Why Salman Khurshid runs with fundamentalists and hunts with liberals

Salman Khurshid seems to be imbibing the Jinnah syndrome, assimilating the two contradictory traits, with the clear ascendancy of the faith over everything else

Utpal Kumar December 02, 2021 12:04:35 IST
Why Salman Khurshid runs with fundamentalists and hunts with liberals

File image of Salman Khurshid. Reuters

Comrade Karl Radek had been credited with a number of political jokes about Joseph Stalin. Long before he was killed in a scripted labour camp scuffle with another inmate at Stalin’s behest, Radek — as the joke goes — was one day standing naked at the Red Square. A well-wisher approached him and asked: “Aren’t you afraid of the police, Comrade Radek?”

Radek stared at him and shot back: “Police? Where are the police?” The man pointed towards a number of policemen all across the Square and said: “There’s a policeman. There’s another. And yet another… Why, the whole place is crawling with policemen.” Radek replied, “You can see them. I can’t. I am a party member. I am not supposed to see them. For party members there are no police anywhere in the Soviet Union.”

While reading Salman Khurshid’s new book, Sunrise over Ayodhya: Nationhood in our Timesone is reminded of Radek and his ideological blindness. The book makes the usual provocative comment on Hindutva. In the chapter ‘The Saffron Sky’, Khurshid writes, “Sanatan dharma and classical Hinduism known to sages and saints was being pushed aside by a robust version of Hindutva, by all standards a political version similar to the jihadist Islam of groups like ISIS and Boko Haram of recent years.”

It’s strange to see an English-educated globetrotter like Salman Khurshid making attempts to humanise Islamic State and Boko Haram. But it is not a one-off statement. Look at his recent books — Visible Muslim, Invisible Citizen, At Home in India: The Muslim Saga, and Triple Talaq: Examining faith — and one finds a common strand among them all: Supporting “Triple Talaq”; Harping on “The Unending Partition” for Muslims; rallying against “Aligarh Character Assassination”; nostalgically remembering “The Last Emperor”; et al.

Analysed closely, Khurshid seems an extension of a maulvi in Uttar Pradesh, except that the former uses sophisticated English lingo with the occasional sprinkling of an American accent! A couple of lines from his 2015 book, At Home in India, on the Shah Bano case should be enough to put things into perspective: “Pronouncements, such as those of the Supreme Court in the Shah Bano case and Arif Mohammed Khan’s 100 minutes in Parliament will not succeed in undermining the hold of the priests, but will certainly delay all possibility of the liberal Muslim emerging as a stable leader. They will also retard our efforts to understand the Shariat.” In the same chapter, he seeks the Islamic law to be interpreted “within the community and not within ministerial chambers”.

Sunrise over Ayodhyaanyway, is a mediocre book. One knows from Page 1 how it’s going to unfold. The author, being a politician, has his limitations — a phenomenon even more glaringly visible with the writings of his fellow Congressman Shashi Tharoor on Hinduism and Hindutva: While explaining Hinduism, he builds a fascinating superstructure of ideas and then decimates them all while decoding Hindutva. Being a politician often outweighs the intellectual in them.

The book would have died a natural death. It deserved that. But in the age of instant outrage, that was not to happen and the book found a new lease of life, thanks to the ban culture in the country. A few overzealous people — some of them might just be looking for those 15 seconds of fame — knocked the court’s doors, seeking a ban on the book. The court rightly threw the petition to the dustbin, but the damage was already done. The book literally found itself resurrected from the dead.

This is what a ban culture does: Gives some of the mediocre books extended lifelines. This ban culture is an alien phenomenon adopted with much gusto in the politically-correct Nehruvian ecosystem, especially post the “Rushdian Curse” when people don’t read a book, nor do intend to read it and still seek a ban, as Syed Shahabuddin did with The Satanic Verses. (He defended it by saying, “I do not have to wade through a filthy drain to know what filth is.”) Interestingly, he had a horde of secularists such as Khushwant Singh, MJ Akbar, Vir Sanghvi and Dilip Padgaonkar supporting him. And when the weekly Sunday published excerpts from the book, it had to tender an apology after the Press Council condemned the publication as “an aberration from the path of ethical rectitude”.

This brings us to the crux of the problem: What makes the likes of Salman Khurshid become the Anglicised clone of a mofussil maulana? What makes these strange bedfellows bat for each other?

As one ponders over these questions, a line from Hasan Suroor’s 2019 book Who Killed Liberal Islam comes to the mind, “A liberal Indian Muslim is indeed a rarity, judged by the generally accepted standards of liberalism — a respect for human rights, free speech, dissent, tolerance of individual freedoms and lifestyle choices, gender equality, etc.”

Hamid Dalwai, one rare liberal Indian Muslim who ironically had more followers among Hindus than his own co-religionists, was even more scathing in Muslim Politics in Secular India: “Indian Muslims are, as a rule, liberal only when liberal Hindus blame communalist Hindus.”

It is no one’s contention that all Muslims are closet fundamentalists. But as Hasan Suroor says, “The sense of being a Muslim is simply too overwhelming to resist by even non-practising or liberal Muslims.” This may explain why Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who drank alcohol, ate pork, smoked 50 cigarettes a day, and dressed like an English gentleman, became the galvanising force for a nation that was to be carved in the name of Islam. Khurshid seems to be imbibing the Jinnah syndrome, assimilating the two contradictory traits, with the clear ascendancy of the faith over everything else.

Author Aatish Taseer reveals this dichotomy well in his book, Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey through Muslim Lands. Writing about his father Salman Taseer, the liberal Pakistani politician who was shot dead by his own bodyguard in 2011 for his stand against the blasphemy law, Aatish says that he was not a practising Muslim and yet this never came in conflict with his idea of looking at himself as a defender of the faith.

“I felt sure that none of Islam’s once powerful moral imperatives existed within him, but he was a Muslim because he doubted the Holocaust, hated America and Israel, thought Hindus were weak and cowardly (despite marrying a Hindu journalist Tavleen Singh), and because the glories of the Islamic past excited him. The faith decayed within him, ceased to be dynamic, ceased to provide moral guidance, became nothing but a deep, unreachable historical and political identity,” wrote Aatish.

The issue is even more fundamental. Ram Swarup writes in his book, Understanding Islam through Hadis, “In the language of the Muslim theologians, Islam is a ‘complete’ and ‘completed’ religion.” Be it a clergy or a liberal, there’s consensus about this nature of Islam: That it was perfected 1,300 years ago and didn’t need any revision thereafter. If you seek a revision, you aren’t a Muslim. And if you don’t, are you a liberal? It is this absolute submission that made — quite controversially — Sir Vidia Naipaul call it (in Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples) “the most uncompromising kind of imperialism”.

It is this Catch-22 situation that explains why Khurshid and his ilk invariably act like Karl Radek. Like the famous Marxist, they refuse to see what they don’t want to see. To their fortune, they had a fairly good run in the Nehruvian order. To their misfortune, the perverted secularist ecosystem seems to be on its last leg now.

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