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Please keep Mohammed Ali Jinnah's portrait, banish his bigotry

All sensible Indians, Muslims and Hindus, should examine those ideas and demolish each, one by one.

 |  5-minute read |   08-05-2018
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The demand to remove Mohammed Ali Jinnah's portrait from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) misses the point. The problem is not the portrait. The problem is the toxic ideas the portrait represents. All sensible Indians, Muslims and Hindus, should examine those ideas and demolish each, one by one. The portrait will then no longer matter.

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Mohammed Ali Jinnah was an accidental Muslim. A Gujarati Khoja, his family, like most Khojas, had been recently converted to Islam from Hinduism. He spoke fluent Gujarati but not a word of Urdu. Jinnah disdained the traditions of both conservative Hindus and Muslims. He relished pork. He drank scotch. He affected the manner of an English gentleman: waistcoat, pipe and monocle.

As Akbar S Ahmed in his book, Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin, wrote: "Jinnah's lifestyle resembled that of the upper-class English professional. Jinnah prided himself on his appearance. He was said never to wear the same silk tie twice and had about 200 hand-tailored suits in his wardrobe. In spite of his extravagant taste in dress Jinnah remained careful with money throughout his life (he once rebuked his ADC for over-tipping the servants at the governor's house in Lahore in 1947). In the early 1930s, Jinnah lived in a large house in Hampstead, London, had an English chauffeur who drove his Bentley and an English staff to serve him. There were two cooks, Indian and Irish."

When political opportunity beckoned in the late 1930s, however, Jinnah embraced Islam with fundamentalist fervour. It is Jinnah's bigoted ideas, marinated for decades after his death by Pakistan's generals and politicians, which have turned Pakistan into a failed state.

Those who blame Jinnah for Partition should thank him. Undivided India would today have been a simmering cauldron of 1.60 billion people: one billion Hindus, 550 million Muslims and 50 million others of various faiths. Muslims would have comprised over 33 per cent of India's population. That tinderbox could be lit with the smallest fundamentalist matchstick into unending civil war.

History teaches us that in a country where antagonistic faiths are roughly equal in number, religious violence can be endemic. Lebanon and Northern Ireland are two diverse examples. In poor, underdeveloped Lebanon, the population is 54 per cent Muslim and 40 per cent Christian. In developed, wealthy Northern Ireland, Protestants comprise 48 per cent of the population and Catholics 45 per cent.

In Lebanon, civil war raged between Muslims and Christians from 1975 to 1990, leaving 1,50,000 people dead. Deep religious and ethnic scars remain. Muslims and Christians view each other with suspicion even as Iran-backed Hezbollah, a Shia militia, now effectively controls the government in Beirut. Increasing Shia-Sunni conflicts have today led Lebanese Christians to forge secret alliances with both Muslim sects, leading to continuing communal and sectarian tensions.

In Northern Ireland, Protestants and Catholics fought each other for over three decades from the 1960s to the 1990s. More than 4,000 people were killed, including scores of British policemen. Northern Ireland's legislative assembly, Stormont in Belfast, remains suspended since January 2017 following renewed disputes between warring unionist Protestants (who want to stay within the United Kingdom) and republican Catholics (who want to secede from the UK and merge with Ireland).

So India must first thank Jinnah for insisting on Partition. He took with him most of his toxic thoughts to a country founded on theocracy and pre-programmed to fail.

amu690_050818112656.jpgAn AMU student clashes with the police. Source: PTI

An enduring myth is that Indian Muslims identify with Pakistan. The overwhelming majority doesn't. They regard Pakistan as an embarrassment to their faith. Only a small indoctrinated minority of Muslims, especially in states like Kerala, Jammu & Kashmir and West Bengal, see kinship with Pakistan. It is this tiny minority though that foments trouble. Many are paid agents of Pakistan's ISI. They infect campuses like Jawaharlal Nehru University, Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia. Some mentor sleeper terror cells in J&K, Kerala and West Bengal.

Hindu extremists make things worse by turning into cow vigilantes, harassing Hindu-Muslim couples under the guise of love jihad and pushing for the cause of Hindu nationalism rather than of an Indian nationalism that is plural, inclusive, and safeguards national security.

This plays into the hands of the Left-Islamist narrative that right wing Hindu extremists are as dangerous as Islamist terrorists. Rahul Gandhi in 2006 fed into this twisted narrative by telling an American envoy that Hindu terror posed a greater risk to Indian security than Islamist terrorism.

Much of this impacts voting patterns. Indian Muslims don't trust the BJP. By denying tickets to Muslim candidates in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has shown it has given up on the Muslim vote. That leaves Muslims with a Hobson's choice: vote for the Congress which woos them during elections but ignores them for the next five years or cast their lot with brazenly communal parties like the AIMIM, IUML, NCP, SP, RJD, TMC and NC. All are regional fiefs using Muslim victimhood to garner votes. Do they care about Muslims' prosperity? A visit to Hyderabad's old city, an Owaisi family fief, will provide a quick answer.

If Indian Muslims want to share in India's transformation over the next decade from a low-income country into a middle-income global power, they must integrate into the mainstream. Be Indian first, Muslim second.

The most successful and enlightened Indians - from Jawaharlal Nehru to APJ Abdul Kalam - put the nation above their religion.

If India's 200 million Muslims remain segregated, prosperity will elude them as it has for the last 71 years. Scan the media: Every day dozens of start-ups announce millions of dollars in venture capital funds. Spotting a Muslim entrepreneur among these young start-up innovators is like searching for a needle in a haystack.

So keep Jinnah's portrait. But integrate. Dump his theocratic bigotry that has brought Pakistan to ruin. Join the mainstream and embrace the idea of a plural India, not the fraudulent one you've been fed for decades.

Also read: Why BJP's present and former allies are wary of partnering with it

Writer

Minhaz Merchant Minhaz Merchant @minhazmerchant

Biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. Ex-TOI & India Today. Media group chairman and editor. Author: The New Clash of Civilizations

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