The Skull Cap debate: Why Modi is Right

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Does refusing to wear a particular kind of cap reflect a bias? This has been a topic of prime time debate in much of the Main Stream Media since Modi’s refusal to wear a Muslim skull cap. It is thus pertinent to ask what constitutes a bias to a community, particularly if one is positioning oneself for a top Constitutional post. It is also important how that bias is measured. Between Narendra Modi and the INC spokespersons it boils down to these aspects:

According to the INC: Bias is not accepting/ adorning the religious symbols. Symbolism (like adorning a skull cap) is a manifestation of ‘Non-Bias’, even if one does little to economically uplift the community or provide them safety and security as citizens and as mandated in the constitution.

According to Modi: Bias has nothing to do with not adorning religious symbols. Symbolism (like adorning a skull cap) is a manifestation of appeasement. Non Bias is economic upliftment and providing safety and security as full citizens as mandated in the Constitution.

Between both the above versions it is interesting, that most INC spokespersons accept Modi’s version as given above, but point out that it is hypocritical since Modi also wears a Sikh Turban and that amounts to adorning a religious symbol that is not his own. Modi asserts that it is his Parampara and he has the full right to wear/ adorn loudly what is his Parampara. So question is what is the bias and importantly how it is ‘measured’. If the ‘measure’ of the bias is the Constitution, then Modi scores on his point and stands soundly on firm ground. Article 25, Clause 2, Subclause (b) of the Indian Constitution clearly mandates the freedom of Hindu’s, Sikhs, Buddhists,Jains to visit and practise aspects of each others faith in their exclusive temples:

Article 25(2)(b) in The Constitution Of India 1949
(b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus. Explanation I The wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion. Explanation II In sub clause (b) of clause reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly
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Thus constitutionally Narendra Modi has every right to wear a Turban, go to Gurdwaras, Jain temples, Buddhist monastries. It is his constitutionally guaranteed right and not an act of appeasement or hypocrisy. This act defines by right of law what Narendra Modi rightly refers to his parampara. Thus the INC charge of hypocrisy is incorrect and false. An Arya Samaji going to a Gurdwara, a Vaishnav paying respects at a Buddhist monastery, a Sikh taking Devi mata prasad from a nearby temple and so on, Dharmics have since millenia intermingled and respected the purity of the different panths and their Guru’s even while they followed their own. A Sikh Guru writing a version of the Ramayana, Brahmins writing and formulating various Buddhist canons of thought, Nalanda where intellectuals of many Dharmic sampradayas taught and learnt and so on one has many examples of mutual sampradayic respect as opposed to acts of symbolic appeasement that some in the INC would like us to believe. That is the historical aspect the constitution through Art 25 acknowledges of the fluidity of Dharmic tradition. The INC cannot thus target Modi that wearing a Sikh turban is the same as wearing a Skull cap. The rest of the head gear (Manipuri, Arunachali, Marwaari) donned by Modi did not have much religious significance, which also Modi rightly acknowledges as part of his parampara. In a way the INC arguments reflect how far they have moved away from core Indian tradition.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        .
The skull cap meanwhile is of Middle Eastern origin and is used by Muslims, Jews and Catholics alike and the Pope is rarely seen without one. Modi cannot thus by any stretch be forced to compromise on his constitutional right to follow only his parampara, but also necessarily follow another parampara that is of Middle Eastern origin on the threat of implied bias. Why should that be logically forced on anyone, even if aspiring for the post of a PM? When Modi says the Arunachal headgear, Sikh Turban, Marwari Saafa, South Indian lungi are his parampara he is right. In Sanskrit the word Parampara literally means an uninterrupted row or series, order, succession, continuation, mediation, tradition associated implicitly with the ancestry and the land. All those items that he donned are an intrinsic part of his parampara while the Skull cap is not. It could necessarily be seen as an act of appeasement if he did don the cap, and he thus avoids doing the same for exactly the same reason. Hence for him to be truly just, to the Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Parsee communities would be to fulfill constitutional provisions and not address symbolic ones as opposed to making symbolic gestures and deprive them the benefits that the constitution really provides for them as Indian citizens. Modi stresses the former and stresses consciously avoiding the latter. The INC record has been largely of symbolic respect, while little has been done to improve the socio economic status of minorities. Modi rubs that point in with this refusal to wear the Skull cap and that is a significant point by itself. This is the crux between the secular and so called Pseudo Secular debate.
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There are other aspects of this debate, but the basic punchlines above hold. While the Constitution under Art 25 guarantees the freedom of religion, propagation, practice, it does not imply citizens must hold sacrosanct the symbolic gestures of all religions. It only deems the right of those of a particular faith to hold such sacrosanct and not the others. So while for the INC it may be fine to wear a Muslim skull cap, by the same logic it would also be fine and respectful if one slaughters a goat or cow on Bakr Id or if a Hindu accepts prasadam at a Jain temple he shouldn’t mind accepting a mutton offering on Id. The extension of the symbolic logic thus becomes an unending affair to appease. Even a vegetarian could be ridiculed stating that Hindu’s are not necessarily vegetarian so having reservations on eating mutton on Id and none on eating Prasad at a Jain Mandir is hypocrisy and bias only. This line of reasoning is just abandoning common-sense, constitutional norms, Dharmic tradition and indeed will only be misused by those that would like symbolic reverence at the expense of the well being of the communities involved.
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Another important aspect that people should contemplate over,  is respecting the constitutional provisions for religions other than ones own, does not imply personal respect of the tenets of all religions that the constitution provides freedoms to. Respect for your right to practice your faith does not imply one approves of the practises your faith approves. Most Jains, Vaishnavs and many other Dharmics, Moksha Margi’s don’t approve of slaughtering animals in some faiths for example. All religions are not same, neither all preach the same principles. There are differences. To be a PM candidate you need not ideally approve of all practises of all religions and participate in some symbolic ritual of acceptance. As the USAF Commander outside Kalaikunda Airbase said of the CPI demonstration against US-Indian air exercise: You may not like our presence here, but the reason we train together is to protect your right to criticize us.
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So let Modi be. Respect him for following his tradition. Don’t pull him down for refusing the symbolism associated with traditions that are not his. Also respect him for the reason he offered.

