Muslims in India must heed The Economist: Kashi & Mathura are not the world’s concern

These are bad times for being reasonable, writes Saeed Naqvi, who reminds Muslims in India that the world is riveted on how the global cookie crumbles while BJP and RSS are focused on 2024 and 2025

Muslims in India must heed The Economist: Kashi & Mathura are not the world’s concern

Saeed Naqvi

Muslims who are out to transform Gyanvapi, Kashi, and the Shahi Masjid, Mathura, into issues on a scale which the other side wants, must pause to glance at the cover of the May 20 issue of The Economist. It shows Narendra Modi airborne in an electric three wheeler.

“India’s Moment” in bold font dominates the cover. Below the heading, in smaller font, are words of doubt: “Will Modi blow it?”

Your wails about the two mosques may rend the skies, but they are unlikely to veer the world from its main preoccupation. A new world order is being shaped. As this process gets under way, India is in a very sweet spot. No country in the world is being wooed as assiduously. Foreign Minister, S. Jaishankar has found his touch. He has corrected the tilt which has enhanced India’s value in the emerging post-Ukraine world order.

The omens are bad for Muslims who have pitched their tents just at this moment around the mosques. The world is riveted on how the global cookie will crumble. The Economist, which is the mouthpiece for western capitalism, is all starry eyed: “India is likely to be the world’s fastest growing world economy this year.” Where do the two minority places of worship figure in this hoopla?

The lavish barrage of expectations being showered is not for love of India alone. The world “will have recognized, if it has not already, that the rise of China was a unique event; the Indian-growth will be world changing.”

By way of caution, the magazine has given sufficient play to the political, social decay which Modi must arrest before India goes full throttle on the straight. The main message of Hindutva, says The Economist, is “that Hindus must unite to face the danger,” which may “sound absurd in a country with an unassailable preponderance of Hindus.”

“But the urgency and the cry against a narrative of a Hindu Reconquista after centuries of Muslim and European rule over mother India is irresistible for many.”

The Gyanvapi and Shahi Masjid enthusiasts must note two points in the paragraph. Hindu reconquista is being invoked reminiscent of the Christian reconquest in Spain, against a religious category Muslims. That far the image fits India like a glove. But along with Muslims are listed a people who inhabit a territory, Europe. Surely, Europeans too have a religion. French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing opposed Turkey’s entry into Europe because “Turkey is Muslim and European civilization is Christian.”

Do not blame The Economist. This is an established western sleight of hands. During the Bosnian war, “Serbs and Croats” were in conflict with “Bosnian Muslims” – two ethnic entities in conflict with a religious category. Elaborating on Serbian Orthodox and Croatian Catholics would open up fault lines within the Christian universe as the conflict in Northern Ireland does.

For those protecting the parapets at Kashi and Mathura mosques, it may be useful to know the opposing side. And it is the multitudes on the “opposing side” who are swaying in a mystical trance with their “beens” (snake charmer’s flute), trying to mesmerize Mother India. When India wakes up, it will be “their” bulwark against China.

The word “reconquista” used by the magazine is loaded. It resonates with the return of Christian power in Andalusia. The termination of Muslim rule in Spain which lasted 800 years, bears minimal resemblance to the Muslim predicament in the Indian subcontinent, but the authors of Hindutva may derive inspiration by the way Jews and Muslims were harassed, harried, tortured during the Inquisition which followed the return of Christian rule in Spain.

Inquisition was harsher on the Jews who found hospitality in the Muslim Kingdom of Morocco and later also in the Ottoman Empire. The Jew’s gratitude to the Moroccan king lasted generations. I have seen King Hassan II’s photographs dominate the drawing rooms of Sephardic Jews in Jerusalem.

What should interest Gyanvapi and Shahi Masjid enthusiasts is the story of one of the world’s most magnificent mosques that I have ever seen. Poet Iqbal’s visit to the monument yielded a masterpiece the opening line of which sums up the metaphysical, civilizational perspective.

He sees the great monument of Cordoba (Masjid e-Qarduba in Urdu) as:

Silsilaye roz o shub

Asl e mamat o hayat”

(A continuity with interchangeability from day to night, a metaphor for life and death.)

Reverting to the two mosques: these are bad times for being reasonable and yet it is tempting to coax something from Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…..”

The Sachar Committee report in 2005 showed the abysmal drop of the Muslim on every social indicator, but even that report was not as hurtful as the reality today is. It had not shown Muslims as battered and bruised. When a people arc down and out, how do you tell them that the mosques are medieval relics of conquest and Kashi and Mathura are like Mecca and Medina to the Hindus.

Mathura “nagari”, not the mosque, is where Maulana Hasrat Mohani longed to die in “Krishna’s embrace”.

Wali Dakhini wrote:

“Koocha e yaar aen Kaashi hai

Jogia dil wahan ka vaasi hai”

(The lane where my beloved lives is exactly like Kashi

The yogi of my heart has taken up residence there.)

This is no time to remind a wounded people about Wali. Although the irony is that Wali’s mazar outside Ahmadabad’s main police station was razed by the February 2002 rioters who probably did not even know who lay buried there.

No, this is no time to tell them anything, not even the fact that the issue has been raised now precisely in preparation for the elections in 2024 and the RSS centenary in 2025. It is an invitation to Muslims to dig their heels in. The BJP will then polarize.

Also, be warned on another count. The Economist has already told you: a pity but your tragedies are not in the world’s ken.

( The writer is a veteran journalist, foreign correspondent and independent commentator. Views are personal)

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