The remarks of Hamid Ansari on the Muslim question in India, and the response of M Venkaiah Naidu, trigger a fresh round of controversy as the headline-chasing media makes a selective reading of the issues in vogue.
In a television interview, Ansari said that there is a feeling of unease and a sense of insecurity creeping in among the Muslims in the country against the current backdrop of intolerance and vigilante violence. In an apparent reference to these remarks, Naidu said, “Some people are saying minorities are insecure. It is a political propaganda. Compared to the entire world, minorities are safer and more secure in India and they get their due.”
This on the face of it looks like a face-off between the two celebrated Indians. The villain seems to be the sound bite journalism missing the subtext of the Ansari’s scholastic conversation. Asked if they (Muslims) were beginning to feel they were not wanted, Hamid Ansari said in the same interview, "I would not go that far.” Unfortunately, the two parts of the sentence were disjointed as the convenient part is played up to create a distorted view of the person and his opinion.
Ansari even advised Muslims that the challenges today are challenges of development. “What are the requirements for development? You keep up with the times, educate yourself, and compete.” This is an invaluable advice to the largest minority in India which is witnessing the rise of religious bigotry and politicised fundamentalism across the world.
Ansari was forthright in rejecting the archaic practices rocking the community. On the controversy over triple talaq, he said the practice was a social aberration and not a religious requirement. This is a clear rebuttal of the position taken by Muslim fundamentalists.
In fact, Venkaiah Naidu’s assertion that compared to the entire world, minorities are safer and more secure in India is also equally true.
But, the growing climate of intolerance in the name of Indianness and nationalism is certainly a cause of concern. While rejecting fundamentalism in any religion including that of minorities, we cannot be oblivious to the fact that marginalised including the Muslims are not getting their due.
For instance, Muslims constitute 14.23 per cent of the population of India. The total strength of the two Houses of Parliament is 790; the number of Muslim MPs stood at 49 in 1980, ranged between 30 and 35 in the 1999 to 2009 period, but declined to 23 in 2014. This reveals that Muslims who account for over 14 per cent of Indian population has a representation of less than 3 per cent in Indian Parliament. This does not augur well for inclusive politics.
As Hamid Ansari observed at National Law School, Bengaluru recently, Indianness is to be defined not as a singular or exhaustive identity but as embodying the idea of layered Indianness, an accretion of identities.
National integration means, and ought to mean, cohesion and not fusion, unity and not uniformity, reconciliation and not merger, accommodation and not annihilation, synthesis and not dissolution, solidarity and not regimentation of the several discrete segments of the people constituting the larger political community. Integration is not synonymous with assimilation or homogenisation.