THINK WHILE VOTING

INTRODUCTION

The General Elections are in progress, and canvassing for votes is at a feverish pitch.  Various Political Parties are presenting their view points to the electorate, and also accusing their opponents of various faults.  In this milieu of the noisy cacophony of conflicting claims and counterclaims the real issues that would shape the character of the next Parliament and the Government, and thus must be of prime concern for every citizen of India, are in the danger of getting blurred to a certain extent. These issues must be identified, and their clear unambiguous implications for guiding the voters in selecting their representatives must be crystallized. 

A number of parameters are being bandied about by various Political Parties regarding what they stand for, and articulated by many self proclaimed intellectuals, and sundry leaders of various social hues: Secular v/s Communal, Leftist v/s Rightists, Conservatives v/s Radicals, Pro or Anti Free Market Economy, Democrats v/s Dynasts, and so on.  In our opinion these terms have lost meaning in the context of most of our Political Parties, and these labels are conveniently employed to mask their inadequacies, and confuse the voters.    

At the time of an Election the voters must have an opportunity to critically examine the governance record of the outgoing government, and look at the promises and veracity of the alternatives available. One can think of a number of parameters to judge the performance of an outgoing government.   However, for a large number of voters to sift through the veracity of the claimed facts and figures, and various claims and counterclaims is a daunting task, and are guided by general impressions and perceived impact on their lives from the policies of different political parties. 

 ACCOUNTABILITY 

The outgoing government must be made to answer for its shortcomings, and be Accountable to the electorate who are the real masters.  Unfortunately the word Accountability has virtually vanished from the lexicon of our public, and more unfortunately from the debate in the media, and shortcomings of the party in power are often attributed to the political class as a whole, thus allowing the party in power to divert focus from its failures. For example, after the Mumbai attack there was a genuine sense of outrage.  But the anger that should have been directed at the then very incompetent Home Minister and the insular Maharashtra and Central Governments, was directed against the entire political class, and a sharp focus on accountability of the party in power was missing in many protests and in the media. This approach allows the guilty parties to escape unscathed and is a disservice to the democratic functioning of the country.  It may not be out of place to recall a similar approach after the rout of the Indira Gandhi led Government in 1977.  Declaration of Emergency was the most heinous crime in the history of India, and when the misdeeds of the powers that be were being probed by the Justice Shah Commission, a large section of the media and self appointed intellectuals started a clamour against the proceedings, opening an escape route for the perpetuators of this crime.  ‘A witch hunt has no place in a democracy’ was the loud refrain opening a door for return of Indira Gandhi.

