Friday, January 30, 2009

Occident verses Orient Debate

Occident verses Orient Debate
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Protestantism, Reformation, Renaissance. These are the key to progress and development of Europe. The history book says so and so the entire world accepts this as a gospel of truth.

I have been reading this for quite a long time now, my submission is do we need to follow the same path to reach the final destination.

Why do we need to ape the west - if they feel liberated and have reached the apogee of human progress then good luck to them?

But can’t we have our own roadmap to progress and development. Can’t we do that without tampering our Dhrama and Karma module?

Why do we want to shake our social system will this bring any good to us or disturb us more? Now having said that let me give you some piece of India history.

When Protestantism, Reformation, Renaissance was happening in Europe, in India there were experiments were made by the idea of Sulahkul - peace with all, a new faith called Deen- e -Ilahi was experimented to find answers to multiculturalism of India.

There was also treatise like “Majmaul Baharain” - Mingling of the oceans were written to find answers to the complex problem of adjustments of various faiths.

There were people like Kabir, Tulasi, Dadu and Nanak were propagating the idea of universalism of all faith.

When Protestants and Catholics were fighting in Europe, the Shias and Sunnis were praying in the same mosque in India. The Hindus and Muslims were not on loggerhead with each other as they are today.

However, much water has flown down the Gangetic valley civilization. All of this has become centuries old story.

Now in this globalize world how can we get there bypassing the three milestones of European history.An answer to this will be the key to Occident and Oriental debate.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in India. He can be contacted at

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

India needs to redefine democratic pluralism

India needs to redefine democratic pluralism
Syed Ali Mujtaba

India celebrates its 59th republic day on 26th January 2009. However, even after such a long time, India is unable to define a correct roadmap of nation building. Societal brakes are pulling down the rapid scientific advancement and communal tension is kept alive.

As a nation India harps on secularism but in practice this word remains sandwiched between intrusiveness, neutrality and indifference to religion. As a result, neither the majority nor the minorities feel comfortable in this country.

At the time of Independence, there were five routes to nation building. The Muslim league model wanted Hindus and Muslims to be mobilized as separate groups and then wielded into a national unity on the basis of distinctiveness but equality.

Second, was the Nehruvian model, where state got to have no truck with any religion, but the minorities’ rights has to be protected through constitutional guarantee.

Third was the Gandhian model that visualized religion and politics to be enmeshed with each other and the state should pay equal respect to all religion: “Sab Dharam Sambav”.

Fourth the “Hindutva”, model that equates nationalism with Hindu culture and calls for merge all diversity under the umbrella of Hindutva.

Fifth, is the “melting-pot culture” of the US, where different identities are homogenized under a pan national identity?

Given the complexity of the Indian politics none of the above models of nation building fits as an ideal format of national integration.

The Muslim league model of treating minorities as fixed entity could not be held valid because in democracy there are no permanent majority or minority, they keep on shifting and the ruling coalitions is formed of several minority groups.

The Nehruvian model too can not fit into Indian societal map where religion dominates on every walk of life and it is very difficult to separate religion from politics. This model which is inspired by communism has not worked out even in those states.

The Gandhian model of paying equal respect to all religion is too flawed. It tries to pay lip service to different religion for the sake of equal treatment but nothing concrete come out of it other than pandering to majority religious symbolism.

The Hindutva model of homogenizing Indian society under cultural nationalism of Hinduism is the diabolic design to extinguish the vast cultural specificities that makes the Indian mosaic. In such case the local and self grown traditions among Hinduism is on verge of annihilation by the adherents of the Hindutva ideology.

The melting pot culture of the US also can not be imitated in India for the fear of secessionism. This model instead of uniting the country may lead to vivisection by all kinds of group in the country.

So what should be the roadmap for nation building? If we go by the statistics India houses some 4, 599 separate communities. How this vast majority of diversity could be integrated into the Indian polity and society. Is there a need to redefine democratic pluralism in India?

