Friday, April 13, 2012

Great Indian Heroes: Do Muslims have a place in RSS' vision of India?

Sometime back I went to a friend's place and saw a calendar on the wall. The friend saw me looking at it and sheepishly said that someone in his family had brought it.

"You know I don't have a Sangh [RSS] link", he tried to explain. Of course, there was no need for him to explain or feel embarrassed over it.

But the calendar was interesting. It shows great Indian figures over the ages in a Saffron background.

In this map, there are many personalities about whom there can not be any dispute about their contribution to the country.

There are some exceptions though but the remaining ones are heroes for all of us, Indians, irrespective of our religious affiliations or caste & creed.

One positive thing was that the list had Sikh, Buddhist, Jain* and [even] Parsi heroes. The Hindutva brotherhood has in the last couple of decades tried to co-opt Sikhs and Buddhists, but they still remain wary of Christians and Muslims.

There was no Muslim featured though. Isn't that strange! If Mughal kings like Akbar, who had even started a new religion Din-e-Ilahi is not secular enough or Shah Jehan for building the monument that is pride of the country, there is still no dearth of Muslim heroes.

Bahadur Shah Zafar was exiled and his sons executed by British. Tipu Sultan was the king who fought the British and was ditched by both Muslim and Hindu powers--Marathas and Nizam, else the imperialists may not have succeeded in India.

In 20th century, we have had great freedom fighters, poets, writers and apart from them, the Muslim musicians--from Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan to Ustad Bismillah Khan who kept the legacy of classical Hindustani music alive in this country.

Ashfaqullah, Abdul Hamid, Kalam don't qualify?

If Ashfaqullah Khan is forgotten, there is a name that can never be contested by RSS also. Havildar Abdul Hamid, the army man who showed exemplary courage in the 1965 war against Pakistan, blowing up Patton tanks, and laying down his life in the line of duty.

If Abdul Hamid or martyrs like Brigadier Usman, whose bravery ensured that Kashmir, in the troubled times, remained an Indian territory, are not fit enough, then who is? APJ Abdul Kalam, a thinker, scientist, people's president and the father of Indian missile programme, isn't he worthy enough?

Still, its good to see the Akhand Bharat vision getting more inclusive. There have been great generals and superb soldiers but the selection of, Field Marshal late Sam Manekshaw, that represents the Zoroastrians, is indeed interesting.

Is it that you could do great service to the nation but if you are a Muslim or Christian, you can't be considered a 'hero'. Of course, everybody has the right to select their heroes. But the calendar represents the inherent apathy towards the two major religious minorities.

Why not Gandhi?
The Heroes in the Calendar 'Parakrami Bharat; Vijayi Bharat'

Among the ancient personalities whose photographs and names are shown in the calendar, are kings like Vikramaditya, Chandragupta Maurya, Rajaraja Chola,  Maharana Pratap, Harshwardhan and even Ashoka, who had embraced Buddhism after Kalinga war.

Of course, an important personality that has been ignored is Dr BR Ambedkar. It couldn't be oversight. After all, the personalities representing different eras, and different regions, have been selected after quite an exercise.

Among freedom fighters the names of Rani Laxmi Bai, Chandrashekhar Azad, Tatya Tope, Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Remaining figures include Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, the great Sikh ruler, apart from Shivaji, Hemachandra, Prithvi Raj Chauhan, Shyamji Krishna Verma, Subhas Chandra Bose, Ahilya Bai Holkar, Krishnadev Rai, Harihar Bukka [founders of the Vijayanagar empire], VD Sawarkar, Pulkesi, Sardar Patel et al.

Subhas Chandra Bose was not a Hindu Hero alone,  he was a hero for all Indians. Whenever Jhansi queen Laxmi Bai's name is taken, her close confidante Ghouse's name is also remembered. He hadn't hesitated to turn canons to target mosque when British took refuge there.

Yes, Sankaracharya, Chanakya, the staunch communist Bhagat Singh, who had rejected religion, figures in the list of great Indians. But can someone complain? After all, perhaps, the most well-known Hindu of all times, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, doesn't figure in this list either.

[*Lala Lajpat Rai had a Jain lineage though it is not mentioned generally]