Last night, in Delhi, having gone out and listened to Sufi qawwalies at the venerable India International Centre, with people of all hues, shapes and sizes (metaphorically speaking), I realised why we had to invent this neutral religion which assimilated all, because everyone wanted to survive in peace . When you live in a warring world, with needs and scarcities and anger, you need a space where everyone speaks a language of love, and of union. How wise, because those sentiments then protect you from the vagaries of the outside world. And that music, those thoughts, still live, centuries later. Sometimes we must pause in the present cacophony being created in the country, and allow this music to take over. The words of Kabir, Rahim, Guru Nanak, Meera Bai... The simple yet complex words which surmount any angst or aggression, and focus only on our inner gods.
In any case, let us be sure about one thing. No one will be able to rip apart the syncretic nature of our lives. There are those who imagine that the people of India will be swayed by divisive sentiments, a few fringe elements dictating the debate... And I am surprised. How can this country, which knows so much diversity, ever be divided again! Yes, a few fanatic elements might become violent - but who is fanning them?
It certainly cannot be the government because they clearly want the focus to remain on development issues.
Could we then lean towards a conspiracy theory? Is there a fairly cohesive group that will block all instances of good governance, and force the debate in another direction? One still remembers the spate of Church attacks that came just before the Delhi elections, and then disappeared again. Could the idea be to constantly force the perception of the NDA narrative in a negative direction?
Or are there random fringe elements that need to be reined in?
But if someone is trying to create disharmony, even by design, the government can only succeed by creating a counter-narrative of cohesive forces.
Therefore, the NDA, instead of being defensive, should simply take a leaf out of Amir Khusro's poetry and speak the language of love and peace. They must have their own set of people, public intellectuals with credibility, a non-political group from civil society, who apply balm, who send out a message of harmony. These cannot be government spokespersons, but a group (almost like the NAC created by the UPA), who advise the government on spreading a positive message of remaining religion neutral, while focussing on good governance.
Because, for sure, looking at us, tonight, mesmerised by the music, singing "Allah hu," anyone will appreciate how alive our syncretic culture still is. When Amir Khusro needed to make his emotions felt, he wrote, he invented, and his contributions have still been appreciated centuries later. These have lived on within us, while we barely remember his detractors.
And this is the space we enjoy whilst living in the capital, while we resonate to the Sufi lyrics. The government also needs to find creative ways to reinforce this message: that the liberal spirit of India is emphatically not under threat! Just speeches by political spokespersons is not enough. These must be supported by respected members from civil society.