Democratic pluralism in India could only be deliverable only by adhering to the principle of secularism. Secularism should be based on citizenship and national boundaries as the organizing principle provided by the Indian constitution.

There is some confusion regarding interpretation of secularism and in the process certain core principles such as equal protection for all religions is ignored. The state should not in any way support or oppose any particular religion but at the same time it should protect the religious and cultural rights all the religions particularly religious minorities.

Secularism should be prompted with courage and conviction and every one has stakes in restraining those who adopt confrontationist approach using religion as their shield.

The other approach should pan Indian identity should based on multiple layers the people have, such as state, family, city, profession and organization. Forging such identity would foster amity and harmony among all the citizens of the country.

The next approach should to build secularism on citizenship rights that’s based on equality and provides a strong foundation to keep the country together.

On the eve of Republic day, the challenge before every Indian is how to imbibe spirit of secularism as a way of life, how to get rid of its imperfections, how to set into motion a process that could be easily grasped and followed.

All this requires a redefinition of democratic pluralism and a new revolution. As an Indian if we all like to enjoy the fruits of rapid development there are little choices for the road ahead.


Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Indian Republic needs Communal harmony

Indian Republic needs Communal harmony
Syed Ali Mujtaba

On 26 January 2009, India would be celebrating its republic day with great fanfare on the Rajpath in New Delhi. Millions of Indians will be watching the Republic day parade on their TV sets that would showcase India’s progress as a nation in different spheres of activities. On the surface of it all that would look very grandiose indeed and many may yell Mera Bharat Mahan (My India is great). But does that give the complete picture of India, I have my doubts.

The fact remains that even fifty-nine years of our Republic, India remains a theater of communal conflict. It is unable to wield its complex mosaic of social diversity into a national unity.

Since this is one of the most important issues confronting the country and the region as whole, some thoughts are essential to brood over this topic when we are celebrating the Republic day.

The genesis of the communal divide lies with the advent of the ballot box democracy. Ever since then power came to be defined in terms simple majority. The unities that were formed earlier on class and economic criterion, gave way to religious based communities. Religion came to dominate the political mobilization-taking place in the country.

In the course of two decades of political negotiations to the run up of independence, the Indian political leaders failed to sort out the communal rigmarole, resulting in the partition of India.

After the independence the vision of secular India has been wavering. The periodic eruption of communal riots is testimony to this fact. Since electoral consideration compels political parties to forge linkages on communal lines, there is hardly any attempt made to bridge the communal gap. This gap is getting further accentuated as religious communities are interpreting economic competition in communal terms.

These are some thoughts on the problem and it would be apt to attempt few suggestions how to make this country and the region a better place to live in.

The foremost thing that should be done is to combat the campaign to redefine nationalism with Hinduism religious symbolism. It’s creating havoc on the innocent minds and alienating people of other faith and breeding separatism. There is an urgent need to arrest this diabolical campaign. If this does not happen separatists’ tendencies would continue to gain ground and then it would be hard to sideline the likes of Indian Mujahdeen, SIMI etc.

Next, the deliberate attempt of political mobilization on communal lines has to stop. Political parties should give adequate representation to the religious minorities and nurture their leaders to build faith in democracy. If this happen it is certain that social relationship between Hindus and Muslims would improve.

It is alleged that the minorities in India are denied citizens rights enshrined in the constitution. This discrimination is alleged to take place from the stage of school admission, finding jobs and other gainful activities. This real or imagined perception that minorities’ are discriminated on the basis of their religion must be allayed. This can be done so by strengthening the citizenship rights and by promoting social equality.

At the governmental level, there is need for administrative commitment to stop the occurrence of communal violence. The government of the day should be firm on protecting the life and liberty of the citizen of the country. People like Nrander Modi are blot on the face of Indian Republic. No administrative head should ever behave or act in his manner while dealing with a communal situation.

As many studies have revealed that some religious minorities are lagging behind in different sphere of activities, the government should have some specific policies and programmes to alleviate them from their current situation. This may include reservations for other religious communities whose social status are equal to the schedule caste categories. This move would instill hope and confidence in such minority group to actively participate in the nation building process.