 Thus, first and foremost, the outgoing Government must be critically examined on the basis of its performance and not on the basis of populist promises for the future.  The public must demand a factual record of its concrete achievements, and reasons for not coming up to expectations in some aspects. This is what the public must primarily have and not yet another populist manifesto.  The public must demand an Action Taken Report on the main promises made in the Manifesto during the last election.

 CORRUPTION, WOMEN SAFETY, & LAW AND ORDER 

Corruption has become all pervasive in our society, almost no area is left unaffected by this evil.  While one can think of measures like the Lokpal and Lokayukta to mitigate this cancer, it must be realized that mere enacting laws would not eradicate this evil.  Similar is the case about crime against women and the weaker sections of our society. We have to recognize that these are social problems, and leaders in various fields must strive to bring a social revolution for combating these demons effectively.  In a society where money and power are the new Gods, virtues and merit are forced to take a back seat, and corruption for acquiring money becomes attractive for many. And crime against women would not be eliminated as long as we cease to view women as a commodity.  Strong disapproval from the society and the families would go a long way in combating this slur – merely enacting laws or putting a police person in every street corner would be neither feasible nor effective. In fact, we desperately require a social revolution for combating these evils.  Lastly, the only guarantee for ensuring better Law and Order would be to elect a strong stable Government. 

THE HOAX CALLED SECULARISM 

The debate about secularism and communalism has been employed over many years to hoodwink the electorate.  Secularism has degenerated into an apology for minority appeasement, without any substantial steps to improve their living conditions, and they have been used as a captive vote bank. On the other hand, any one talking about the rights of the majority is summarily branded communal.  While the extreme lunatic fringe in every section – minority or majority – must be condemned in the strongest terms, it is important to examine the reality of these terms in a dispassionate manner.  The majority community of India has had a unique laudable tradition of tolerance and acceptance of diversity over millennia. Despite suffering unparalleled depredations, large scale massacres, demolition and encroachment of many of its holiest places of worship, and destruction of its major seats of learning like Taxshila and Nalanda, the fact that a vast majority of the majority community bears no ill will against the minority community is nothing short of a miracle, a fact not given its due importance – except in asking them to go on making accommodation for biased appeasement policies in every social and political sphere.  Interestingly the atrocities outlined above were carried out under the rule of a fraction of the Islamic rulers in India, and most of them realized the futility of imposing Islam on the majority of Indians.  The conquest by Delhi forces of many remote areas like the East and the South were led by Rajput Chiefs like Raja Man Singh and Raja Jai Singh.  

The exposure to the liberal and profound philosophical traditions of India led to the evolution of a liberal stream in Islam along with a composite culture in the country.  The synthesis also gave birth to Urdu, a rich language with very rich literature, and distinct and popular poetry forms.  The Divide and Rule policy of the British Imperial Power encouraged and promoted a sharp cleavage in this harmonious culture, and tragically the Indian people who fought the 1857 war against the alien rule as a united whole, were tricked in asking for a separate nation based on religion leading to the creation of Pakistan.  This was perhaps the first instance of a nation carved out solely based on religion by completely ignoring the common ancestry and ethnicity of the bulk of the inhabitants in this country.  The chaotic manner in which people were uprooted from their ancient homes and had to relocate in often alien atmosphere had tragic emotional consequences for them.  The trauma of the riots, loss of innocent lives to murderous mobs on both sides of the new boarders left deep scars for many – even more tragic for those who suffered the loss of their near and dear ones.  The society that had largely buried the trauma suffered by the majority community during the Islamic rule and learnt to live together in harmony was torn apart and many old wounds were reopened.  

Although a large number of Muslims chose to opt for the new country, a very significant section led by leaders of the eminence of Maulana Azad committed to the composite culture, opted to stay on in India.  The strength of the composite Indian Culture has ensured that a large number of Muslims in India have achieved great distinction in many fields, and have made all Indians proud of them.  In contrast, the minorities in Pakistan have been reduced to misery in numerical strength as well as social status.  However, the post independence Governments in India neglected the creation of critical means for development like education, health, food security, and adequate means for earning decent livelihood for the bulk of the marginalized sections of its society like the SC, ST, and minorities particularly the Muslims.  Consequently, a sense of neglect and deliberate marginalization grew amongst several sections.  Slowly the immense pride that the bulk of Muslims opting for the Indian Union at the time of partition, had in their significant contribution to the development of our composite culture, was lost at least in a small extremist fringe.  The manner in which secularism is being employed by almost all non-BJP parties for fear mongering amongst the minorities, aimed at arraigning them against the major opposition party has rendered secularism as a meaningless word in the political lexicon in India.  

