by K Natwar Singh
Even his critics concede that is difficult to dislike Salman Khurshid. I would go along with that assessment. His pedigree is impeccable. His grandfather, Dr Zakir Hussain; father, Khurshid Alam Khan, MP, Minister of State, Governor of Goa and Karnataka. Salman himself has not done badly, ending up as an External Affairs Minister. A secular Muslim liberal, he is endowed with an effervescent personality. An intellectual, who often strikes the right note. This embarrassment of riches can become a peril unless one is also level headed.
I have read this absorbing book with great interest. Also with disquiet. Islam is passing through a difficult time. The Peshawar killings tore into the psyche of Muslims. The Taliban discredit a great religion and get away with it. The terrible Sunni-Shia differences are responsible for the bloodletting in Iraq. I could go on, but that would give no comfort.
The author has addressed devilishly complex issues with candour and clarity. The disturbing upheavals in the Aligarh Muslim University (some decades ago, the hot heads all but killed the Vice-Chancellor, Ali Yavar Jung) and the Jamia Milia Islamia from where they hounded historian Mushirul Hassan mishandling the Ramjanambhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, the never ending arguments over the Uniform Civil Code, and much else.
The author raises fundamental issues such as Islam and modernity. He maintains that even after ten centuries, Muslims are not getting a fair deal. This could be disputed because a majority of the community has to jettison its inferiority complex and ghetto mentality. In this book, Salman Khurshid tackles this hot potato head-on. “The theme of helplessness, poverty and insecurity is writ large upon the leaderless community. And by their nature, the Muslims cannot do without a leader…… the complete leadership vacuum, is a very serious matter.” The last great Indian Muslim leader was Dr. Zakir Hussain. He died on 3rd May 1969. We do not see the likes of Maulana Azad, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Sheikh Abdullah, Humayun or Kabir.Strangely, the author writes about a “very promising new leadership in Karnataka, Delhi, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. What are their names? Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel, Mohsina Kidwai, Saifuddin, Farooq Abdullah are all in their late sixties and early seventies. All very worthy and immensely likeable individuals, but their best is behind them. Even Mufti sahib is not young!
Salman Khurshid has no time for the Baigs, the Shahbuddins, Arif Khans, MJ Akbars, Arun Shouries, the Mullahs and the Maulvis. He does refer to the positive role played by the Deobandis in the freedom movement though.
One area in which Muslims are the heroes is Bollywood. The three (or is it four?) Khans have won the hearts of hundreds of millions of their compatriots. That is secularism for you.
The melancholy fact is that after a thousand years, no genuine assimilation between Hindus and Muslims has occurred. How many Hindus marry Muslim girls? How many Muslims marry Hindu girls? How many Hindus have read the Koran? How many Muslims have read the Gita? Not one in a million.
Salman Khurshid quotes a few lines MA Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech at the Constitutional Assembly of Pakistan, Karachi, but not from the memorable and brilliant speech of Maulana Azad at the AICC (All India Congress Committee) session at Ramgarh in 1940.
Here is a gem from the speech: “I feel proud that I am an Indian. I am a part of the indivisible united nationality of India. I am an important element in this united nationality. Without me, the temple of its greatness remains incomplete. I am an essential factor in the structure, a calm which I can under no circumstances abandon.”
This timely book needs to be read by all those who wish to keep India a secular democracy.
K Natwar Singh is a senior politician and former union minister. He is the author of One Life is Not Enough (2014). This book review originally appeared in Hindustan Times.