Sonia Gandhi's words at Udaipur are a balm for Muslims in India looking for signs of hope and sanity
The just concluded Congress Chintan Shivir at Udaipur holds out hope for the 200 million Muslims in India. It is time they rallied behind Sonia Gandhi and provide Congress the momentum it needs
She rose like a falcon at the Chintan Shivir over the weekend at Udaipur.
In the 1920’s, Allama Iqbal the visionary, might have written these lines for her:
Tundi e baad e mukhlif se na ghabra uqaab
Woh to chalti hai tujhe ooncha udane ke liye
Do not despair of the harsh contrary wind
It blows so you can soar higher and higher)
Today I searched Urdu media for news of the Chintan Shivir to find out what was spoken about the minority conundrum. We Muslims are looking for a lehr of sanity in this vortex of hate that swirls around us. In Mrs Gandhi’s words I found a balm.
She placed Modi Sarkar in the dock without using rhetoric; only recounting its anti people policies. She spoke of Muslims as India’s ‘atoot hissa’ who have been consistently targeted since 2014. She asserted the fact that they were ‘equal citizens’ who were being subjected to ‘khauf’ (fear) and adum tahaffuz’ (insecurity). Then she went on to talk of privatisation of public enterprises, notebandi and urged the 400 delegates to repay the party’s debt and put their self interest aside. The glorious traditions of the party which gave the biggest gift of Azadi to the country have to be restored.
I write this piece with hope because I see a woman who spoke in the spirit of her forebears, a spirit rarely invoked by her party workers these days, possibly because they don't know. I write this piece with hope also because this may be the moment when under her leadership the party could be reborn in the mould of Gandhi, Nehru, Azad, Badshah Khan, Sarojini Naidu and many more. I write as one brought up on stories of Nehru stopping his open jeep at Bhogal and running after marauders who were setting fire to Muslim shops.
Sahir Ludhianvi wrote these lines in a different context which I quote as a call to the nation, a call that I heard subliminally in Sonia Ji’s speech.
Jinhein Naaz hai Hind par woh kahan hain
Kahaan hain kahan hain kahaan hain
In 2004 Sonia Ji had appointed a committee to address the ubiquitous spectre of communalism. I was also a member. She watched over us as we began our work. Sadly, we didn't follow through its primary objective. Instead we began devising schemes for vast multitudes of Muslims who had been identified as the most vanchit community by the Sachar Committee Report.
I travelled all over the country to Muslim pockets to examine whether the benefits of our schemes were reaching there. Burhanpur, Bijnor, Najibabad, Basti, Katna, Murshidabad, Nagaon, everywhere the story was the same. Under the eagle eye of Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs Gandhi I revelled in doing my best for my most deprived fellow citizens. For me it was not only Muslims, it was equally Dalits in Bhadohi or tribals in Koraput. My brief was to ensure that benefits reached where they were most needed.
This shivir holds out hope for the 200 million Muslims, second largest in the world. It is time that they rallied behind this woman and once again become a giant wave which will ensure Congress victory in 2024. Running behind magic lanterns like AIMIM will get them nowhere. Like rocks they should stand behind Sonia Gandhi who will deliver social justice.
Recall Maulana Azad, the youngest Congress President’s Ramgarh address in 1940: ‘Our shared lives of a thousand years have forged a common nationality. Such moulds cannot be artificially created. Nature's hidden anvils shape them over the centuries. The mould has now been cast and destiny has set her seal upon it…Just as a Hindu can say with legitimate pride that he is an Indian and follower of Hinduism so can a Muslim proudly claim being an Indian and follower of Islam.’
Azad was Congress President twice by common consensus. The fact that he was a Muslim may have irked a few but hundreds of Congress karyakartas, scores of journalists cheered him on as an Indian, not as the hyphenated epithet, Indian Muslim. It is another matter that today I consider myself in this hyphenated category, thanks to the ignominy heaped on me since 2014. My fervent dua is that in 2024 I will once again regain my lost identity.
My last thought is the lines spoken by Azad as the youngest Congress President in 1923: ‘I declare without hesitation that India wants neither a Hindu nor a Muslim sangathan. We require one single sangathan, the Indian National Congress.’
Lokesh Jain, a brilliant actor, played Azad on stage in a play called Aandhi Mein Chiragh. He spoke these lines in impeccable Urdu, to a thundering applause.
Let the Chintan Shivir be that Chiragh.
(The writer is an educationist, writer and a former member of the Planning Commission)