Meat ban obviously doesn’t curry favour with Hindutva forces

India of the 21st century is sensible and mature enough to realise that the state does not need to police an individual's diet in order to ensure that the religious sensibilities of a micro-minority are not offended. (Image: Wikipedia)

India of the 21st century is sensible and mature enough to realise that the state does not need to police an individual’s diet in order to ensure that the religious sensibilities of a micro-minority are not offended. (Image: Wikipedia)

The contrarian approach of the saffron parties towards the meat ban in Maharashtra during the Jain fasting period of Paryushan reveals that the Sangh Parivar is a divided lot instead of being one united family. Before addressing the issue of disunity among the BJP, Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, let us make one thing aptly clear: the ban on meat is utterly foolish.

Right-wingers are trying to justify it by suggesting that the ban has been in place since a long time; to be precise, since 1964. But merely because a retrograde practice has been carrying on since decades, does it mean that it should be tolerated? Racism, no matter how minute it might be, is a threat and so is food fascism. It cannot be tolerated even if it is for a short period of time. The ban may have gone unnoticed during the 1960s when India was a relatively nascent nation but India of the 21st century is sensible and mature enough to realise that the state does not need to police an individual’s diet in order to ensure that the religious sensibilities of a micro-minority are not offended. Both meat eaters and non-meat eaters have a right to choose what they wish to eat. Let them make the choice instead of the state telling them.

Second, for heaven’s sake do not indulge in the politics of convenience by invoking the name of Akbar. This sudden admiration of the Hindu right for Akbar is most hypocritical. The Twitter trolls who label every Muslim emperor to have ruled India as a communal bigot are now citing the ban which Akbar had put on meat eating during Paryushan to justify what the BJP has done in Mumbai. It is not incumbent upon the government of India or government of Maharashtra to employ the same techniques which were utilised by a monarch centuries ago to cultivate religious harmony. Akbar tried to create a new religion called Din-e-Illahi for the sake of creating religious integration. Will the BJP-Shiv Sena government also attempt to create a new hybrid religion to resolve religious differences? The simple answer is that they won’t.

Coming back to Maharashtra politics, not long ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP managed to take over the leadership of the saffron brigade in Maharashtra from the Shiv Sena by emerging as the single largest party during the Assembly elections held in 2014. While the BJP bagged 122 seats, Shiv Sena came in second with 63 seats. Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) turned out to be irrelevant as it won only one seat, lesser than debutant All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) which won two seats. The results were a matter of deep humiliation for Bal Thackeray’s political heirs – Uddhav and Raj. Following the death of the Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, both Uddhav and Raj had tried to replace him as the new leader of the “Marathi manoos”. But both failed the popularity contest as Modi conquered Maharashtra convincingly.

In February 2017, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the richest municipal body in the world, will go to polls. The BMC has traditionally been controlled by the Shiv Sena but considering the political overtures made by the BJP in the past, it is very much possible that the Modi-Amit Shah combine will intend to dethrone Shiv Sena from the BMC as well. Therefore, it is natural for the Shiv Sena to oppose the BJP at this stage. The same goes for the MNS. The central force in Maharashtra politics is no longer the Congress or Shiv Sena, it’s the BJP. That’s precisely why the Shiv Sena and MNS have harped on the opportunity to oppose the meat ban.

The decision of imposing the ban was taken by the BJP. The Shiv Sena and MNS, by going all out in their opposition to the meat ban, are aligning themselves away from the BJP and trying to encash the anti-BJP sentiment which has emerged owing to this senseless decision. The Shiv Sena and MNS intend to enhance their popularity in the urban areas by speaking out against the meat ban which they hope will provide them electoral dividends in the BMC polls. Another significant reason the Shiv Sena and MNS have decided to take such a political risk is primarily because of the involvement of the Jain community instead of Hindus in the current controversy.

