By Amb Anil Trigunayat,
I remember, when PM Modi and the Right wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014 with a resounding majority, the Chief of Royal Court in Jordan expressed concerns that the minorities in India may feel insecure and that India will become more closer to Tel Aviv at the expense of the Arab world in general and Palestine in particular. My answer to him was simply that PM Modi was an Indian first and India was not a banana republic that it will change her policies abdicating the principled approach. And if he was worried about the lot of Muslims in India -one should not forget that India was the second largest Muslim nation in the world and they occupied the highest positions from President, Vice President to Chief Justice to Intelligence Chiefs to distinguished scientists to top actors in Bollywood. I, in turn, inquired if there was any other country in the world where the so-called minorities had risen to the unprecedented heights based on equal opportunity and merit. His answer was a studied silence.
PM Modi and President Mukherjee became the first leaders to ever visit Jordan, Palestine and Israel let alone several visits to the key GCC countries that have become our true strategic partners. An OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation), that had unceremoniously asked Indian delegation in 1969 led by former Vice President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to leave, invited the Late Foreign Minister Mrs Sushma Swaraj as a honoured guest to Abu Dhabi in 2019 much to the chagrin of our western neighbour. Not only that, the Indian Prime Minister also, who often claims to represent the 1.3 billion Indians, has become the most decorated foreign leader by several countries in West Asia. Counter-terrorism has become the key tenet of our cooperation with the region that was simply out of bounds. Today, some of our most important relationships are with the Islamic countries which is a testament to India’s resilience and to her inclusive society which is embedded in her culture with a common heritage of an ancient civilisation. It is not to say that we do not have oddities and aberrations which are often manipulated by some myopic ones for their short-term politico-religious nefarious ends. But accommodation and harmony and tolerance in a constitutional set up are the real essence of India and make up for the much-acclaimed Unity in Diversity. Swadharma Nidhanam Shreyah applies to one and all.
When the detractors of India’s unity were casting doubts on the basis of some stray and some designed incidents an independent research and survey by Pew Research centre USA just reaffirmed that very basic premise of unity in diversity. In a study “Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation “published On June 29 ,2021 Pew highlighted that “Indians say that it is important to respect all religions, but major religious groups see little in common and want to live separately “. But can we discount that a Hindu or a Muslim from Northern part of India has much less in common with their compatriots in the South except perhaps the religious mores and rituals. Well Indian society is a bouquet of flowers with a difference yet pleasant essence. Mutual respect to religious practices and denominations and views of others, even exactly opposites, is what has sustained India for centuries. Shastrartha -the debate was the way to win over your adversary. A fine trait of the argumentative Indian.
Pew personal survey was conducted over 29,999 Indian adults (including 22,975 who identify as Hindu, 3,336 who identify as Muslim, 1,782 who identify as Sikh, 1,011 who identify as Christian, 719 who identify as Buddhist, 109 who identify as Jain and 67 who identify as belonging to another religion or as religiously unaffiliated). It begins with the conclusion that Indians of all these religious backgrounds overwhelmingly say they are very free to practice their faiths. While 91% Hindus said they were free to practice their religion (which is the predominant religion) 89% of Muslims and Christians each agreed to that as well. Indians see religious tolerance as a central part of who they are as a nation. Across the major religious groups, most people say it is very important to respect all religions to be “truly Indian.” And tolerance is a religious as well as civic value: Indians are united in the view that respecting other religions is a very important part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community.
Culture and beliefs appear to be a criss-crossing religiosity spectrum, which is simply the natural reservoir of strength for India. Indianness is what they wear proudly. Pew further interestingly abbreviates that not only do a majority of Hindus in India (77%) believe in karma, but an identical percentage of Muslims do, too. A third of Christians in India (32%) – together with 81% of Hindus – say they believe in the purifying power of the Ganges River, a central belief in Hinduism. In Northern India, 12% of Hindus and 10% of Sikhs, along with 37% of Muslims, identity with Sufism, a mystical tradition most closely associated with Islam. And the vast majority of Indians of all major religious backgrounds say that respecting elders is very important to their faith. But they also wish to maintain their religious identity hence stating that they are different from the other, is natural and expected. While people in some countries may aspire to create a “melting pot” of different religious identities, many Indians seem to prefer a country more like a patchwork fabric, with clear lines between groups, Pew adds. But that also enriches the Indian culture and its expanse. No wonder, today, India’s Muslims almost unanimously say they are very proud to be Indian (95%), and they express great enthusiasm for Indian culture: 85% agree with the statement that “Indian people are not perfect, but Indian culture is superior to others.” according to the survey.
It is no coincidence that the leader of the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS) a protagonist of Hindutva (Indianness) – Shri Mohan Bhagwat made an emphatic statement that many detractors felt was due to the local and regional politics and upcoming elections in states with significant Muslim population. Be that as it may, coming from him the words are prophetic and confidence building at the same time. He said, “DNA of all Indians is the same, irrespective of their religion”. He averred that India is a democracy and that there can’t be dominance of Hindus or Muslims, but only dominance of Indians. Assuaging the fears about some lynching cases of Muslims by self-assumed cow protectors, Bhagwat said those involved in it are against the ideology of Hindutva. These are reassuring words. But law must take its course rather swiftly to dispense with the justice to the bereaved.
Many years ago, I remember my friend, the Foreign Editor of Boston Globe, when they did not cover the visit of our PM to the US, telling me that “Good news is no news, and it becomes News when it has some friction”. And in an India that produces an Australia every year, there will be no dearth of news. It is up to us all to try and generate good news devoid of sensationalism and political opportunism.
(The author is former Ambassador of India to Jordan, Libya & Malta and is presently President, MIICCIA Chamber of Commerce. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)