Not just the minorities but many Hindus battling for the ‘Idea of India’     

Besides activists and other usual suspects, the battle for the ‘Idea of India’ is being fought by High Court judges and even by former Indian Foreign Service officers

Shaheen Bagh protest against CAA and NRC (Photo Courtesy: social media)
Shaheen Bagh protest against CAA and NRC (Photo Courtesy: social media)

Saeed Naqvi

The ‘Idea of India’ is being fiercely contested within Hindu society. Rampaging communalism is an off shoot of that conflict and the latest to put on the gloves in the ‘ring’ are two senior members of the Indian Foreign Service.

Deb Mukharji, an IFS officer of the 1964 batch and former High Commissioner to Bangladesh, in an article in Kolkata’s The Telegraph, recalled the image of the falcon, which is what Shaheen means, to the Shaheen Bagh movement. The bird that soared was his preferred simile.

This invited a scowl from Kanwal Sibal, two years Mukharji’s junior from the 1966 batch and a former Foreign Secretary. “Incidentally, falcons are predators,” reminded Sibal. His riposte appeared on the IFS blog. So unabashed was he on the secularism-nationalism debate that Mukharji felt constrained to challenge him, rapier in hand, on the very same blog. What should a non-Hindu’s stance be towards conversations of this nature, which are taking place at numerous levels with a frequency gathering in momentum? First, consider the evidence.

Justice S. Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court is transferred within hours after he slammed Delhi Police over continuous communal violence for three days in a part of the Capital city and for its failure to register FIRs against hate speeches by BJP’s Kapil Mishra and others.

Arbitrarily transferred he might have been, but the lawyers in the Delhi High Court, predominantly Hindu, protested and boycotted courts for a day. The farewell accorded to him by the lawyers drew record attendance, with men and women in black gowns leaning over the railings. The optics clearly showed which side the lawyers were on.

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s government plasters the city of Lucknow with poster-size photographs of activists in the anti CAA protests. The Yogi is determined to “name and shame” the protestors on the basis of allegations – not proof.

But Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court Govind Mathur takes suo moto notice of the outrage and raps the UP government on the knuckles.

The intra-Hindu tussle is at its fiercest in U.P. Little wonder then that retired High Court Judge, Rakesh Sharma, jumped into the fray and targeted the sitting Chief Justice. Justice Sharma, who nurses a grouse against Lucknow’s “cultured tehzibyafta” citizens who indulged in what he swears was violence that caused damage to property and, according to him, deserve punishment.

Justice (Rtd) Sharma comes to the Chief Minister’s assistance with his “tehzibyafta” prose and rules, “The competent Revenue authority, the Collector DM of Lucknow, has several powers including coercive action of attachment and sale of property through

Dug Dugee.”

Here you have an honourable former Judge, retired much before Yogi dreamt of Chief Ministership, anticipating a Bharat free of jihadists and tukde-tukde gangs. Indeed, “Aage, aage dekhiye hota hai kya”, Mir Taqi Mir had warned.

As I have always maintained, in this orchestra the first violin was played in 1947. That musical score is now approaching the crescendo with loud clashing of cymbals reminiscent of Wagner who, incidentally, was Hitler’s favourite composer. But the crescendo and the de crescendo in this musical score continue to fluctuate. Justice Muralidhar and Justice Mathur are standing firmly behind the Republic. Those opposed to them are out to alter the nature of the Republic.

The Mukharji-Sibal exchange sums up the epic debate which has the nation in thrall. Since both are eloquent on their respective positions, let them speak. Mukharji sees three distinct takeaways from Shaheen Bagh.

“First, Muslims as a community have emerged from a state of withdrawal and have firmly demanded their rights as citizens of India, without seeking any crutches of political support.

Second, Muslim women have liberated themselves from the taboos that kept them confined to their homes in large parts of India. Veiled women have been able to look their interlocutor in the eye and firmly claim that neither “mard” nor “maulvi” would stand in the way of their demanding a just future. Whatever the eventual political outcome of their demands, the liberation of the spirit of the community, and its women in particular, is here to stay.

Third, the women of Shaheen Bagh have reclaimed what others had ceded to an aggressive brand of nationalism marked by violence, abuses, hatred and divisiveness — our flag and our national anthem. And the nation has been reminded that the ultimate guarantor of our freedom is the Constitution of India.”

Enter Sibal, frothing with anger. He furnishes what to some might sound like a non-sequitur.

“You have completely overlooked the hatred and poison injected into the people by the so-called tukde tukde gang, the adulation of terrorists, Owaisi’s rants, those of the

leader of the Bhim Sena, recent statements about emulating Shaheen Bagh and cutting off our northeast by Muslims, who form a majority in the Chicken Neck area, the attempt to block the Jafrabad metro area in the light of the seeming success of the Shaheen Bagh that you extol, and, of course, Mamta Bannerjee’s ravings.”

Mukharji is determined not to let this go unchallenged. “I am disturbed by your comment about cutting off our North East by Muslims who form a majority in Chicken Neck area.” Having been posted to Bangladesh, Mukharji knows the vulnerability of Chicken’s Neck. He therefore asks with authority “But what is the Muslim connection?”

On Sibal’s tukde-tukde swipe, he is hard hitting. “When approached under RTI, the Home Ministry said they had no knowledge of any such entity.” He agrees with Sibal that India is not yet a fascist state, “but I think we are showing disturbing signs of a pre-fascist one.”

Participation in this epic Kurukshetra by Muslim bodies like the Muslim Personal Boards have in the past helped exactly the forces which menace the nation today.

Even more important is to keep the venerable Maulanas away, busy with matters of faith. Emulate the women of Shaheen Bagh who, guided by an intuitive and robust common sense, have been extraordinarily focused on the Constitution, national anthem and the flag. The larger society is sorting itself out.

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Published: 20 Mar 2020, 8:30 PM