Short-sighted politics


March 23, 2016

This file photo shows All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen president Asaduddin Owaisi addressing a press conference in Hyderabad on November 6, 2013 (IANS)

Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen has unnecessarily cornered Indian Muslims with his objections to a religion-agnostic slogan  that hails the country. Will good sense prevail?

Trust a politician to open his mouth to no benefit to anybody. There have been plenty of them before and their tribe is unlikely to disappear in a hurry. The surprising aspect of the latest episode of a politician with foot-in-the mouth disease is that he has pushed an entire community into a corner. He has created a situation that only adds to the muscle power of extra-constitutional authorities, whose tribe also abounds.

The politician in question has come to be known as an ‘intelligent’ politician. He is, without doubt, well educated (Lincoln’s Inn included) and well grounded in politics. He has played his cards well enough to expand his support base within the Muslim and Dalit communities from his home city of Hyderabad to certain pockets in the neighbouring state of Maharashtra as well. His acumen can be judged from the fact that he out-witted the Congress, which controlled the Muslim vote bank in two assembly constituencies as well as a municipality.

Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has made his presence felt whenever he has spoken on the floor of parliament, most impressively during the debate on India’s nuclear deal with the US. Last week, he decided to pick up an issue a good 13 days after it was raised by Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideologue of the ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP).

Bhagwat had said that everybody, who is a nationalist, must raise the slogan of ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ or ‘Victory to Mother India’. He said this in the context of the debate on nationalism that emanated from the alleged anti-national sloganeering at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Bhagwat was continuing the tirade against those students who favoured free thinking as opposed to the belief in uniform thought.

In his much belated response, Owaisi hit the headlines saying he would not utter ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ even at knife point. He claimed that the Constitution did not mandate every citizen to utter those words. In reaction, one of his two MLAs in the Maharashtra assembly was cornered by the BJP-Shiv Sena combine and asked to raise the slogan. When the member refused, what followed was something that left every person who respects parliamentary democracy, completely aghast. The member was suspended from the current session.

It is fairly clear that the ruling party members were exploiting the reluctance on the part of the AIMIM members to raise the slogan. All they wanted to show was that the member was anti-national and, by extension, all Muslims were so. Owaisi’s colleague had been successfully cornered and painted as anti-national. Was Owaisi’s objection to Bhagwat’s speech necessary?

Strictly speaking, a slogan that is today religion-agnostic should not offend the sensibilities of any Muslim. ‘Victory to Mother India’ was oft-repeated as part of the freedom struggle from the British. It was part of the iconography (a woman with multiple limbs representing various facets of the country holding the map of India) to unite the people. It was best described by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first Prime Minister, who wrote that it was not just the rivers and the mountains and the land that made up India but also its people who were part of that concept.

Despite its imagery of a multi-limbed goddess, the slogan does not symbolise religion and by uttering it a Muslim does not become a Hindu. A lot of Hindus use ‘Inshallah’ and ‘Mashallah’ as a manner of speaking. It does not make them Muslims. In fact, there are many, particularly among Indians who return from the Gulf and West Asia, who frequently utter these phrases. There are also the Hindus in Bangladesh who utter ‘yah allah’ so frequently during the course of a conversation that you could be pardoned for thinking that they are Muslims. Religion is not about slogans. It is way too deep-rooted to be threatened so easily. Ditto for ‘Victory to Mother India’.

Nobody is asking the Muslim to prostrate as they do before the Almighty in prayer. But, by raising an objection to a simple slogan in praise of the motherland, Owaisi has made the ruling BJP take a more strident position, as if they are the only patriots in this country.

There were, surely, enough and more issues for Owaisi to speak about. He could have talked about the positives accruing from the legislation which gave legal sanctity to the unique identification card or the Aadhaar card. This was a programme which was launched by the previous Congress-led UPA government but was opposed by the BJP then. The poverty-stricken Muslim community stands to gain from this programme.

In fact, Owaisi has diverted the focus of the entire debate that had emanated from the campus of the JNU. The demand, particularly after the release of the JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, was not confined to just freedom of expression. It was focussed on poverty and joblessness which the ruling party had failed to accomplish after making tall promises. Owaisi has now given a handle to the Hindutva forces to corner the Muslims.

Being homesick can be illegal

This is a story that has an important message. It is not very different from the many who have been harassed by their employers particularly when working in another country. In many ways, the situation of the Indian worker abroad is not as rosy as it is generally made to appear back home. Their problems, particularly those who get low-end jobs, are quite understandable. Many of those who apply for such jobs by paying huge sums of money to the agents, perhaps, do not even know the local language or have a little or no knowledge of English, that is, if it is understood by the bosses there.

That is why this story assumes significance. An Indian got a job as a driver in a company in a West Asian country. He wanted to return to India ahead of the contract period because, as his mother says, he was homesick. He got in touch with a person who has been helping stranded Indians return to the country. His video of uncontrollable tears flowing down went viral. During the course of his emotional conversation with the Indian social worker, his appeal contained an allegation which the management has denied. That he had not been paid for the last couple of months.

The company, however, was firm about it and soon the man went behind bars because he had allegedly violated the law in that country. He had gone on social media and allegedly misrepresented facts. It is obvious that no company would like it if the facts were to the contrary. The moral of the story is simply this: Know the law of the land where you work so that you don’t violate it. More importantly, share that legal information with those who cannot communicate or understand the local language. It would have helped this man whose mother, wife and four children are entirely dependent upon his earnings, if somebody had briefed him about the local law.

Tailpiece

Sometime back, we had discussed the pressure that was being mounted upon the fast moving consumer goods or FMCG companies by the growth of a company floated by the Yoga guru, Baba Ramdev. Even multi- national companies were feeling the heat from his Patanjali Ayurved company. Now, we are told that there appears to be some competition coming in from a spiritual guru, Sri Sri Ravishankar’s very own Sri Sri Ayurveda (SSA). The latter has decided to go on an expansion spree of its distribution network because it has been in the marketplace for more than a dozen years. So, the question is what is so special about a Yoga guru or a spiritual leader that makes a difference to earning profit. Interesting subject for any of the management institutes to research. Isn’t it?

[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]