Narendra Modi's secular turn: Touching a Muslim man's feet

 Narendra Modis secular turn: Touching a Muslim mans feet

Modi touching the feet of Nizamuddin at the rally yesterday. PTI image

Nizamuddin, known as 'Colonel', was a member of the Subhash Chandra Bose's Azad Hind Fauj during the freedom struggle, but it was only in January that the local administration begin the process to give him the status of a freedom fighter.

The close aide, guard and driver of Netaji, the 107 year old was given overdue recognition due to -- as bizarre coincidences would have it --  the efforts of IAS officer Pranjal Yadav, currently in the eye of a storm for refusing permission for a Modi rally. Yadav initiated the process to award Nizamuddin freedom fighter status and promised it would be done at the earliest.

But today, Nizamuddin is making news not because of his relationship with Bose but with none other Narendra Modi, who honoured him by touching his feet when he came on stage during the Gujarat CM's appearance in Rohaniya, Varanasi, yesterday.

They say a picture speaks a thousand words, and this one certainly did, more so for a leader who has been roundly criticised for his refusal to wear a Muslim skull cap.  In one interview, he defended his decision, saying:

"If wearing a cap were to be seen as a symbol of unity, then I never saw Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel or Pt Jawaharlal Nehru wearing such caps… Actually a bad practice of appeasement has crept into Indian politics. My job is to respect all religions and traditions of all. I live my tradition and respect tradition of others. This is why I cannot fool people by posing for photographs wearing a cap."
So is his decision to touch Nizamuddin's feet a different kind of appeasement? An attempt to stage a 'secular Modi' moment in the midst of intense TV coverage of his controversy-ridden appearance in Varanasi? Surely,  Nizamuddin's presence on the stage was no accident, nor was Modi's choice to pay such conspicuous obesiance.
His critics will certainly claim so. But it may also be Modi's attempt to better define his notion of identity-blind secularism epitomised by sabka saath, sabka vikas. Perhaps the intended message is that he Narendra Modi will touch the feet of any freedom fighter, be he Hindu, Muslim or Sikh.
Whatever the intention. Modi certainly chose a worthy object of respect.
Nizamuddin joined the Bose in Singapore where he was recruiting youngsters for his Azad Hind Fauj in Singapore. Netaji was impressed with my dedication and later appointed me as his personal guard and driver and for the next 10 years I remained with him, Nizamuddin says. He returned to his native village in Azamgarh along with his family on June 5, 1969 but did not disclose his identity until 2001. But he had to wait for another 12 years for the administration and government to acknowledge it.
That he has now finally received his due thanks to efforts of both Yadav and Modi, he is also a rare symbol of agreement in the midst of a bitter election season.

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Updated Date: May 09, 2014 17:10:32 IST