongst this diversity. India’s unity and social harmony can never be strengthened by seeking to impose a uniformity over this diversity. However, this is precisely what the communal forces seek today. Their efforts to impose a monolithic majoritarian culture can only lead to powerful fissiporous tendencies that will dissipate our country’s and people’s energies in mindless strife and hostility.
It is this challenge that needs to be squarely met. The multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural ethos of our country needs to be preserved both for our sake and that of the progeny. The answer to the onslaughts of majority Hindu communalism can never be found in minority fundamentalist response. In fact, Hindu communalism and minority fundamentalism feed on each other and produce totally counter-productive results. This we have seen with great clarity in the bomb blasts that occurred in Coimbatore during the last general elections which greatly benefitted the majority communal forces. The answer to this communal and reactionary onslaught can only be found in strengthening the secular democratic movement in the country where all Indian patriots, irrespective of their religious or linguistic affiliation, rise together as one man to protect the very essence of India.
That the country is in such dire straits today is mainly because of the offensive of the RSS-led Saffron Brigade and its political wing, the BJP. To a large measure, the Congress Party, with nearly four decades of continuous rule at the Centre and majority of states, failed to strengthen the foundations of secularism, given its compromising attitude towards the communal forces. This was chillingly demonstrated when the Saffron Brigade was allowed to demolish the Babri Masjid. In order to meet the present challenge therefore, what is required is the strengthening of the Left, secular and democratic forces as an alternative to the BJP and its allies like the TDP on the one hand, and the Congress on the other. The steadfast commitment of the CPI(M) and the Left to secularism and their unfaltering consistency has been the bedrock of the struggle against the majority community communalism. It is this force that needs to be strengthened to save India today in order to change it for the better tomorrow.
As we celebrate Id today, we must recollect the sacrifices of martyrs like Ashfaq Ullah Khan who smilingly went to the gallows fighting for India’s independence from the British. We must recollect Abdul Hamid who laid down his life defending India’s borders in a war against Pakistan, only to be awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously. And, above all, we must recollect the famous words of the Gurzada Apparao who said, “The country means not bricks and mortar, the country means its people”. (Note: While translating use the first lines of the Telugu original.)
India, today, is calling upon all its patriots who, over the centuries, have unitedly mingled and evolved this great pluralistic civilisation, to stand together to defeat the regressive onslaughts and do India proud by not only upholding this syncretic civilisation but carrying it forward to greater heights.