By A Staff Writer
Where is the will, there is the way.
Perhaps this will sum up the outcome of the round-table discussion hosted here by the centre for peace and progress on “Secularism: Meaning, significance and Relevance” on September 28. The discussion helped crystallise the issues that bear scope for continuing dialogue.
Though the exercise seemed to be sponsored by the saffron quarters, they took care to play as honest referee and appeared to be keen to promote dialogue between communities and groups. The usefulness of the lay in appreciating divergent perceptions on the contentious issues that bedevil the relationship between the two major communities, viz. Hindus and Muslims. The convener, Mr. O.P. Shah, a chartered accountant from Calcutta, who made no bones about his friendship with leaders of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), introduced the centre as an organisation interested in engaging people in dialogue.
According to him, the centre has conducted such exercises with Kashmir’s Hurriyet leaders, Punjab’s militants and even visited Pakistan five times and held Indo-Pak people-to-people dialogue twice since 1989.
Mr. Justice Rama Jois, retired Judge of the Karnataka High Court, initiated the dialogue. While condemning the demolition of Babri Masjid, he said the Government of India was duty bound to introduce the uniform Civil Code and prohibition in the country. He said the various personal laws should have been ab initio from January 26 1950, with the inclusion of the Article 44 in the constitution. He soon left the venue to catch a flight to Delhi.
Prof. Mumtaz Ali Khan, social worker, said the controversy regarding genuine versus pseudo-secularism had confused people. He said secularism had been used for garnering minority votes. He viewed the Haj subsidy etc. as unacceptable in a secular country.
Dr. K. Hussain, Hony Principal of Bhartiya Veerya Bhawan in his paper, said Gandhiji visualised Ram Rajya as ideal form of governance but opposed a Hindu theocratic state. He said Dr. Radhakrishnan opposed a definition of secularism as nihilism.
Mr. M.A. Siraj said if a political party cashed in on secularism for 45 years for garnering Muslim votes, another had indulged in appeasement of majority by projecting secularism as a concession and privilege for minorities. Both were negative attitudes. He said the country will have to retain secularism in order to cope with pressures of a plural society. He said the Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) tax benefits or Article 371 (banning purchase of land in Tribal areas or border areas) or reservations for SC/ST people were in keeping with the diverse social complexions of the society and conforms to the plural structure of the Hindu society. He said RSS founder Golwalkar opposed the Uniform Civil Code. Mr. Siraj opposed Haj subsidies but said the Government in the country should remain a facilitator of religious duties of citizens, be it the Kumbh Mela arrangements, Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, special trains for Ajmer Urs or Haj affairs.
Law student Shrikar said secularism should not be held antithetical to the minority rights. He stressed the plural structure of the polity as neither the Hindus nor Muslims were culturally homogenous. He opposed the political use of Uniform Civil Code as a tool to intimidate the minorities.
Dr. Mohammad Farooq said the Holy Quran described the entire human race as a family as they were born out of a single male and a single female. Dr. T.M. Ameer Ahmed said the focus should not be merely on Hindu-Muslim relations but even on regional and ethnic strife brewing in various states of India. Mr. Ramachandra Gowda, BJP MLC advised discouragement of minoritysim and said secularism did not mean irreligiosity. He said India was secular because it was a Hindu majority country. He said secularism does not reject national heritage, culture and traditions.
Prof. Basheer Hussain, Chairman, Karnataka Minorities Commission, opined that the minorities were deceived in the name of minoritysim. He said minorities needed certain special provisions. He said equal treatment of all religions will lead to the domination of majority. Quoting a survey of the Minorities Commission he pointed out that while the Government directives provided 12 per cent site allotment for the minorities in new developing Urban areas, only 4 per cent were actually being allotted to them in the state. He said the present first-past-the-post system of elections in India had ensured that the political levers remained in the hands of a few dominant communities and there should be a review of the system. Prof. Hussain said 22 per cent of slum population in Karnataka was from the Muslim Community.
Dr. Arshi said the people conformed to certain traditions despite being secular in behaviour. Mr. M.A. Ataullah, Director, Al-Ameen Campus, stressed the need for Teaching Religion with a perspective of love rather than hate. He questioned the concept of national mainstream and the objections raised vis-a-vis Muslim’s isolation from it. Mr. Shafeeq Ahmed said the people tended to seek definitions of secularism according to their convenience which had led to the present chaos.
RSS activist, Chandra Shekhar Bhandari, regretted that politics had introduced differences among people. Haneef Jawaid, advocate, rejected the theory of secularism being a concession to minorities. He said it was an oxygen to India. He pleaded for avoiding confrontation, and promoting co-existence and co-operation.