In doing so the government should never eye on vote bank politics or get cornered by opposition propaganda of minority appeasement or pseudo secularism.

The jingoistic religious nationalism has to be scaled down to zero level. Religious factor is one of the reasons for acrimonious relations between India Pakistan and Bangladesh. A perception is being built up that since people in Pakistan and Bangladesh are following different religion and so they are enemies of India. This is creating havoc on the regional harmony.

Its resonance is also souring relation between Hindus and Muslims in India. We have seen that whenever India-Pakistan relation improves there is a corresponding improvement in the relation between Hindus and Muslims in the country. So there has to be a great deal of sensitivity required to deal with Pakistan as its in India's interest to improve relations with Pakistan.

Finally, in building communal harmony the role of non-governmental organization is also seminal. Efforts should be made by the NGOs to develop secular platforms for inter- faith communities to interact at the grassroots level. This could be done, by promoting secular and national festivals on par with the religious festivals. This may create a social platform to propagate peace and harmony in the country.

India’s fifty-ninth Republic is a great opportunity to take a resolve to build peace and harmony in the country. We all should not let this opportunity slip away.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tales from India –Secularism, Dharma and Karma

Tales from India –Secularism, Dharma and Karma
Syed Ali Mujtaba

I have few anecdotes to tell as tales from India. First one is how the composite culture survives in certain layers of the Indian society. Recently my father’s sister passed away. She was 87 and ailing for some time at my native place in Bihar. Luckily I was there due to Christmas holidays. When I heard this news, I remembered Barak Obama’s line – “she has gone Home.” I attended the “Qull” ceremony that happens on the third day of the obituary. In this family’s well-wishers and neighbors gather read the holy Quran and pray for the departed soul.

There were about 30 to 40 people gathered for the occasion and each one took one chapter of the thirty chapters of the holy book and in two hrs, more than 15 times it was read. I was surprised to find many Hindu neighbors too had also come on this occasion. They sat on the chair outside the hall where the reading was going on and when it was time for general prayers, and every one raised their hands, these folks too did the same seeking forgiveness and blessings from their Lord. The realization dawned upon me that we all follow different routes to reach the final destination. It was a very thoughtful moment indeed.

The other thing that struck me was these guys knew how religiously polarized the contemporary social scene of India is, but yet they chose to gather on such occasion was some thing on a high moral ground in good neighborly traditions of India. This is to illustrate the point that the foundation of secularism is quite deeply entrenched in Indian society and no matter how much effort is made to tamper with it; many fail part with the umbilical cord. Well this India for you straight from the grassroots.

Another anecdote follows from the same place. It’s about my conversation with some religious people who had gathered there. I tried to explore with them the topic “are there any pious and truthful people left in India.” I was surprised to hear this story about six people who had gone to attend a religious function in a nearby town and were returning home by train. They realized the train was just on the platform and about to leave. They boarded the train without buying the tickets and reached their destination. No one checked their tickets and they came out of the station safe.

Their group leader after coming out the station calls one his mates and asks him to buy six tickets for the station from which they had traveled. The mate was puzzled as to why the tickets were required now but he carried on the orders and bought six tickets and gave it to the group leader. The group leader first checked the tickets, then “tore” it in front them and said; let’s now go home now! Here, the moral is there are still many truthful people that exist in India. For them “Karma and okssha” theory still holds good, no matter what religion they may follow.

The third anecdote about the rat eaters, whom I met in the paddy fields at my father’s farm. These folks still live on rat meat and engage in its hunting. I stopped by to observe their activities in some detail. These guys had found a rat hole in the paddy field and were preying on the rats holed in there. They had put fire in it and were fanning it up. They had dug up another hole, close by and I saw smoke coming out from that hole. Soon I saw suffocated rats coming out of that hole and one of the guys pounced over it, held it in hand to bang it on the ground hard enough to kill. One of them who held a stick in his hand tied tail of the rat to one end of the stick and kept the other side of it over his shoulder as items of display. I saw them catching five rats good enough for family meal. I connected them with the people who sit in McDonalds and eat burgers. Will those rat eaters can ever sit in McDonalds, and order Big Mc; when will India Shine for them?

