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Islamic Pakistan versus Secular India

By RASHID AHMAD

Pakistan was created, at least in public perception, in the name of Islam. But Islamic parties have never been the first choice of the people of Pakistan in elections. The religious parties had always been on the margins of the country’s political landscape in every election. In the just concluded general elections, the scene depicted rather worse picture. This time people denied mandate to the religious heavy weights like Moulana Fazlur Rahman and Sirajul Haqque too. As against this, India is a non-religious (secular) country but Hindu religious extremists are ruling it. Still the international narrative goes against Pakistan and its people. They are projected as “fanatics” and “extremists” in their religious ideas. It could be perhaps for one of the two reasons. The proponents and promoters of this narrative are not either able to grasp the situation correctly or they are biased towards Islamic identity and ideology that refuses them to side with the truth. As for the first reason, they are not as innocents that they can’t differentiate between the salt and the sugar. It is rather their predisposition to Islam that makes them to see a terrorist in every Muslim.

Indian media, in this regard, has shamelessly crossed all limits. The TV news channels in particular are barefaced. Imran Khan, the first choice of the people of Pakistan in the recent elections is known for his freethinking and liberal religious outlook all across the world but they tried every trick in their book to portray him as a ‘religious fanatic’. The revelations, his former wife Reham Khan made in her autobiography tell-all is a serious reflection on Imran Khan’s religious life. And it was Indian TV channels which made most of the Reham Khan’s book. In the same breath these channels, however, tried to project him as if Osama Bin Laden reincarnated in Imran Khan. He was addressed as “religious bigot”, Taliban Khan and what not.

There were indeed religious extremist groups in election fray in Pakistan. They included the Tehreek Labbaik of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, Allahho Akbar Tehreek of Hafiz Saeed, Sunni Tehreek, Ahl e Sunnat wal Jamaat and Rah e Haqq parties. Pakistani electorate, however, had a vision. They went for traditional political parties rejecting all these religious groups. Hafiz Mohammad Saeed had fielded along with his son and son-in-law around 250 candidates all across the country but not a single of them won the election. Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who shot into prominence last year, when he along with his thousands of supporters laid siege of Islamabad and paralyzed the country capital for several weeks, was also rejected by the Pakistani electorate. All other groups also faced similar fate. Even the traditional religious parties including Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema Islam (JEI), Tehreek Jafriya, Tehreek Islami and Ahl Hadees which had gathered under the banner of Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA) faced the worst ever defeat. Moulana Fazlur Rahman chief of JEI, known as the man of all seasons, and Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer (chief) Sirajul Haqque’s defeat was the most startling and surprising.

As against this, three Hindu candidates of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) were elected from the Muslim-majority areas in Pakistan’s Sindh province. Mahesh Malani won a National Assembly seat from Tharparkar (NA-222), while Hari Ram Kishwari Lal and Jamshoro’s Giyanoo Mal alias Giyan Chand Essrani were elected from the provincial assembly seats PS-147 and PS-81, respectively. All the three candidates won from the general seats.

However, the scene in secular India is quite paradoxical. Hindu religious extremists not only occupy seats of power here but, in fact, owe their rise to political power to religious extremism. They caught the imagination of the Indian voters only after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The 500-year old mosque was brought down by extremists led by BJP’s the senior-most leaders L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Umma Bharti in 1992 to build a Hindu temple on the site. The demolition of Babri Masjid was celebrated as national victory all across India, though with the exception of a smaller section of Indian society. The BJP, the political face of Hindu extremists, hence on became the darling of Indian voters. L K Advani, who rose to the position of deputy prime minister, in Vajpayee’s regime in 1999, admitted it publicly that the Ram Mandir movement (of which demolition of Babri Masjid was fundamental part) helped the BJP to gain power in Indian politics. Just a few years before the demolition of Babri Masjid BJP won just two parliamentary seats in a House of 543 in 1984. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani lost the election.

Ironically, the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi also owes his popularity among Indian masses to yet another incident of religious extremism. He caught the national attention in 2002 when he, as chief minister, presided over the infamous Gujrat riots. Modi was reprimanded internationally for allowing the mass murder of Muslims by rioting extremists. America and a host of European countries banned his entry into their countries. But, at his home turf, he emerged as national hero which ultimately saw him taking the control of the Prime Minister’s House in 2014. Modi scored an unprecedented landslide victory. It was the first time in 30 years that a single party had won a parliamentary majority on its own.

 Amit Shah, who was home minister during Gujrat riots and faced jail in a fake encounter case of Sohrabuddin is BJP’s national president and poster boy of “new India”. The mass mandate to Modi and Shah is seen as authentication by the electorate to the religious extremism. It is perhaps for this fact that Hindu extremist groups have taken control of the streets across India. Justifications are galore and come handy. Carrying or eating beef is the primary one. And if you are not carrying beef then you must be a child-lifter or a love-jihad activist. Killings made so easy.

The persecution is not restricted to Muslims only. Other minority communities and Dalits too face discrimination and persecution. Since BJP’s ascendance to power in 2014, hate crimes, social boycotts and forced conversion have escalated drastically. A report released by US Commission for International Religious Freedom that monitors violation of religious freedom abroad, some months back, had stunning revelations about religious persecution in India. The report had recommended the US Government to put religious freedom and human rights at the heart of all trade, aid, and diplomatic interactions with India.

For its extreme religious conduct, the BJP has taken control of 22 out of India’s 29 states. The worst known bigot and head of a religious institution (Gorakhnath Matth), Adityanath was appointed chief minister of Utter Pradesh (UP), the most populous state of India. Nowhere in the world, with the exception of Iran, does this situation prevail, not even in Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia or Saudi Arabia. For public consumption India is a non-religious (secular) country but Adityanath symbolizes amalgamation of religion and politics. He has successfully accomplished all his agenda—‘love Jihad’, reconversion (Ghar Wapsi), closure of slaughter houses, change of syllabus in Madrasas, tacit support to rampaging cow terrorists.

Muslims and other religious minorities in all the BJP-ruled states are living in permanent fear. Some months back police arrested a Muslim Engineer for wearing a burqa at a railway station in UP. On investigations it revealed that the Muslim engineer had worn burqa to conceal his identity from Hindu zealots. In neighbouring Haryana, Muslims are banned from praying in public. Last month, right wing goons attacked a Friday congregation in Gurgaon disrupting the prayers. Some time back two Muslim women were gang-raped by four Hindu hoodlums in Mewat Haryana on the pretext of eating beef. The plight of Muslims in India was summed up by senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor as “being cow in India is safer than being a Muslim”.

The saddest of all this is that there is open institutional support to the forms of Hindu extremism. The idea of India is definitely in serious crisis but those supposed to protect and promote it look the other way.

(The writer is a senior journalist)