By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
NEW DELHI: Rather than cross swords with Indian Muslims over terrorism being linked with their religion (Islam), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has for the first time reached out to the Indiaâ€™s largest minority community with a new approach. The VHP has requested 13 Muslim organizations to state through a fatwa, that India is a friend of Islam. The fatwa should also state that jihad should not be waged either against India and/or Hindus, with the latter not being kafirs. Whether VHPâ€™s move is politically motivated and/or has been deliberately taken to gain some media coverage, the letter certainly conveys a strong unwritten message. The VHP appears keen to begin erasing perceptions held about it as a hard-core, anti-Muslim, extremist Hindu organization.
With home to around 120 million Muslims, who constitute nearly 13 percent of the total population, VHP has apparently realized that political importance of their votes cannot be ignored todayâ€™s electoral race. The Muslim-vote has become all the more important because of numerous parties having surfaced over the past two decades. It would have been a different situation, were Indian polity dominated by only one party or even just two/three parties spread across the country. With each in the political race vying to attract the needed majority to their camps, the minority-vote would have probably carried little importance for a few parties. Indian political culture has come a long way from what it was when a single-party (Congress) government prevailed. Without doubt, the Hindutva-agenda helped Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) make its mark as a national party. It cannot however be ignored that the BJP assumed power to head a coalition government, only after putting the Hindutva-agenda on the backburner. Undeniably, the Gujarat-carnage (2002) played a major role in pushing BJP-led coalition out of power, marking return of Congress with a coalition government. Emergence of numerous political parties across the country, certainly indicate, that the era of coalition government is here to stay for quite some time, which has contributed to new importance being given to the Muslim-vote.
Political compulsions have contributed to VHP also to try and turn a â€œfriendlyâ€ face towards Indian Muslims. The VHP wants Indian Muslim clerics to clear misconceptions created by threats allegedly send by suspected terrorist groups, such as Indian Mujahideen. Quoting from emails allegedly send by these terrorist groups, the VHP wants a fatwa from Indian Muslim clerics declaring that India is not Dar-ul-Haram. With India being Dar-ul-Aman, â€œa land of peace where all Muslims can practice and propagate their religion uninterrupted,â€ the fatwa should state, Muslims are not required to wage a religious war against the country and the people living here. The political message carried by VHPâ€™s letter is certainly suggestive of it having taken a major step indirectly stating that saffron brigade is no longer keen on pursuing an anti-Muslim drive. Rather the time has come, when it ceased pursuing the same and started making efforts in this direction, with the letter apparently a part of this drive. The VHP is also conscious that amid the backdrop of Ayodhya-issue (demolition of Babari Masjid in 1992), Gujarat-carnage and other such moves targeting Muslims, the minority community is not going to be easily convinced by attempts being made to win them over from the platform of saffron brigade. The VHP thereby realizes that it is imperative to convey this message to the Indian Muslims through their own clerics.
The VHP must have probably deliberated on numerous options before deciding to send the letter to Muslim organizations. Had the same message been expressed through leaders associated with saffron brigade, in addition to it being given little importance by others, there also prevailed the risk of it being misunderstood and not conveying the message the VHP desired. So, ironically, the very group known till date for spreading communal venom against Indian Muslims, has approached Muslim organizations in writing. There is no denying that Ayodhya-issue and Gujarat-carnage have considerably refrained the Muslim community together with secular Indian Hindus from rendering any political support to the saffron brigade. Their political behavior is guided strongly by their desire to prevent saffron brigade and its political representatives from assuming power at the center.
The secular Indians, Muslims and non-Muslims, do not need to be taught by organizations such as VHP about what is Indian secularism. The VHP is apparently aware of this hard reality as much as others are. Notwithstanding all the reservations about VHP having taken this step, guided by political compulsions of the moment, the significance of it having actually moved towards this stage cannot be sidelined. The VHP, as suggested by the letterâ€™s contents, is keen on changing the image held about it by secular Indians, Muslims as well as non-Muslims. This is in itself is suggestive of a significant change taking place gradually but definitely in mind-set of the saffron brigade, with its most extremist associate trying to reach out to Indian Muslims, by saying that India is a friend of Muslims and their religion. It is their way of accepting that stage of playing politics by propagating and arousing anti-Muslim politico-communal frenzy carries little, practically no importance in todayâ€™s Indian political culture.