Modi-fication of minority institutions

The most obvious qualification which Zafar Sareshwala, CEO & MD of Parsoli Corporation Ltd., has in his kitty is that of being Prime Minister Modi's most trusted Muslim ally. (Image via India TV News)

The most obvious qualification which Zafar Sareshwala, CEO & MD of Parsoli Corporation Ltd., has in his kitty is that of being Prime Minister Modi’s most trusted Muslim ally. (Image via India TV News)

The education sector has been in a state of constant controversy ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi made ‘television bahu’ turned politician Smriti Irani as Union HRD Minister. This move of the Modi government was first criticized by Madhu Kishtwar who raised certain objections in regards to Irani’s educational qualification. Defending herself, Irani maintained that she should be judged solely on the basis of her performance. But Irani’s tenure as HRD Minister has been marked by several controversies ranging from the Sanskrit-German language row to the celebration of “Good Governance Day” in schools on Christmas.

Tale of two universities

However, the most recent controversies emanating due to the actions of the HRD Ministry concern two famous minority institutions in the country. The first was the appointment of Modi aide and businessman Zafar Sareshwala as the Chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU). This was followed shortly by the election of Muzaffarnagar riot accused MP Kunwar Bharatendra Singh to the court of the Aligarh Muslim University. Another MP who was elected to the AMU court was Satish Kumar Gautam who had earlier threatened to celebrate the birth anniversary of Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh inside the varsity’s campus in Aligarh.

There is no denying of the fact that over the past few months there has been a surge in anti-minority rhetoric across the nation. Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti hogged the limelight courtesy her “Ramzaade” remark while BJP Uttar Pradesh Chief Lakshmikant Bajpayee stated that the Taj Mahal was originally a temple. Simultaneously Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat kept reiterating that India was a Hindu Rashtra while Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj pitched for the designation of Gita as the country’s national scripture.

At such a critical juncture, the union government has scored an own goal by means of the appointments it has done in AMU and MANUU. How can the reins of a Central University be given in the hands of a lifelong businessman? The most obvious qualification which Zafar Sareshwala, CEO & MD of Parsoli Corporation Ltd., has in his kitty is that of being Prime Minister Modi’s most trusted Muslim ally. If we remove that, he would have been the last person on the list to be appointed as chancellor of a central university because he has no credible record of administering any education institution. Moreover, what should we expect from a riot accused MP? The ideological opposition of the Sangh Parivar to minority institutions is well known and appointment of such elements is bound to cause communal rift in the varsity.

Narendra Modi’s own track record

In an interview given to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria prior to his US visit, Modi had tried to reach out to the Muslim community by stating that “Indian Muslim will live for India. They will die for India. They will never do anything against India.” But the repeated actions of his government are merely alienating the minorities, specifically Muslims. In his erstwhile avatar of Gujarat Chief Minister Modi had opposed the implementation of the Central Government’s pre-matriculation minority scholarship scheme in the state. However, Gujarat High Court upheld the constitutional validity of the scheme and the Supreme Court too refused to accept the state government’s plea of not complying with the high court’s order.

The way forward

The Modi government has to realize that minority rights are sacrosanct in a democracy. It is the Prime Minister’s duty to not only clampdown on his own ministers and Sangh Parivar leaders who are making vitriolic statements against minorities but also to ensure that the autonomy of minority institutions is not crucified by means of dubious appointments. The challenge would not be an easy one for Narendra Modi as he himself carries the burden of having criticized minority scholarship schemes in the past. If the Modi government fails to act then surely the perception of this government being “anti-minority” is bound to increase and minority institutions in line to be “modi-fied.”

(This article was originally published on

Obama’s caution on religion: Why Modi needs to pay attention

Barack Obama, the 53-year-old leader American President went on to cite Article 25 of the Indian Constitution to remind Indians of the "right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion." (Image: Associated Press)

Barack Obama, the 53-year-old leader American President went on to cite Article 25 of the Indian Constitution to remind Indians of the “right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion.” (Image: Associated Press)

In the final speech of his India visit, US President Barack Obama told the audience at Delhi’s Siri Fort Auditorium that India would progress as long as it is not “splintered” on religious lines. The 53-year-old leader even went on to cite Article 25 of the Indian Constitution to remind Indians of the “right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion.” Obama’s exhortation on religion was his strongest message to the Modi government.