The Jains happen to be a micro-minority with less than limited electoral impact. The approach of the Shiv Sena and MNS would have been different had the meat ban been imposed in relation to a Hindu festival. Jains, though considered by many as a subsect of Hindus, are not Hindus at the end of the day. That’s why the MNS had the courage to roast chicken outside a hall where Jains had gathered in Thane. They would have never done so had it been Hindus instead of Jains. Though the meat ban is a thing to be abhorred, what needs to be equally abhorred are such shameless ways of protest which exemplify a naked majoritarian mindset, bent on harassing minorities by indulging in the most insensitive acts. Consuming meat during Paryushan is a matter of choice but willingly roasting chicken outside a hall full of Jains is an act of mischief.

The MNS would have certainly wanted the Jains to take objection to their crude way of protest. Thankfully, the Jains ignored the agitating political workers and did not provide them with a chance to indulge in a physical brawl. Raj Thackeray’s political ambition of turning this controversy into a “Jain vs Hindu” slugfest should never materialise. This is a question of personal liberty and it should remain that way. Political parties cannot be allowed to further communalise this issue. Uddhav Thackeray has said, “Let us bring the curtains down on the controversy over the meat ban”, but his party’s original stand against the meat ban has made two things clear: not all is fine as far as the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition is concerned. Second, after targeting Muslims, south Indians and north Indians, Jains might be the next set of people to be attacked in Maharshtra by the Shiv Sena on the presumptuous notion of “rich Jains taking away the place of the Maratha people”.

(This article was originally published in DailyO.) 


Is Modi the modern day Aurangzeb?

some of the observations which are being made in relation to Aurangzeb's character make him appear strikingly similar to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Image: Wikipedia)

Some of the observations which are being made in relation to Aurangzeb’s character make him appear strikingly similar to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Image: Wikipedia)

The decision of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) to rename Aurangzeb Road after former President APJ Abdul Kalam has been met with both jubilation and resistance. Those who consider Aurangzeb a Hindu-hating Mughal emperor are rejoicing at the fact that a road located in the heart of India’s capital city will no longer bear the name of a man who desecrated several Hindu temples. On the other hand, there are people who view Aurangzeb as a misunderstood Muslim king from medieval India who extended grants to Hindu temples and whose legacy is being wrongfully eroded due to myths propounded by the Hindutva brigade.

There is another opinion which is of the iconoclast or the maverick. He is none other than former Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju who has reserved his judgement on Aurangzeb. While Katju recognises the fact that “there is evidence to show that in Aurangzeb’s time grants were given to several Hindu temples, for example, Mahakal temple at Ujjain, the Chitrakoot temple, etc,” he also does not shy away from mentioning that Aurangzeb “demolished several Hindu temples, for example, the original Kashi Vishwanath temple” and that he “antagonised Rajputs, Marathas, Sikhs, etc.” Therefore, Katju suggests the need for “more objective research” in order to find out whether Aurangzeb was communal or not.

However, some of the observations which are being made in relation to Aurangzeb’s character make him appear strikingly similar to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The emphasis is being laid on Aurangzeb’s austere way of living and the fact that he used to make caps to earn bread. Prime minister Modi too comes from a humble background as he claims to have helped his father in selling tea at a railway station in Gujarat. After being anointed as prime minister designate, Modi donated Rs 21 lakh out of his personal savings “to educate daughters of drivers and peons” working with the Gujarat government. Following the Nepal earthquake, Modi donated a month’s salary towards the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund to help those affected by the tragedy.

This makes both Aurangzeb and Modi similar as far as their approach towards the state treasury is concerned. Aurangzeb could have easily survived on the state’s wealth but he chose not to and Modi decided to give away his savings as chief minister of Gujarat for the purpose of education. This reveals the tender nature of the two men but the similarities don’t end here. Tenderness was limited to austerity and it was replaced by ruthlessness when it came to political succession.

To ascend the Mughal throne, Aurangzeb executed his own brothers and had his father Shah Jahan more or less imprisoned within the Agra Fort. On the other hand, Modi brought to an end the political career of his mentors LK Advani and Keshubhai Patel to become prime minister and chief minister, respectively. Both threw tantrums and resisted Modi’s rise but were eventually overcome. Advani was forced to withdraw his resignation after the appointment of Modi as BJP’s campaign committee chief for 2014 Lok Sabha elections and pushed into the Margdarshak Mandal following Modi’s magical election campaign promising “ache din.” Keshubhai Patel was first dethroned as Gujarat’s chief minister by Modi in 2001. In 2012, Keshubhai launched Gujarat Parivartan Party and challenged Modi’s might in Gujarat but the verdict of the ballot box turned out to be a disappointment and Keshubhai tasted sweets from the hands of Narendra Modi at the end of a bitter political battle. Advani and Keshubhai have been reduced to political non entities and Modi lords over the entire country without any opposition from within the BJP just as Aurangzeb did after eliminating his many brothers including Dara Shikoh.

