Whenever I think of my maternal grandmother, Amna Rahman, there is one image which is particularly vivid – I was huddled in the living room of our ancestral home in Shahjahanpur with the rest of the clan and she had switched on the radio. The news announced the death of Jawaharlal Nehru. As soon she heard it, she sat back and began sobbing. “Panditji gone. What will happen to us? Who will be there for us? Who’ll protect us? Tabahi [destruction] for us… doom for the Musalmaans of Hindustan!”
I was a young girl and couldn’t really understand the connection between Nehru’s death and her words. After all, she was living in one of those nondescript townships of Uttar Pradesh far away from New Delhi and the world of politics. In fact, there were no political creatures in our clan.
Of course, as the years rolled by, I could more than sense the wisdom of her words and the agony she was feeling. For her, like many of her generation, ‘Panditji’ — as Nehru was popularly called — always stood for secular values and the rights and dignity of the minorities of this land. He was looked upon as a saviour of sorts.
After his death, the basic fabric got punctured; slowly and steadily. The Muslims of the country started getting sidelined if not blatantly bypassed in the backdrop of an ongoing poisonous propaganda against them. Today, as I nostalgically recall those carefree childhood days, there seemed little danger of being labelled ‘the other’.
Muslims of this land lived on par with those from the majority community and one couldn’t have visualised a day when Muslims would be reduced to second class citizens. Yes, rioting did take place even during Nehru’s prime ministership but one was confident that justice would prevail; unlike today when even when a cracker bursts, a bunch of hapless Muslims are thrown into prison hellholes with those horrifying terror tags /labels pinned on them.
In fact, during my travels to Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Ajmer, Mumbai, Aligarh, Lucknow and adjoining areas of Uttar Pradesh, activists have recounted instances of Muslim youths being held only on grounds of suspicion. If there is a crime committed, the first to be rounded up are Muslims; more so now as a new ploy in the shape of the Islamic State is being used by a biased machinery.
I am often asked the difference between a poor Muslim and a poor Hindu. I tell them that both are hapless, disadvantaged, hungry and jobless and the only difference is that the very feeling of security is missing from Muslims today. Needless to add, with the RSS/BJP ruling at the Centre, this insecurity is escalating.
“Nehru was a giant leader of freedom struggle, a prominent maker of modern India, a great believer of pluralism, the chief architect of Indian democracy, socialism and secular ethos. The war he started against caste discrimination still continues in India. His unfulfilled commitment at the UN for a referendum on Kashmir still haunts the Pakistan-India relationship. His quest for peace in the region is marred by jingoism and orthodoxy”
Lal Chand Mahi | Member of National Assembly of Pakistan
I have always argued that in a democracy (that is, in a healthy democracy) it doesn’t matter if you have a Hindu or Muslim or Sikh or Christian as head of the government. All that matters is a non-communal governmental machinery, so that justice and transparency prevails.
During Nehru’s prime ministership, this basic feeling of security was high because he himself was secular. If Nehru was around, it would have been impossible for Babri Masjid to be demolished, for Gujarat pogrom to have taken place, or for the RSS pracharaks and mahapracharaks to be ruling this land.
He would not have entertained any of the window dressing gimmicks in the name of minority representation. Yes, gimmicks, where two or three are handpicked from the minority community and placed up there! Who is the government of the day trying to hoodwink with these silly ploys?