The accusation against the BJP for being communal rings hollow when we recognize the comparative riot-free BJP regimes in several States and during the Vajpayee rule in the Center.  Those who shout from rooftops about the culpability/inaction of Narendra Modi in 2002 riots in Gujarat refuse to see that this was perhaps the only riot in post-independence India in which several hundred rioters – mostly from the majority community – were shot dead by the State Police.  It should be a sobering thought to contrast this stark reality  with the 1984 riots in Delhi ruled by the ‘most secular’ Congress, where not even one – let me repeat not even one – non-Sikh was killed either by the Police or by the Sikhs!!! And the secularists go on designating 2002 as genocide, and 1984 as a riot. 

CHANT OF SECULARISM DEBILITATES INDIA 

Secularism apart from serving as a convenient means of painting the opposition in a corner by tarnishing it with a tar brush, and for using the minority as a captive vote bank, has very debilitating consequences for the psyche of the Indian population, particularly the minorities.  While the secularists never tire of lauding the composite culture, they see a red rag the moment one raises the greatness of the ancient Indian culture.  This attitude unfortunately forces a large majority of Indians to downplay – if not altogether discard – the magnificent achievements of ancient India in almost every field spanning from philosophy, science, mathematics, architecture, metallurgy, astronomy, and literature amongst many.  It may be pertinent to point out that since the ancestors of a large majority of the minority community were also indigenous inhabitants of India, this rich heritage justifiably belongs to them too.  But while accusing the opposition of dividing the communities, it is the secularists who have become instrumental in encouraging the minority community to disown their rightful ancient Indian heritage.  Every Indian must take pride in this unique heritage, but our intelligentsia has miserably failed in fostering this pride.  In fact even our brothers and sisters in Pakistan and Bangladesh must also share in this common heritage with pride, leading to more harmonious relations in all sections of the subcontinent. 

India is perhaps the only country where almost every religion known to men is being practiced; to each of these the assurance should be that we Indians are proud to have you as an integral part, and would want you remain proud of your traditions and be equally proud of being an Indian.  By preserving the traditional strengths of each section and gradually removing the areas of conflict we would have transformed the society in to a more coherent one in these decades.  Friends! a time has come to lay the ghost of secularism to rest, and elect a Government really capable of solving the grave problems faced by most of us. 

BEWARE OF THE TRAITORS SOWING THE SEEDS OF ANOTHER PARTITION

And most diabolical is the insinuation that if one particular individual comes to power in Delhi, it would lead to another partition of the present India – thus planting the seed of secession amongst a lunatic fringe already infected by the jihadist bug.  Those who are employing this slogan for political advantage should be viewed as traitors and condemned in the strongest terms, and we must declare that we will never allow another partition of India and are prepared to bear any cost for preserving its unity. 

Every section of the Indian population must condemn these traitors in the strongest terms, and see to it that they lose their security deposit in this election, and thereby make them understand the dangerous implications of their irresponsible statements. Do they realize the serious – rather tragic – consequences of such utterances?  Dear fellow citizens of India please teach them a lesson before it is too late. 

INDIA AT CROSSROADS 

India is facing a number of very acute problems. Its economy is in doldrums, the security problems – internal as well as external – are frightening, and are likely to become even more perilous with the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.  We must pause to look at our situation very critically, and exercise our choice of the next Government very carefully to escape the fate of being marginalized.  It is important to understand that whether we hail from Kashmir or Kanyakumari, Gujarat or Nagaland, the cow-belt or Kerala, or Andhra, or West Bengal or the hills of Himachal, throbbing Punjab or tottering Orissa, all of us are in danger of losing our distinct identities, and most of us face a rather grim future.  The harsh reality is that we are invariably left to only share the misery after the cream has been licked by the rulersThe tragedy of starving people in a country having an acute problem of finding storage space for its harvest in chockfull silos must make every right thinking citizen to hang his head in shame, if we have even an iota of it left.  Oh yes! We must be grateful for the crumbs being thrown by the ‘benevolent’ rulers.  Friends, time has come for each one of us to introspect and realize that we are also responsible for allowing and tolerating this dance of ‘dacoits’ by being gullible election after election after election. 