The biggest similarity between Aurangzeb and Modi comes to light when one compares their track record in terms of their policy towards religious monuments. As was argued by Katju, Aurangzeb extended grants to Hindu temples as also destroyed several of them. This clearly indicates that he was a political opportunist. Add to that the fact that he executed Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur and Sufi saint Sarmad Kashani allegedly on account of opposing forced conversions and blasphemy, respectively. IIT Mumbai’s Professor Ram Puniyani, a renowned communal amity activist, has mentioned that “Aurangzeb did not hesitate to destroy the Jama Masjid in Golconda as Nawab Tanashah refused to pay him tribute for three consecutive years and hid his wealth underneath a mosque, which was damaged by Aurangzeb to recover his dues.” Such actions hint that Aurangzeb wasn’t a principled person but was rather a political opportunist who could construct temples, destroy temples, construct mosques and destroy mosques to further his political ambitions.

Ironically, Modi’s approach isn’t very different. In 2002, shortly after the infamous Gujarat riots, Modi took out a Gujarat Gaurav Yatra. On September 9, 2002, Modi arrived in Bahucharaji and proudly thumped his chest while mentioning that his government had allotted Rs 8 crore for the development of Bahucharaji Devi Temple. Six years later in 2008, Modi was likened to Mahmud of Ghazni by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for having initiated a drive to destroy illegal temples in Gujarat. Modi hurriedly met VHP Chief Ashok Singhal and “ordered a ban on temple demolition in the state with immediate effect.” Five years later in 2013 came the Uttarakhand flash floods. Modi travelled to Uttarakhand and urged the then Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna to outsource the task of reconstructing the Kedarnarth Temple to the Gujarat government.

Such was Modi’s love for temples. He would allocate millions of rupees for their development, prevent the demolition of illegal temples and even request a state government to allow the Gujarat government to rebuild an ancient temple in their state which was clearly outside of its jurisdiction. But does Modi really love temples? Or he loves temple politics? The Islamic Relief Committee of Gujarat filed a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) asking the Gujarat government to pay compensation to the over 500 religious monuments destroyed during 2002 Gujarat riots. The religious monuments included both Hindu and Muslim places of worship. But an overwhelming majority of those belonged to the Muslim community. Modi’s government opposed the PIL in court arguing that the state government cannot pay any such compensation as it goes against Article 27 of the Indian Constitution which gives citizens the freedom from payment of religious taxes. Thankfully, such bogus arguments were neither accepted by the Gujarat High Court or the Supreme Court and they ordered proper compensation.

But the question which Modi needs to answer is the following: Wasn’t Article 27 coming in the way when he was allocating Rs 8 crore for the development of Bahucharaji Devi Temple? Wasn’t Article 27 a constitutional roadblock when he offered to reconstruct the Kedarnath Temple? If Modi’s government really cared for temples then they would have paid for the compensation of those temples which were destroyed during the 2002 Gujarat riots. But they didn’t because Modi’s government did not intend to provide compensation which was to benefit a few temples as opposed to several mosques and shrines. It would have sent out a wrong signal that Modi is trying to reach out to the Muslim community which is such an anathema to his image of Hindu Hriday Samrat. So his government decided to oppose compensation for religious monuments destroyed during the Gujarat riots.

Interestingly, Modi becomes prime minister in 2014. He makes it a habit to visit a temple whenever on a foreign diplomatic trip. He proclaims “India First” as his definition of secularism and on his trip to Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates, Modi gets land allocated for the construction of the first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi while simultaneously paying a visit to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque thereby making both Hindus and Muslims happy. Does that make Modi secular? Absolutely not!

