The Ayatollahs of secularismâ€“part 2 Minhaz Merchant On a cool spring day over 60 years ago in California, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a tall, angular man of 22, was in a garrulous mood. He told my father: â€œAh, Pakistan. See what we will do with my wonderful new country.â€ My father, like young Bhutto, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, was unimpressed. â€œA country founded on theocracy,â€ he told Bhutto, â€œwill never work.â€ My mother, among the first Indian women-students on the Berkeley campus, agreed. Bhutto walked away in a huff. Those were heady days after independence. Bhutto went on to become Pakistanâ€™s youngest Cabinet Minister, at 30, in 1958. My parents returned to India after four years at Berkeley and got married. My father took charge of the familyâ€™s petrochemicals business which, thankfully, he was later liberal enough never to coerce me to join. The difference between Pakistan and India today is the story of how a great religion, Islam, has been distorted by those entrusted to protect its liberal ethos. Pakistan and several countries in the Middle-East have used Islam not to liberate but imprison their people. But it is in â€œsecularâ€ India that the damage has been most insidious. Jawaharlal Nehru was a secular man. He would have been mortified at what passes off as secularism in modern India. In its purest, most classical sense, secularism requires treating religion as a private matter. It must not enter the public domain. Pray in public or pray in private. But keep your faith at home. Politicians who have little to offer by way of development â€“ 24-hour electricity, water, housing, sanitation, roads, infrastructure, jobs â€“ will use religion to divert the attention of the common man. According to the latest National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), over 60% of Indians consume less than Rs. 66 a day in cities and less than Rs. 25 a day in villages. These form the poor whose grandparents were promised Garibi Hatao by Indira Gandhi during her victorious 1971 Lok Sabha election campaign. It should shame the Congress that, 41 years later, the constituency Feroze Gandhi â€“ Indiraâ€™s husband â€“ first entered the Lok Sabha from in 1952, Rae Bareli, and from where succeeding generations of Gandhis, including Indira and Sonia, have been elected, is one of the most backward in India. Over 70% of children below the age of 5 in Rae Bareli, for example, are moderately or severely stunted due to malnutrition (The Ayatollahs of secularism â€“ part 1). But secularism, not development, has been an article of faith for the Gandhis. The poor and the Muslims â€“ the Muslims in particular â€“ have been entrapped into a fear psychosis that warns them: vote for â€œthe otherâ€ and you will not be safe. The riots in Gujarat on February 28, March 1 and March 2, 2002 following the burning of kar sevaks on February 27, 2002, have come especially handy in deepening this paranoia. Muslims from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, from Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, are in effect given this false choice: do you want to be with a â€œsecularâ€ party like the Congress that can guarantee your physical safety but not one square meal a day? Or do you want to be with a party where you must forever live in fear though you will have 24-hour electricity, good housing, roads, jobs and a reasonable standard of living? Rich electoral dividends have flowed from such fear mongering. In the process, over the decades, regional parties have grasped the fraudulent secular baton from the Congress: the Samajwadi Party (SP) may be the most notorious of these but others like the Telegu Desam Party (TDP) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have all dealt the duplicitous Muslim card. Just as they eagerly copied Indira Gandhiâ€™s destructive dynastic politics to enrich their future generations while impoverishing Indiaâ€™s, regional parties have effortlessly morphed into â€œsecularâ€ family firms engaged in exploiting Muslims by cocooning them. * * * My daughter, a budding designer, often visits areas in Mumbai to source raw materials for her work and commission artisans. Most of these artisans are Muslims. Most are very poor. Most live in buildings which could collapse any moment. She asked me: â€œWhy doesnâ€™t the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra, which wins elections based on votes from poor Muslims, do anything to improve their lives?â€ The answer: because poor Muslims who have no time to think beyond the next meal will not have time to think of governance and development and how both have been sacrificed at the altar of secularism. But then of course this isnâ€™t secularism. Itâ€™s communalism, masquerading as secularism. What really can be more communal than keeping nearly an entire community of 175 million people in poverty for over six decades? Theocratic countries like Pakistan have more liberal laws for their Muslim citizens than India has for its Muslims. Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia have also reformed medieval Islamic canons. Why not India? Because the Congress and its regional copycats fear the true liberation of the Muslim mind. That liberation could set off unintended consequences. Electoral defeat haunts the Congress and its allies more than issues of governance and development â€“ or even justice. That is why it has moved glacially to deliver justice to the victims of the 1984 Sikh pogrom in which over 3,000 Sikhs were killed by Congress-led hooligan-politicians. At the same time, po-faced, it uses the 750-plus Muslims killed in Gujarat in 2002 in a riot (not a one-sided pogrom), where over 250 of the dead were Hindus, to extract cynical political advantage with the help of its NGO cottage industry. Muslim leaders have been willing accomplices in this tragedy. Mullahs issue regressive fatwas against Muslim women and edicts against sensible civil laws. Instead of condemning such fatwas, the government maintains a studied silence, tacitly encouraging extremism and keeping ordinary Muslims stuck in a time warp. The two real enemies of the Muslim â€“ communal politicians masquerading as secular politicians to win votes and Mullahs deliberately misinterpreting the holy book to retain power over their flock â€“ form a natural alliance. Together they have enriched themselves but impoverished Indiaâ€™s Muslims, materially and intellectually, in the name of secularism. These are the Ayatollahs of secularism. * * * That brings us to the third angle in this infamous triangle: the liberal, secular Hindu. Where does he stand in all this? He is naturally secular in the truest sense of the word: religion is a private matter, he rightly believes. It has no place in politics. But he is also swayed by the plight of his fellow-Indians who happen to be Muslims: impoverished, illiterate, ghettoized, discriminated against. For every Azim Premji and Aamir Khan there are millions of weavers in UP and spot boys in Mumbai who have no place in corporate Indiaâ€™s organized labour force. Liberal, well-meaning Hindus ask why. And the answer they come up with is: communal discrimination. Yet the liberal Hindu doesnâ€™t dig deeper. The more politicians sequester Muslims into vote silos, the more the middle-class Hindu (not the liberal, well-meaning, Stephanian Hindu) resents them. Discrimination, petty or large, mounts. The real culprits â€“ communal politicians dressed up as secular politicians â€“ get away scot-free in this narrative. The liberal, secular Hinduâ€™s anger against anti-Muslim communalism is therefore misdirected â€“ far away from these real culprits. The liberal, secular Hindu meanwhile points to â€œHindutvaâ€ as the real fount of communalism. Is he right? This is how the Supreme Court defined Hindutva when specifically asked to do so in December 1995: Considering the terms Hinduism or Hindutva per se as depicting hostility, enmity or intolerance towards other religious faiths or professing communalism, proceeds from an improper appreciation and perception of the true meaning of these expressions. These terms (Hinduism or Hindutva) are indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people and are not confined merely to describe persons practicing the Hindu religion as a faith.â€ * * * Today it costs a candidate between Rs. 10 crore and Rs. 50 crore to fight a Lok Sabha election. Over the next 18 months, political parties will need to raise over Rs. 20,000 crore to contest 543 Lok Sabha seats. The potential from future scams has shrunk. Corporate cash donations have been hit â€“ ironically â€“ by the governmentâ€™s own economic paralysis. Team Anna's decision to fight elections has introduced a new political calculus. For "secular" parties, 2014 is an election in which they will now have to rely more than ever on raising a fear psychosis against leaders like Narendra Modi who threaten their hold on power â€“ and the financial pipeline that accompanies it but never finds its way into developmental projects, especially for Muslims. After all, they matter only once every five years. * * * Influential sections of especially the electronic media, suffused with hearts bleeding from the wrong ventricle, are part of this great fraud played on Indiaâ€™s poor Muslims: communalism dressed up as secularism. The token Muslim is lionized â€“ from business to literature â€“ but the common Muslim languishes in his 65-year-old ghetto. It is from such ghettos that raw recruits to SIMI and IM are most easily found. Sixty years ago on that Berkeley campus my father told Zulfikar Ali Bhutto why Pakistan would fail as a state. Today, my daughter, as she visits Muslim-dominated ghettos for sourcing her raw materials, sees how Muslim India too has failed. The single biggest cause: communalism â€“ but in quite the opposite way the Congress, SP and other â€œsecularâ€ parties define it. Follow @Minhazmerchant on twitter The Ayatollahs of secularismâ€“part 2 by Head On : Minhaz Merchant's blog-The Times Of India About the author Minhaz Merchant is an author, editor, columnist and publisher. A recipient of the Lady Jeejeebhoy prize for physics, his books include biographies of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the late industrialist Aditya Birla. After three years with The Times of India and a year with India Today, he founded, at 25, Sterling Newspapers Pvt. Ltd., a pioneering publisher of six specialised journals, including Gentleman, a political and literary monthly (whose senior editors and columnists included David Davidar, Shashi Tharoor, L.K. Advani and Dom Moraes), and Business Computer, in technical collaboration with Dutch media group VNU (renamed The Nielsen Company in 2007). Minhaz is chairman and group editor-in-chief of Merchant Media Ltd. and founding-editor of Innovate, a magazine for US-based CEOs. He heads the groupâ€™s think-tank, Global Intelligence Review. Having played tournament-level cricket and tennis â€“ and rhythm guitar for his school rock band â€“ he likes Dire Straits, R.E.M. and Sachin Tendulkarâ€™s straight drives in roughly reverse order. ***************************** An interesting article by Mr Merchant that indicates the manner in which the original intent of 'secularism' has been given a new avatar that is not helping anyone except the political parties and the the token Muslim is lionized â€“ from business to literature â€“ but the common Muslim languishes in his 65-year-old ghetto. Interesting is his comment - The single biggest cause: communalism â€“ but in quite the opposite way the Congress, SP and other â€œsecularâ€ parties define it.