Salman Khurshid on threats facing Islam today, why Muslims become invisible to secure their future

  • Legitimate reform of religion and endeavours that keep it away from public life are both sadly lacking, says Salman Khurshid.

  • On Zaira Wasim's decision to quit Bollywood, Khurshid said it is the 'Same as it would be for anyone making personal choice: it is their choice, right or wrong.'

  • Khursid says that for the rest of India to embrace its diverse population, they must acknowledge the religious and socio-cultural differences that Muslims boast of, and accept them nonetheless.

Former Union Minister and Congress leader Salman Khurshid's new book Invisible Muslim, Visible Citizen attempts to reinterpret Islam in a modern light — a particularly significant act at a time when the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has risen to electoral power for a second time. Khurshid says in his book that with the BJP at the centre, the pluralistic idea of India which is enshrined in the Constitution stands threatened. He says that violence against Indian Muslims has risen to such an extent over the past four years that they have chosen to dilute their public identity and assume silence as a means to defend themselves. He writes, "Today the BJP mobs do not even permit any display of patriotism by insisting that denial of identity, as indeed tenets of faith, is the only proof of true allegiance. Suffer in silence and die in silence, because even a whisper of opinion or protest is audacity in the face of a maddening din about nationalism that barely understands nationhood and the history of our Independence."

In an interview with Firstpost, he clarifies, "It [the BJP's win in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections] has reinforced the thesis that they [Muslims] become invisible in order to secure a future. Sad for plural culture."

 Salman Khurshid on threats facing Islam today, why Muslims become invisible to secure their future

Salman Khurshid. Reuters

He adds that this is unfortunate, because India has always encouraged secularism. Politicians do not mind diversity either, as long as it does not come at the cost of political mileage. I ask if Khurshid believes this to be true. "This is a complex question and any answer will either be inadequate or grossly misinterpreted. Legitimate reform of religion and endeavours that keep it away from public life are both sadly lacking."

He writes in the book that at various points, he has tried to mobilise resources in favour of a more secular society, but rarely found support in fellow politicians. However, he does not believe that resigning for crimes that take place under his government's watch would solve the issue — even if the aforementioned crime was the Babri Masjid demolition. He writes: "A few weeks later (after the Babri Masjid demolition), at a condolence gathering at Tarique Anwar's residence, I was seated next to a young man. He seemed agitated and asked me why I had not resigned (from the UPA, which ruled the centre when the incident took place). 'I know what you feel. If I had resigned that day, perhaps I would never have lost an election; and not having quit may never mean winning again. But it was important that the country lived on — my own destiny was not important,' I replied, and have never regretted it."

In this interview, Khurshid clarifies why he did not resign: "I chose not to resign because that would be expressing no confidence in our syncretic political faith in India and our commitment to keep our secular identity alive."

His deep-rooted belief in the plural nature of our society stems not only from the Constitution, but also from all the sacrifices that countless freedom fighters have made to see an independent India. Though these sacrifices were made by people across all religions, those of Muslim freedom fighters have been erased from school history books and public narratives. There have been very few mentions of Muslim achievers in other walks of life and in mainstream media coverage over the years too. In the book, Khurshid writes, "Even those (Muslim leaders) who blazed a trail that inspired generations have begun to fade from collective memory and, of late, deliberately sought to be obfuscated." Khurshid reiterates in the interview, "Events overcome our collective knowledge. We must therefore find time and space to educate our succeeding generations."

He also feels that recently, political parties that have historically lent support to Muslims over the years — such as the Congress — have been singularly blamed for the riots India witnessed in 1984 and 1993. He speaks of an interesting meeting with Sardar Kuldeep Singh, a Congress leader from Kanpur, which made him reanalyse the Hindu involvement in the 1984 riots. He writes in his book, "I tested my thesis that although a variety of Congress persons and leaders have been accused of having led the attacks of 1984, the truth is that murderous mobs were instigated and supported by right-wing Hindu activists and the RSS. Singh (Sardar Kuldeep Singh, Congress leader from Kanpur) recalled RSS activists having visited him days after the massacre, when he gathered from their conversation but, thereafter, democracy would be subjected to similar stress before any election. 'If they can do it to those they consider a part of them, what might they do you others?' Singh wondered."