How can we forget that this is the same person who pitched temples against mosques? Modi allocated money for development of Bahucharaji Devi Temple, offered reconstruction of Kedarnath Temple, prevented demolition of illegal temples fearing backlash from Vishwa Hindu Parishad but refused to provide compensation for religious monuments destroyed during 2002 Gujarat riots simply because 241 of those were mosques and 273 Muslim shrines. He did not have a problem in donning a Sikh turban or traditional North Eastern headgear but refused to wear a Muslim skull cap during his Sadhbhavna mission and did not even extend greetings to the nation on the occasion of Eid during his first year as prime minister.

Today, Modi might be visiting Central Asian nations and invoking the teachings of Islam. He might have visited a mosque in Abu Dhabi but that doesn’t make him secular. It exposes him as a political opportunist, much like Aurangzeb, who does communal politics in the name of temples and mosques at his own convenience so as to appeal to his increasing base of supporters or votebank. Only an opportunist of the stature of Narendra Modi can be an admirer of both MS Golwalkar and Syedna Mohammed Burhauddin, the former being the communal Sarsangchalak of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) who hurled choicest abuses at Muslims and Christians while the latter was the despotic spiritual leader of Dawoodi Bohras who levied religious taxes, violated their human rights and tried to silence moderate voices like those of Asghar Ali Engineer. Such is politics!

(This article was originally published in DailyO.) 

Can Modi sarkar give DU a vice-chancellor without controversy?

Delhi University should not be content with the tag of the best in the country. It should aspire to become the best in the world. (Image: Wikipedia)

Delhi University should not be content with the tag of the best in the country. It should aspire to become the best in the world. (Image: Wikipedia)

In 2014, when the Indian electorate handed Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party a simple majority in the Lok Sabha, one expected the new government to act with a sense of independence which was clearly lacking in the case of Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) as it suffered from political fragility due to opposition from coalition partners. But so far instead of independence the Indian public has only seen this government act with brazenness. And in no sector has Modi sarkar been as brazen as it has been in the sector of education.

It all began with the appointment of a political lightweight like Smriti Irani as the Union education minister. During the wave elections in 2014, Irani contested against Rahul Gandhi and finished a strong second in the intense electoral fight that ensued at battlefield Amethi which also saw Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s Kumar Vishwas woo the voters on account of his shayari and promise for clean governance. Like a large hearted boss, Modi appointed trusted aide Irani (who formerly opposed him on account of his alleged role in 2002 Gujarat riots) despite the fact that she failed to get the job done in Amethi by dethroning Shehzaada Rahul.

But the problem is not that Irani lost the elections. Arun Jaitley too lost the Lok Sabha elections but has been handsomely rewarded as he lords over Union finance, corporate affairs and information and broadcasting ministry. The issue is that Irani might have faked her educational qualification under sworn affidavit. The matter is now before the judiciary and there can be no bigger embarrassment for an education minister if she is found guilty of having lied about her educational qualification.

Secondly, Irani’s appointment as HRD minister was opposed by Modi bhakts like Madhu Kishwar who comes from an academic background. A ministry as significant as human resources development required a visionary who has proven excellence in academia or academic administration. Irani was none and neither is she someone with exemplary electoral records to her name. Her appointment was a farce and so far her term has also been nothing short of being farcical as no concrete steps have been taken to overhaul the nation’s much criticized education sector.

Following the HRD debacle, Modi government went in for a confrontation with Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. Harvard economist Sen not only quit as the chancellor of Nalanda University citing political interference but has also spoken out extensively in the media regarding the imposition of certain political thoughts by Modi government. That political thought is none other than Hindutva. That’s the reason why academics like YS Rao have been appointed to head the Indian Council of Historical Research. Such appointments are aimed towards the “fictionalisation” of history as termed by noted historian Irfan Habib.

There is a great desire among Hindutva ideologues to rewrite history from a supposedly Indian perspective. Prime Minister Modi himself appears to be a part of the plot as he has mentioned how Lord Ganesha underwent plastic surgery to get an elephant head. Lokesh Chandra, a new recruit at the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, has gone one step further and called Modi a “reincarnation of God”. Such sycophancy coupled with tales of mythology concerning flying machines in ancient India has turned us all into a laughing stock infront of the whole world.

The appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the Chairman of Film & Television Institute of India (FTII) has made matters worse. Academic activity has been crippled at the Pune-based institute and the students are undertaking nationwide protests. These agitations should serve as a lesson for Modi sarkaar. In academia, merit matters and it cannot be replaced with right wing political affiliation or overt Hindutva leanings. The mess at FTII needs to be done away with the revocation of Chauhan’s appointment as chairman and the government should simultaneously ensure that transparency is maintained during the appointment of Vice Chancellor of University of Delhi during the coming months.

Delhi University happens to be the numero-uno university in the country, an accolade which was bestowed on it for the third consecutive year by India Today Group-Nielsen Best Universities Survey 2015. The affiliate colleges of Delhi University attract the best and most aspirational students from across the country. But DU has its own set of challenges. There is a need to develop parity between on-campus and off-campus colleges. Every constituent college of the university should be the flagship college of the varsity in its own way and that will require dogged development efforts on the part of the new vice chancellor.

The V-C will also be responsible for taking Delhi University to the next level. The university should not be content with the tag of the best in the country. It should aspire to become the best in the world. It sounds like an impossible feat but a step in this direction has to be initiated at the earliest so that Delhi University at least breaks into the top 100 universities of the world. Very importantly, the new vice-chancellor should be a consensus builder. Outgoing V-C Dinesh Singh’s several initiatives failed to leave behind a mark (including his trademark Four Year Under-Graduate Program (FYUP)) simply because the consensus was lacking. It would be unwise to expect unanimity in terms of decision making but it is incumbent upon the vice chancellor to take academics and students along by devising a consultative proves that gives everyone a chance to be heard and express their opinion. Decision making should be democratic carrying the sanctions of the academic and executive councils. It should not be bulldozed with a sense of aggression and put into effect via usage of emergency powers.

Lastly, it goes without saying, the new vice chancellor should be an academic of international repute. He should necessarily command a praiseworthy academic background and other essential requirements pertaining to research publications in international and national journals. His profile has to be impeccable and complete with years of academic experience in the realm of higher education. The advertisement for the post is out but if Modi sarkaar’s track record is to be believed, the new vice chancellor might not possess any of the qualities listed above. He/she will be appointed through a non-transparent process full of political interference and will follow the government’s diktats instead of maintaining the university’s autonomy. The new vice chancellor might not have many research publications to his credit but he will certainly be an unflinching advocate of Hindutva and a sincere BJP bhakt.

The capital city might just witness a new round of protests. I hope not!

(This article was originally published in DailyO.) 

Muslim countries are not as bigoted as world may think

While we often hear of the bigoted and conservative nature of theocracies and so-called Islamic states like Saudi Arabia, we are mostly unaware of the religious tradition prevalent in other Muslim majority countries.  (Representational Image: Wikipedia)

While we often hear of the bigoted and conservative nature of theocracies and so-called Islamic states like Saudi Arabia, we are mostly unaware of the religious tradition prevalent in other Muslim majority countries. (Representational Image: Wikipedia)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has led to the Emirati government allocating land for the construction of Abu Dhabi’s first Hindu temple. This move of the UAE government is bound to accelerate religious pluralism in the Gulf nation which is home to nearly 2.6 million immigrant Indians. The Emirati city of Dubai currently has two temples, one of which is dedicated to Lord Shiva and the other to Lord Krishna. These facts introduce us to an altogether ignored reality in certain Muslim majority societies.

While we often hear of the bigoted and conservative nature of theocracies and so-called Islamic states like Saudi Arabia, we are mostly unaware of the religious tradition prevalent in other Muslim majority countries. Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, is a secular nation. The Indonesian constitution is planked on the philosophy of “Pancasila” which is pluralistic in its outlook. The drafting committee of the constitution categorically decided to replace the word “Allah” with “Tuhan” so as to ensure that the minorities in Indonesia did not feel neglected and all communities could relate to the phraseology of the constitution.

