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Majoritarianism is Feared as Much as Monarchism

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I have been working on my fifth book for a while, and I was in the process of compiling the speeches that my maternal grandfather, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had made in Deoband, UP, in 1968, when the 2017 UP and Uttarakhand election results came in. Apropos!

In India, the uncritical reversion to fundamentalism and the superficial creation of a “unified” identity in the wake of right-wing nationalist movements has led to an erosion of unique and distinctive cultural identities.

The increasing communalization of Indian politics is a juggernaut that seriously questions the myth of secularism in India, and the increasing religiosity in Pakistan is just as damaging. As a poignant reminder to the student of Indian history and subcontinental politics, I would like to point out that Jawaharlal Nehru observed in the Constituent Assembly of India that the greatest danger to India will not be from Muslim communalism but from Hindutva which could potentially become expansionist and communally belligerent.

The polarizing rhetoric deployed by BJP bigwigs on the campaign trail in UP portrayed the nation as an invention that breeds relentless hatred.  The myopic vision of these bigwigs renders the nation all the more threatening because the belligerent politics that leads to its construction is internecine and does not bind Muslim to Hindu or Bengali to Kashmiri but rather sunders Bengali from Bengali, Kashmiri from Kashmiri. Such an irregular politics polarizes these ethnic groups into Hindus and Muslims who are required to disavow their cultural, linguistic, and social unities.

This molding of collective identities by the evocation of pan-national religious affinities results in the stifling of minority voices that express divergent cultural and social opinions. The politics of the BJP has established an inclusion/ exclusion dichotomy in which those who belong, the majority, can be winnowed away from those who are outsiders, the minority.

Since Independence in 1947, the Indian polity has undergone dislocation and restructuring, with, as Aijaz Ahmad tells us, “contradictory tendencies towards greater integrative pressures of the market and the nation-state on the one hand, greater differentiation and fragmentation of communities and socioeconomic positions on the other” (191).

I now segue into the speeches that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah made in Deoband in 1968.

Sheikh Abdullah’s Speech to the Muslims of Deoband in January 1968:

“We have to make an honest attempt to heal the wounds of the people. These wounds will not heal with further hatred but only with life and friendship. It is time we sorted out our problems and thought of some solution. Our sacred book clearly tells us that our salvation lies in following the path shown by our noble Prophet. Muslims should then model themselves on the teachings of Islam. If they do, they will be respected and their teachings will be respected. Non-Muslims do not read the Quran and are ignorant of the basic principles of our religion. They can judge Islam only by the conduct of Muslims, but, unfortunately, most Muslims do not pattern their conduct on the teachings of their religion with the result that today a number of evils are found in our behavior.

Very recently, in June 1967, Muslims lost control of the mosques in Jerusalem. Israel, with a limited area and a small army, was placed against a vast Arab world with unlimited manpower. You are aware of the results of this war. The vast Arab countries were helpless against Israel. Why? The Arab defeat was caused by the Muslim people’s deviation from the path shown by the Prophet. We are too much in love with worldly pleasures and have interpreted even the teachings of the Quran according to our convenience.

If we want to put an end to our miseries, we should correct our conduct. Misfortunes do come, but men of courage must face them boldly. How long can Muslims afford to sit in inaction? How long can we depend on the uncertain promises of tomorrow? Until we present good conduct, we cannot give a message of unity and solidarity to the world.

What was the strength of the Prophet’s companions? There were only 313 supporters in the Battle of Badr. They had very few arms, and, yet, they were able to change the course of history. But Muslims of the present day have neither the ambition, nor the courage, nor the practical wisdom of the Prophet and his companions. We must be united and stand like a wall of granite. We should remember two things: our duties toward God, and our duties toward humankind. We should treat our neighbors well, and we should be prepared to share their misfortunes.

Crores of Muslims have adopted India as their motherland, and they have a number of duties toward this country, among them to defend its honor. If they do not act according to the teachings of their religion, what opinion will the Hindus of India have about them? Muslims should fear none except God. They should side with the truth, whether it goes against their interest or the interest of their own dear ones.

We, in Kashmir, are continuing our fight against injustice, but we are not unmindful of the difficulties of Indian Muslims. We shall not take any step which may harm their interests, but we shall not submit to any blackmail. It is the right of Indian Muslims to live in their mother country, but that right does not depend on the accession of Kashmir to India. The Muslims of India should be able to say that if Kashmiris accede to India, they are welcome, and if they do not, it is their choice.

Islam has a human outlook. It does not differentiate between man and man. God, according to the teachings of Islam, is the master of the world, not the master of Muslims alone. Islam teaches equality. A true Muslim does not harm his neighbor. The Muslims of today should cultivate strength of character with which they, like other great Muslims of India, can fight their battles without armies and bloodshed.”

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s Speech in Deoband on January 28, 1968:

“Thousands of people have laid down their lives for the freedom of the country, and they have cried themselves hoarse shouting ‘Independence for India!’ But the dreams of freedom that we saw before Independence do not seen to be coming true. It is a tragedy of circumstances that the two brothers fought the battle for freedom together but fell out while attaining it, and the country was partitioned.

The fate of Kashmir was left undecided. Pakistan claimed the state, but we, Kashmiris, told Pakistan that the future of Kashmir would be decided by the people of Kashmir themselves. This problem developed into a malignant boil, and in 1965, the two brothers were again embroiled in war. Crores of rupees were wasted, but we still stand where we have always stood.

Look at the unenviable position of Kashmir: toward the west stands Pakistan and toward the east, India. The only way to save Kashmir, India, and Pakistan is to create a strong bond of friendship and mutual love—but there are people who do not allow a favorable atmosphere to develop. The masters of our destiny are more concerned about keeping their jobs and positions and spare little time to see that the masses have bread to eat.

I appeal to the people who instigate our young men for their own purposes to think deliberately about the after-effects of this bitterness on the progress of the country. You should direct your energies to our problems and search for a solution rather than wasting your time on disputes and demonstrations.”

The Hindutva movement in India privileges the idea of an ethnically pure Hindu nation, and the communal riots in Gujarat that occurred in 2002 divided the state along religious lines causing such irreparable damage that its seismic tremors continue to destabilize other parts of the Indian subcontinent.

I would argue that the prevalent majoritarian politics and uncertainty in India, helps in the institutionalization of unaccountability, and opportunists make hay while the unpredictability in Kashmir remains unresolved. Obviously, an important challenge then and now is the restoration of a democratic process in J & K, the validation of a secularism that recognizes diverse religious identities and allows for the accommodation of those identities within a secularist framework, creating new openings for people, including the young, to discuss public issues and become active participants. The aims of that process should be repair of the frayed regional and political fabric in all parts of the State.  Mainstream regional parties and separatists require a clear roadmap that enables us to preserve our identity, influence on legislative and decision-making process, not simply increasing our nuisance value.

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.

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