Mr. Y.K. Raghavendra Rao, Advocate and Vice-President of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, said if minorities were sensitive to certain issues, the majority too had certain reservations on specific issues. These must be respected. He said India had a state religion except during the reign of Ashoka who declared Buddhism as the official religion.
Mr. N.S. Rajan, an NRI, expressed surprise over people fighting over petty issues. He said the United States had a Common Civil Code and all Indians were opting for residence there. He however saw great virtue in allowing freedom to all by ensuring against exploitation.
Prof. K.V. Acharya of Bangalore University said Muslims would have been a great community had they spared the Babri Masjid for construction of the Ram Temple.
BJP legislator Pramila Nesargi, Advocate, came as an observer around the conclusion of the dialogue. Among others who spoke were businessman Mr. Azam Jan, environmentalist Zafar
Futehally; Mr. T.Venkataswamy, former law secretary, Karnataka; Feroze Abdullah of Rainbow Forum and Mr. G.M. Rajachar, state secretary BJP.
Though tempers frayed and passions were roused by certain remarks by speakers, everyone acknowledged that the issues needed cool contemplation and sober dialogue. Mr. O.P. Shah hinted that such dialogues would be held in Lucknow, Jaipur, Kerala etc. and a final conclave will be held in Delhi.
By Soroor Ahmed
The very presence of the BJP ideologue Mr. Govindacharya, party spokesman Yashwant Sinha and an MP and Mr. Jaiswal in a seminar on “Secularism (no, not pseudo-secularism) in India: Meaning, Significance and Relevance” should make news. And if they are the main speakers, it must be intriguing. But far from it, they were the organisers of a ‘show’ that has been enacted in several cities of the country. More is to follow.
The three stalwarts of the Bhartiya Janata Party were in Patna on September 7 to attend this seminar organised by a Calcutta-based organisation, Centre for Peace and Progress. Chairman of the Centre, Mr. O.P. Shah, a chartered accountant from Calcutta, took pains to explain that his organisation had nothing to do with the BJP. But many Muslims took his protestations of innocence with a pinch of salt. According to Mr. Shah, his initiative to bring BJP leaders close to Muslims through such seminars at Chennai, Calcutta and Bangalore was purely a voluntary initiative. Among the Muslims invited at Patna was Secretary of the Jamaat e Islami Hind, Syed Yusuf who is also the Editor of Radiance Views weekly. A clutch of retired Muslim bureaucrats were also among the invitees. But none among the secular but non-political organisations was invited. Unusually, the day-long proceedings remained unreported in the local media. None knows whether there was a deliberate effort to keep the deliberations out of media limelight or it did not occur to the organisers.
At the end of the day, an effulgent Govindacharya, the major brain behind the BJP’s electoral strategy, declared that the seminar helped the Muslims and the BJP to understand each other. It is true that the BJP leaders learned much about the thinking of the sensible Muslim leadership yet at the same time, the latter could get an idea about the BJP’s impatience to reach the throne of Delhi. “Gaps in the perception should be bridged”, announced Govindacharya while speaking on the occasion. But why this talk of bridging the gap now when all is over, retorted one of the speakers later.
While Syed Yusuf hit out at the propaganda and misunderstandings deliberately created to malign Islam and Muslims, another speaker Nusratullah Khan Effendi said that this is a part of a BJP gameplan to woo Muslims for election purpose. He wondered as to how it is possible to accept that the BJP has changed its policy towards Muslims when a senior party ideologue (Mr. Seshadri) while talking to the BBC said just the opposite. Moreover, Kalyan Singh’s reiteration of the Ram Mandir agenda in Lucknow blew in the face of the party’s bid to hold covert dialogue with a section of Muslims.
Interestingly, it was the party spokesman, Mr. Yashwant Sinha who spoke last and that too after Mr. Govindacharya took leave for “attending some other meeting”. Mr. Sinha recalled his earlier association with the secular parties like Janata Dal and Samajwadi Janata Party and went on to shower praise on Mr. Govindacharya and the BJP. “Look, I did not feel out of place in the BJP in the last four years,” he told the gathering.
Mr. Sinha found the press a convenient scapegoat and accused it for widening the gap between the BJP and Muslims. The BJP Constitution says Muslims and Hindus are blood brothers, he said, adding that both the party spokesperson, he and Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, had no past association with the RSS. “If there is a certain change in the BJP, you shut your eyes. Let us come forward and bury the past and look at the positive side of all the political parties. Please talk to us, we will listen to you, “ he urged. What was more surprising is that Mr. Sinha not only gave a hint of the “change in BJP’s policy vis-a-vis Muslims”, he spent much time explaining to the audience that the organiser, Mr. O.P. Shah, had stepped into the scene of the dialogue just as a well-wisher of both sides and to remove fear and doubt from the minds of the Muslims. Was it required?