Indonesia’s national carrier is called “Garuda Indonesia” whose name has been inspired by Hindu mythology. Garuda is the steed or “vahan” of Lord Vishnu. In fact, the Garuda Purana details the conversation between Lord Vishnu and Garuda. Some of the Indonesian currency notes carry pictures of Lord Ganesha and it is a common sight to come across statues of Lord Krishna, Arjuna and Ghatotkach while paying a visit to the Main Square in Jakarta, or the city of Bali.

There are examples from many other nations which can be recounted. Foremost among them is Turkey, which was built on the lines of fundamentalist secularism by none other than Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk brought in sweeping secularisation measures and cultivated the notion of Turkish nationalism. Lebanon is another mutli-faith country where the law mandates equality between Muslims and Christians. Following their independence from the erstwhile Soviet Union, the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, despite their Muslim majority societies, chose to embark on the lines of Leftism and secularism instead of Islamism. The same is the case with Bangladesh.

After its liberation in 1971 which effectively buried the dubious theory that Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations, Bangladesh chose to ingrain “secularism” within the preamble to its constitution and decided not to replicate West Pakistan by proclaiming itself to be an Islamic state.

Interestingly, several of these nations had been led by women. Megawati Sukarnoputri served as the president of Indonesia, Tansu Ciller as the prime minister of Turkey and Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia as prime ministers of Bangladesh. This is not to suggest that these states do not suffer from their respective set of domestic issues which are a challenge to the kind of secularism being practised in these countries. We’ve been reading about the brutal manner in which many secular and atheist bloggers have been hacked to death in Bangladesh. The word “secularism” was expunged from the preamble to the Bangladeshi constitution during military dictator Ziaur Rahman’s regime, but was thankfully brought back owing to a high court ruling in 2010.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a known Islamist, and the Pancasila philosophy is often criticised in Indonesia courtesy its secular grounding. No country is devoid of religious politics or communal discrimination, but the very reality that secular Muslim majority countries exist should be an eye opener for many. But at the same time, let us also recognise the reality of countries like Saudi Arabia which masquerade as “Islamic states.” The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) does not even provide its non-Muslim citizens the right to freely propagate their religion and build their places of worship.

How absurd can a state get, especially when it claims to rule under the pretext of Islam? Doesn’t the Quran explicitly mention religious freedom? Of course it does! Chapter 109, Verse 4 of the Quran says, “I have my religion and you have your religion.” Another much quoted verse is Chapter 2, Verse 256 which says, “There is no compulsion in religion.” These two verses from Islam’s most significant religious document clearly hint at how ignorant the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is regarding the teachings of Islam when it prevents non-Muslims from professing their faith freely and puts to death anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion.

One can cite more verses from the Quran to explain how integral the freedom of worship is to Islamic teachings. Chapter 22, Verse 67 of the Quran states, “We have appointed for every community ways of worship to observe. Let them not dispute with you on this matter.” The need to protect religious monuments belonging to non-Muslims as well as Muslims is also mentioned in the Quran in Chapter 22, Verse 40 wherein it is stated, “If god did not repel the aggression of some people by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of god is much invoked, would surely be destroyed.” And here we have the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with its redundant apostasy laws and completely un-Islamic ways of not allowing non-Muslims build their religious monuments and worship god in their own prescribed ways.

There are several theocracies like Saudi Arabia where such laws are common. In Egypt, Coptic Christians are often targeted and asked to prove their patriotism. This sort of racism was regularly manifested during the reign of the Muslim Brotherhood. Didn’t the members of Muslim Brotherhood hear tales of the Christian delegation which came to meet Prophet Muhammad from Najran? The Prophet didn’t just have a theological debate with them, but allowed them to pray inside Masjid al-Nabwi or the Prophet’s Grand Mosque in Medina. Yet, we had certain elements in Egypt questioning the Coptic Christians’ patriotism simply because of their annual pilgrimage to Bethlehem. They were labelled as being part of a Zionist ploy which is indeed laughable. This kind of an anti-Christian sentiment needs to be shunned.

Anti-Semitism is even more deeply entrenched as Islamic clerics in West Asia have repeatedly called for boycott of Pepsi, since Pepsi allegedly stands for “Pay-ever-penny-to-save-Israel.” Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used to deny the holocaust and label the 9/11 terrorist attacks as insiders’ job. There is no space for such blatant lies in Islam. The Quran says in Chapter 2, Verse 42, “Do not mix truth with falsehood or hide the truth when you know it.”