It was about this point of time I heard the news on my transistor that I carried in the paddy fields that someone herald shoes on the US President George W Bush at a function in Iraq. Stream of thoughts jogged my memory lane then. I quickly connected these rat eaters with Mr Bush famous lines made shortly after 9/11 to “smoke out Osama Bin Laden from the face of earth.” What a pledge it turned out to be. The self acclaimed champion of ‘infinite justice,’ has snuffed out thousands of innocents’ lives from the face of the earth.

Contrary to the other outgoing US presidents who usually are given ceremonial send off, this President was shown the door by shoes thrown at him, what a befitting finale for someone who is the greatest spoiler of peace. Many peace loving people of the world in that impromptu act of shoe throwing found an expression of infinite justice. I am wondering what this most wanted criminal on earth would do, if a world crime tribunal sends him to the gallows.

Could this thick skin face the noose barefaced, with the Bible in hand and TV cameras capturing his expressions live bringing it to millions of homes. I am sure if that happens, some someone watching it, may definitely stand up to scream, what a beautiful sight it is!

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Journey to the City of Joy on Dec 6

A Journey to the City of Joy on Dec 6
Syed Ali Mujtaba

I write to you from Kolkata, the city of joy. I arrived here at 11 am Dec6, 2008. It was a scary site at the Chennai airport from where I flew to the city of joy. I did received security alert warning on my SMS and had to under go several layers security checkup every since entering the airport premises till the boarding of the aircraft. My shaving stick was confiscated and so was my pack of shaving blades.

The airport was virtually looking like a fortress. I was cursing myself what did not I remember its Dec 6, the day Babari Masjid was demolished in 1992. How can I forget that? Why did I decide to travel on this date?

Well I decided to travel one because it was Saturday second I thought since it’s more than 15 years now to that event; the security of the threat perception may have waned.

I remember on every anniversary bombs were planted in trains. It was blamed on the terrorist outfit called Al Umma that was born in Tamil Nadu following the demolition of the mosque. After a large number of arrests and more than 100 conviction made in this case, it seems Al Umma has been disbanded.

So I thought December 6 could be just any other day to travel. I never anticipated the Mumbai terror attack and the strict security arrangement that followed it. Anyway every thing went off well. I consoled my self, its better to be safe than sorry.

It was a smooth flight from Chennai to Kolkata. There was a clear sky and I enjoyed watching from the window seat my aircraft wading through the white clouds. I remember as a child whenever I use to see those clouds I always wanted to touch them or go beyond them; I felt the realization of his dream.

It took about 2 hrs to reach the destination but it took 1 hr and 45 minutes to reach my cousins house where I transited for my onward journey. The scene in Calcutta was usual electrifying. The hustle and bustle of one billion of Indian people can be fathomed having a general view of the road.

The world war vintage yellow taxis with their worn on tiers were cantering on the roads. Some mini trucks and vans laden with people could be seen in the serpentine queue of vehicles lined up at the traffic signals.

All through the way from airport to the city I saw huge cut outs of Argentina football star Diego Maradona who was to land in the Mecca of Indian football for a public reception. The way his image was on displayed all over, it was imminent the footballers reception will be a grand occasion.

This general spirit of the city remains unchanged. Here humanity remains engaged in negotiating the burden of life finding joy in it. This spirit is best on display every time I travel to the city of joy.


Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

1 Comment -

Nice to know you're back for Id and didn't get locked up on suspicion to be handed over to Mumbai cops for shopping from handcarts. These chaps sell things from CDs, DVDs, mobile phones and such goodies and have a thriving business in Kolkata like in other cities. Persons wishing to avoid the 'cooling of heels' to comply with silly procedures and waste time patronize them.

Good luck again,
Sampathkumar Ariyangar