Ever since his arrival in India on January 25, Obama and Modi concentrated on increasing the trade relationship between the USA and India. During the course of the visit, the Indian government focused on showcasing the nation’s rising military might and economic progress. The domestic media was all praise for Modi’s new friendship with “Barack” who acknowledged the Indian PM’s popularity by comparing his reception at Madison Square Garden to that of a “Bollywood star”.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Throughout his visit, Obama stood shoulder to shoulder with Modi as shutterbugs immortalised handshakes and hugs. The only opportunity Obama had to address the Indian populace alone, without the presence of Modi, was at Siri Fort Auditorium. And he used the opportunity to raise the concerns of the US about India.

Obama’s emphasis on preserving diversity indicated perhaps that Washington wasn’t as concerned about the increasing financial clout of India as it was about the increasingly apparent religious bigotry.

So why did the most powerful person on the planet choose to caution a country which is known for encouraging pluralism and secularism?

The answer lies in the fact that ever since the Modi government has taken to office, fringe groups belonging to the Hindu Right have increased their vitriol towards minorities, mainly Muslims. In Uttar Pradesh, BJP MP Yogi Adityanath raised the false bogey of “love jihad”, claiming that Muslim men were eloping with Hindu women to convert them and increase the Muslim population. Uddhav Thackeray, quoted in the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna, backed Yogi Adityanath, stating, “Love jihad is an international conspiracy to destroy the Hindu culture.” In another speech, Adityanath also claimed that the rise in the population of a certain community was the reason behind the UP state government failing to maintain communal harmony. The notion of “love jihad” didn’t inspire the electorate, however, as the BJP recorded a poor show in the UP by-elections. Interestingly, the same state had provided the party with over 70 legislators in the earlier held general elections.

But the Sangh Parivar learnt no lessons and carried on with their agenda.

In October, Vishwa Hindu Parishad patriarch Ashok Singhal told reporters that since the BJP government had majority, it must fulfil its promise of building a Ram temple in Ayodhya. In Ghaziabad the next month, Praveen Togadia said that the Ram temple would be built at “any cost”.

By the time December came, incendiary comments were flying thick and fast. Union minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti made the reckless “ramzaadon” remark at a public meeting in Delhi. Instead of being shown the door, she walked free with an apology. Sakshi Maharaj, a BJP MP, referred to Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse as a “patriot”, while BJP UP chief Laxmikant Bajpai claimed that the Taj Mahal was an ancient temple.

Such proclamations were not limited to the lesser known leaders. RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat repeatedly stated that India was a Hindu Rashtra, while External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj demanded that the Bhagavad Gita be declared as the country’s “national scripture.” But the biggest controversy of all was the alleged forceful conversion of 300 Muslims to Hinduism in Agra, resulting in pandemonium inside Parliament.

As the Hindu Right grabbed headlines, their Muslim counterparts were not far behind. The politics of competitive communalism was underway. Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan demanded that the control of the Taj Mahal be handed over to the state Waqf Board; earlier in April 2014, he had said that the Kargil war was won by Muslim soldiers.

MIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi tried a reverse definition of “ghar wapsi”, proselytising that the real homecoming would be when people returned to the Islamic faith.

Unfortunately, the communal atmosphere wasn’t limited to merely hate speeches. In June 2014, a Muslim techie was beaten to death by a group of Hindu fundamentalists. Communal tensions spread in several cities including Delhi, Meerut and Vadodara.

Films and books fell victim too. While protests greeted against Aamir Khan starrer PK, Tamil author Perumal Murugan decided to stop writing after his book Madhorubhagan became mired in controversy. All this was conveniently happening at a time when Dinanath Batra was orchestrating the rewriting of Indian history books and ridiculous myths were being propounded. PM Modi joined the bandwagon by claiming, among other things, that people in ancient India knew plastic surgery (as evident from the elephant head of Lord Ganesha!).

It was under these circumstances that Obama reminded the government of the need to safeguard the freedom of religion. Not that it made much of a difference. Shortly after Obama left, there was another controversy around an advertisement published by the government on the occasion of Republic Day which had printed the original preamble to the Constitution, which did not have the words “secular” and “socialist”. The Shiv Sena was quick to call for the deletion of the word “secular” from the Preamble, even as the government defended the advertisement.

Political leaders in India need to realise that it is economic progress is hollow if religious amity is not preserved. But for that to happen, all political parties would have to rise above politics and stop playing the religion card.

(This article was originally published in The Huffington Post.)