The likes of Ahmadinejad have to recognise the horrors of the holocaust and treatment meted out to the Jews in Germany. Conspiracy theorists have to give up on the preposterous suggestion of US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-Mossad involvement in 9/11. We must regret the fact that a terrorist named Osama Bin Laden used Islam’s name to commit an entirely inhumane act on September 11, 2001, which led to the death of thousands. He shall never be forgiven for that because Islam teaches that the death of even a single innocent person is like the death of all humanity (Quran: 5:32).

One more thing that is essential to undo the baggage of anti-Semitism rests in understanding that not every Jew is a Zionist sympathiser and not every Jew can be held responsible for the excesses of the Zionist state in Palestine. Lastly, we have our dear neighbour Pakistan where the population of religious minorities has historically been on the decline. Blasphemy laws are utilised to frequently frame non-Muslims and forcible conversions aren’t that rare. Owing to a hostile environment, the Hindu community in Pakistan has steadily shifted base to India which is a matter of great shame for Pakistan.

Whether a country is Muslim majority, Christian majority, Buddhist majority, Hindu majority, Jewish majority or atheist majority ruled by communists, it has to realise that freedom of religion and equality of all religions before the law is a must. No person can be deprived of any privileges because of his faith which is a matter of choice. Everyone must be treated equally. Muslim majority countries, in particular, are doing fairly well in some regions but have dreadful laws in places like Saudi Arabia.

A thorough revision of the law is a must in such regions to bring non-Muslims at par with Muslims as citizens of a free state. It must also be ensured that minorities within the Muslim community, be it Shias, Sufis or Ahmadiyyas are not discriminated against, labelled as heretics, and recognised as Muslims.

More importantly, the rights of women need to be recognised, which is possible only when the state bans female genital mutilation, introduces compulsory girl education, outlaws polygamy and gives women an equal say in matters of divorce, inheritance law and judicial testimony.

(This article was originally published in DailyO.) 

Why India deserves a fixed UN Security Council seat

Will the P-5 agree to share their power and authority with other nations? (Image: Wikipedia)

Will the P-5 agree to share their power and authority with other nations? (Image: Wikipedia)

Ever since taking over the leadership of the world’s largest democracy, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has doggedly concentrated on giving a new shape to India’s foreign policy. Modi’s global aspirations and desire for international recognition became known the moment he extended a formal invite to the leaders of neighbouring South Asian countries to attend his swearing-in ceremony at Raisina Hills last year.

Modi has repeatedly struck one masterstroke after another during the course of his foreign trips. Be it addressing a public meeting of NRIs inside jam packed stadiums in USA and Australia or articulating the nation’s external policy at the United Nations or National Assemblies of Nepal and Bangladesh, Modi has made the world take notice of his eloquence and oratorical skills. He has been exceedingly sharp in visiting places which were mostly off the radar of Indian diplomats be it the state of Mongolia which is strategically sandwiched between Russia and China or the energy rich nations of Central Asia ie Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Prime minister’s foreign visits have been high on symbolism and soft power. He has been quick to sight old ties by invoking the teachings of Buddhism and Islam. He hasn’t missed out on an opportunity to visit a temple or gurdwara and successfully steered the holding of the first ever International Yoga Day. Predictably, foreign policy is one area where Modi has tasted relatively more success as compared to domestic issues. The hateful rhetoric of the Hindu right concerning love jihad, ghar wapsi and forced sterilization definitely embarrassed the ruling establishment headed by Modi and the impasse in Parliament on the issue of Lalitgate has sent the much awaited reforms in cold storage. Amid all this gloom, Modi can stare at the horizon of foreign policy and give himself a pat on the back.

But Modi will have to do a lot more if he wishes to establish India’s position as a country wielding global clout. The simplest way of achieving that objective would be by attaining a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) which Nehru allegedly turned down in the 1950s. India has served seven terms as a non-permanent member of UNSC and has echoed the need for expansion and reform in the Security Council. A permanent seat in UNSC would elevate India to the status of USA, UK, France, China and Russia in the diplomatic sphere and warrant India a critical say in all global matters that matter globally.