Khurshid says that his conversation with Singh was merely his attempt at exploring the ground reality of the situation in 1984. "You are making judgments about my attempt to discover the truth. Many eminent people have not been able to set the record straight and ensure truth and reconciliation, both needed urgently."

Visible-Muslim-Invisible-Citizen-825

He feels that the threat of manipulation of historical narratives played a huge part in conditioning the average Indian Hindu to believe that the only rightful place of Muslims is in Pakistan. The idea of a Hindu Rashtra; remarks like, "Why don't you go to Pakistan?'; and labels like 'anti-national' are a threat to Indian democracy. In the book, he says, "The idea of India we inherited from our founding fathers has proved to have the strength to overcome the challenge of adversaries over the decades. It will be to overwhelmed by them (those who seek to divide) only if we lose faith in its capacity to prevail. But, of course, a fresh round of sacrifices may be necessary. Muslims have to remember that non-Muslim compatriots, perhaps an overwhelming majority of Indians, support the idea of India. Muslims may have let them down by questioning their sincerity because some things went wrong." 

In the interview, he agrees rather aggressively, "Those who chose to find peace elsewhere went to Pakistan. Ask if they were right. We chose to remain where we belong. Statements like these are an insult to our patriotism and a betrayal of India of our dreams."

Recently, the question of Muslim identity became a national debate, when Zaira Wasim, an 18-year-old actress (who made her Bollywood debut with Dangal and also played the lead role in Aamir Khan's coming-of-age musical Secret Superstar) chose to quit Bollywood because it interfered with her religion. In a long Instagram post, Wasim explained that her further association with Bollywood would question her Iman. "[Her decision is the] Same as it would be for anyone making personal choice: it is their choice, right or wrong. We might have an opinion but it maybe right or wrong," Khurshid weighs in on the issue.

Like almost every other teenage testament, Zaira Wasim’s manifesto begins with a crisis of identity. YouTube screengrab via Film Companion

Zaira Wasim. YouTube screengrab via Film Companion

Last year, actress Swara Bhasker and a group of Muslim intellectuals from different parts of the country started the #TalkToAMuslim Twitter campaign, encouraging non-Muslims to talk to Muslims in their vicinity about their identity, culture and threats to their identity and community. Khursid agrees that for the rest of India to embrace its diverse population, they must acknowledge the religious and socio-cultural differences that Muslims boast of, and accept them nonetheless. He writes, "It is a fundamental attribute of society that it shares ideas about itself and the world. In that sense, a society is formed by the convergence of ideas that lead to a physical entity. What happens, then, if sections of a society that subscribe to diametrically opposing views seem to grow into near-equal competing numbers? Clearly, that is a civil-conflict situation that can lead to the break-up of the society. We know that such break-ups have a great price, and therefore must be prevented — but, of course, not at an even higher price in terms of life and liberty."

He brings home the point in this interview, "Knowledge and communication are the best path to bonding. Of course one heeds an open mind and empathy. Discrimination has much to do with ignorance about oneself and the ‘other’". He says that though the re-election of the BJP has marginalised the Muslim, it is imperative that Muslim voices dominate the public discourse instead of silencing themselves. "[They have the] same duty as all other Indians have: to uphold the idea of India. They may have to sacrifice for the nation as indeed the majority too must be willing to sacrifice. What is one’s duty to one’s mother and family? It is the same for Indians towards Mother India."

His words in the book expound on this thought:

"This enterprise will have to do a lot to do with invisibility, strategic or enforced. As the smog descends upon plurality, this book will hopefully remain a reminder of the vision blurred by the march of events: a solemn celebration of the Gandhian and Nehruvian idea of India. More than that, hopefully, it will be a reference manual for a new generation of Indians (Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsees, atheists, agnostics et al) to reclaim the idea."

Updated Date: Jul 25, 2019 09:33:18 IST