Varun Gandhi and the long tradition of hate
VARUN Gandhi has shocked all people of good conscience in the subcontinent. On second thought, though, should we really be surprised at what he has had to say about India's Muslims? Forget the fact that his roots are in the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. History bears ample proof of good political families sometimes throwing up a black sheep or two.
The son of the ruthless Sanjay Gandhi falls in that sad category. More to the point, he is only asserting anew the terrible malady all of us have suffered from in our part of the world since the partition of India in 1947.
No matter what your feelings are about politics, no matter how much and how vociferously you proclaim your belief in secularism, the bigger truth is that all around you there yet linger the ghosts of the men who went around killing other men in the name of faith back in the 1940s. There is Bal Thackeray for you. He goes bitterly into old age, but time was when he told his fellow Hindus that India's Muslims should be kicked out and sent to Pakistan.
And that makes you think of Pakistan. Loads of people will remind you of Jinnah's emphasis on the various religious communities sharing equal rights in the country he was cobbling into shape. And that was on the eve of partition. That was a fine sentiment. But remember that it did not quite tally with the communal two-nation theory Jinnah and his friends had been pursuing for the seven years prior to the vivisection of India. His exhortation on equality was too little and came too late.
Hate on the basis of religious belief was a cardinal principle with the state of Pakistan in the years before it lost its eastern province to Bengali secular nationalists in 1971. In 1964, Governor Monem Khan, in cahoots with his political masters in Rawalpindi, helped foment the flames of anti-Hindu fury in East Pakistan, which men like the rising Sheikh Mujibur Rahman helped to douse.
In the wars of 1965 and 1971, Pakistanis were convinced that India would be left biting the dust because one Muslim equalled ten Hindus. Go back to the 1950s, when the Jamaat-e-Islami's Abul Ala Maudoodi instigated riots in Lahore that targeted the members of Pakistan's Ahmadiyya community. The mayhem ended only when General Azam Khan clamped martial law on the city. That was in 1953.
The Maudoodi theme was to be picked up by an outfit calling itself the Khatme Nabuwat in Bangladesh. It cheerfully went into intimidating Ahmadiyyas and cared not a fig about the law. In 1971, the Pakistan army made it its particular target to kill Bengali Hindus and secular Muslim Bengalis in Bangladesh. Its soldiers stopped Bengali men on the streets of Dhaka and examined, with not a bit of embarrassment, their genitals to ascertain that they had been properly circumcised as Muslims and were not Hindus.
Has this independent Bangladesh been free of religious hate? In 1974, the otherwise venerable Moulana Bhashani told a public rally in Dhaka that the country faced food shortages because the food minister (Phani Bhushan Majumdar) was a Hindu. As recently as 2000, a former military officer whose last stint of service was as an advisor to the just departed caretaker government publicly expressed his resentment on what he saw as the encroachment of Hindu culture in Bengali life.
When the freedom fighter C.R. Dutta demands a restoration of the 1972 constitution, there are educated Muslims in this country who do note hide their irritation with him. Go beyond the subcontinent. There remain the gruesome tales of the systematic murder of six million Jews at the hands of the Nazis. Nothing can beat that horror, nothing can act as expiation for that particular sin.
And if anti-Semitism has been history's sinister truth, a newer truth has emerged in these four decades since the Israelis commandeered Arab land through the 1967 war. Jewish settlers in Arab lands have consistently demonstrated their hate towards Muslim Arabs every time the latter have asked them to vacate their property.
And Islamophobia? There are millions of non-Muslims around the world whose poor understanding of Islam has convinced them that Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar speak for all Muslims. Airport officials in the West give men with first names like Muhammad and surnames like Ali a hard time before letting them into the city. That is fear bordering on hate. When you have a phobia about a religion, you are simply dumping all its followers into one bad basket.
Varun Gandhi, despite his pedigree, is one man shaped by the thoughts of a generation that demolished the Babri mosque in 1992. He comes in the tradition set by the likes of L.K. Advani, Narendra Modi and a phalanx of others determined to save Hinduism from its enemies.