Interestingly, India is not the only country in the world eyeing a spot in UNSC. Other competing nations include the likes of Japan, Germany and Brazil. The very notion of a reform or expansion in UNSC leads to the rise of a few fundamental questions: How many countries will join the existing brigade of P-5? What will be the basis of inclusion of more countries in UNSC? Will it be economic status, regional parity or human development? If another Asian country is to be included in UNSC then will it be Japan or India?

India commands three distinct characteristics which make its case for a permanent seat compelling. Currently having a population of 1.28 billion, India will become the most populous country in the world by 2022. Such a large portion of the planet’s population cannot be altogether ignored or kept at a distance from the decision making table of UNSC which brings with itself the “veto” power. Secondly, India happens to be the second fastest growing economy in the world making it an ideal destination for foreign investment and future growth. Thirdly, India is ruled by a democratic, secular government which has never been upstaged by an army coup and can be labelled as a “responsible” nuclear power.

India’s last stint as a non permanent member of UNSC in 2011-12 was supported by regional rivals Pakistan and China but Pakistan might turn out to be a big thorn in India’s way if a global consensus is reached in providing India with permanent membership. Pakistan is bound to raise the issue of regional imbalance if India is in a position to acquire permanent membership and draw the world’s attention towards the persisting Indo-Pak conflict regarding Kashmir.

Despite prospects of a bright economic future, India has reasons to fear competing powers Japan, Germany and Brazil. India’s GDP (nominal) makes it the ninth biggest economic power in the world. At present, Japan, Germany and Brazil’s economic size is bigger than that of India with Japan being the third largest in the world and second largest in Asia after China, Germany being the largest in Europe and fourth globally, while Brazil commanding pole position in South America and seventh globally.

As far as per capita income is concerned, India is nowhere on the list. As per International Monetary fund (2014), India ranks 125 globally with a per capita income of mere $5,855. Japan, Germany and Brazil rank much higher at 18, 28 and 74, respectively. Human Development Index Report (2014) of United Nations Development Program (UNDP) ranks India 114 in the category of “medium human development.” Japan and Germany are countries with “very high human development” ranking 6 and 17, respectively whereas Brazil ranks 51 and is christened as a country with “high human development.”

Simplistic breakdown of facts and figures certainly lowers India’s prospects of a permanent seat when compared with its rivals. But India has a silver lining when it comes to its track record in terms of its contribution to UN Peacekeeping forces which have played a pivotal role in combating violence and maintaining peace. India is the fourth largest contributor to UN Peacekeeping behind Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Pakistan. Though India has a large physical presence in UN Peacekeeping, it finances a minuscule 0.13 per cent of UN peacekeeping operations. The P-5 has lesser boots on the ground but rules the roost when it comes to financing peacekeeping operations with USA pitching in with over 28 per cent financial contribution. Japan comes in second with 10.83 per cent followed by other permanent members.

It is a complex situation. India is growing economically but lags being when it comes to per capita indicators. Owing to its military strength, it is contributing in huge numbers to peacekeeping but cannot match up to the financing levels of P-5 or Japan in relation to peacekeeping operations. The story is a paradox. But the most important element of the story is yet to be spoken about ie P-5. A reform in UN Security Council would necessitate the need for an amendment in the UN Charter which is possible only when a resolution is adopted by two-third member nations in the UN General Assembly. It has to be further ratified by the constitutional process of two-third member nations including P-5.

Will the P-5 agree to share their power and authority with other nations? White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest is on record stating “President (Obama) would support the inclusion of India in that process (reform of UNSC)” but cables leaked by Wikileaks quoted Former US Secretary of State and arguably the next American president Hillary Rodham Clinton ridiculing countries like India as “self appointed front-runners” for a permanent membership of UNSC. The two statements, one on-record and the other off-record, hint at the underlying duplicity of USA. If the “Great Indian Dream” of attaining permanent membership has to be accomplished then India will surely have to cultivate a global consensus which will include the P-5. The penultimate question is: Can Modi pull off a Himalayan miracle?

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)