THE REALITY OF OUR NETAS 

Beware folks! The hounds are on the prowl once again to hunt for your vote so that they can wear the cloak of being our legitimate rulers and line their pockets with the wealth of this land. In this sacred land of ours everything is available at a price unfortunately out of reach of most of its citizens.  The real common men and women have suffered at the hands of the rulers for more than half a century of self-rule or misrule, and as a consequence their future is most insecure.  We, who were shocked by revelation of ill-gotten few crores in the eighties, today are not even surprised to learn of assets of the order of hundreds of crores amassed by our political masters.  Wonder what is keeping the majority from following the footsteps of these worthies! Yes, the answer is that in spite of the sorry state in which we find ourselves today, the bulk of our people are decent and capable of hard work.  But occupied with the onerous task of survival while honestly earning their livelihood, they remain passive and allow glib politicians to get away by painting glossy futures and exploit every possible cleavage caste/region/religion to keep us fragmented in order to prolong their hold on the reins of power.  Have you ever wondered that during the last five years, when we the common people have suffered from galloping inflation and have had difficulty in making both ends meet, the wealth of most of our Netas – particularly those in power – has multiplied manifolds? 

 WE MUST VALUE OUR RIGHTS

We the long suffering people of this country have become gullible – are satisfied with a few crumbs thrown by the ‘kings or princes’, or a little ‘natak’ of sympathy, or a show of being one with the poor or downtrodden by simply breaking bread with them.  We must overcome our tendency to get satisfied by hollow promises, a smile from the neta, a garland thrown by the ‘queen’, and a mere glimpse of a cine-star.  Wake up folks, this drama of a sham democracy (for me, for mine, for ours) has been allowed this long run because we do not value our rights.  A time has come to assert that irrespective of cast, creed, religion, region or language, we the people of this great land are equal, and henceforth would refuse to be swayed by lollipops.  Each child of this country has a potential and must be given an environment to grow.  Today onwards, we the people would chart a new course to fulfill this promise.  But is it possible, and how?  Yes! Folks the coming election provides the opportunity for the proverbial worm to turn, and attempt to secure a better future for the long-suffering people of this land. 

CRITICALLY EXAMINE THE ALTERNATIVES

Several political parties are in the fray with the aim of exploiting the failed record of the Congress Government and have a shot at forming a ‘this or that’ Front Government.  There is yet another party trying to ensure a hung Parliament like the experiment in Delhi.  It must be clearly understood that at this juncture when we are facing a multitude of critical problems – an economy in doldrums, rampant unemployment, uncontrolled inflation, breakdown of governance, corruption, very deficient health and educational facilities, and so on – a hung Parliament or a weak Government at the Center would spell only greater misery to its citizens.  So those who are hoping for a hung Parliament are wittingly or unwittingly playing in the hands of the enemies of this Nation.  If they are allowed to succeed they would help in only piling even greater misery on the common man and women of India, totally contrary to their professed aim.  We can only pity the intelligence of the shortsighted multitude enthusiastically riding on this bandwagon.  Wearing the cloak of “Holier than Thou” with their disastrous 49 day’s ‘governance’ in Delhi they are aiming to destabilize the Nation with disastrous consequences for the ‘Common Man’, and must be stopped in their tracks.

In the run up to the coming Loksabha Elections we are also facing battalion strength of prospective Prime Ministerial aspirants – each making claims to be the most deserving.  To this cacophony of “I TOO” add the “expert” opinion of actors, fashion designers et al pontificating through every media channel.  Youth is another word being bandied about – a young electorate must have young leaders – as if age has suddenly become a dirty word.  In this deafening noise the merit of the candidates finds little coverage. 

It must be clearly understood that only a strong and stable government lead by an experienced clear-headed individual possessing a vision for the future of this great Nation can reverse the downslide in almost every sphere. We must critically compare the physical and mental health of the alternatives.  Look at their comparative experience, administrative record, capacity of hard work over long periods, and draw your own conclusions. While voting one must rise above petty prejudices, and aim at ensuring the election of such a Government headed by such a leader in the Center.  Please understand that you are not voting for a Municipal Commissioner or a local MLA for solving local problems, but for a Government at the Center.  Have we ever realized that we often exercise greater caution while buying vegetables than while electing MPs?  Would we prefer to be shortchanged by a vendor from our caste/community even when his supply is often sub-standard or overpriced, rather than patronize someone who gives a fair deal? 

Your future, the future of your children, and more importantly the future of India, is in your hands, we wish that you would leave your prejudices outside the polling booth.  Would you barter it for a Rs. 500 note or a bottle of liquor? Your vote is priceless do not waste it, vote judiciously, and secure your future.