'Why can't I refuse a skull cap and still be secular?'

It is interesting to see headlines that Narendra Modi has made during his Sadbhavna mission. Whatever be his motives for the Sadbhavna mission, many of the headlines have been about his refusing to accept a kaffiyeh offered by a Muslim. In September, he had also turned down a skull cap offered by a Muslim cleric.

Part of the media which cannot see anything good in Modi, immediately went to town about how he had refused to accept the gestures from Muslims even though this was a Sadbhavna mission — and hinted that this was an insult to Muslims in general.

I am yet to come across any article that takes a stand that there is nothing wrong in what Modi did. In the diet of secularism that we have been fed for decades, you are secular if you wear or display the religious symbols of other religions on certain religious occasions.

I am a non-devout Hindu who hardly ever visits the temple and along with temples, I have also visited dargahs, gurudwaras and churches. When I visited the dargah in Ajmer Sharif, I covered my head as I did when I visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar. But that does not mean that I will wear a skull cap or a turban during Id or Guru Nanak Jayanti to prove my secularism. I have had some excellent biryani during Id, at some of my Muslim friends' houses without being asked to or feeling the need to wear a skull cap. I can be secular and not hate any religion without an overt display of symbolism for or against any religion.

Those who question Modi's refusal to wear a skull cap are probably enamored by our so called secular leaders wearing them.

Those who question Modi's refusal to wear a skull cap are probably enamored by the images of our so called secular leaders wearing skull caps during Id and enjoying iftaar parties. Have these same people offered a shawl to their Muslim friends with Om Nama Shivay or Jai Shri Ram or Ma Durga ki jai written on it?

Will any Muslim leader — political or religious — wear it with pride in a public function? The answer in all likelihood is "No". And there is nothing wrong with it.

A Muslim doesn't believe in idol worship and he believes in one god and therefore, he will not indulge in such symbolism to prove his credentials that he does not hate other religions. What will be the reaction of the secular media if a Hindu leader offers these to a Muslim leader in a public function? I do not need to even answer that.

Similarly Modi, possibly a devout Hindu in deed and thoughts, does not believe in the symbolism which has become a part and parcel of our political discourse. As he says, if he gets water and power into a village or city, people irrespective of religion and caste can enjoy the fruits of the same.

That is exactly what is happening in Gujarat today, although decades of misrule will not be undone in ten years. I remember during my visit to Ahmedabad a few months back and my small talk with a Muslim businessman who said, "When the state grows economically, we all do well and our business also does well."

That is the bottom-line. And to give that to the citizens of this country there is no need to wear skull caps or kaffiyeh or attend Dussehra at Ramlila maidan (by all means do all these if you want to enjoy yourselves but not to gain votes and to greet "Muslim and Hindu brothers and sisters"), if you are of another religion in much the same way as a non-Hindu does not need to wear a shawl with Jai Shri Ram inscribed on it or carry a trishul during Ramlila!

And on 20th November in Porbandar, Modi did accept a saffron shawl with tridents, damru and Om Namah Shivayah printed on it from a group of Muslims and also an idol of Ganesha. I will be happy to see Modi offering a skull cap or a kaffiyeh to a Muslim leader rather than offer him a trident or a shawl inscribed with Jai Shri Ram on it.

It is time to give up symbolic gestures, but to do the right thing for the people. Narendra Modi is showing the way. Hopefully, the media will highlight those rather than try to rake up controversies where none exist.