Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Narendra Modi's "Skull Cap" problem.

Narendra Modi concluded his “Sadhbhavna” fast yesterday. The event was well organized and was attended by various BJP allies and members from all religious communities. It seemed to be an attempt on the part of Narendra Modi to improve his public image after the recent refusal of Supreme Court to prosecute him for the 2002 riots. As it always happens with Narendra Modi, the controversies just don’t stay away from him. Every single move made by Narendra Modi is minutely observed and any chink in his armor is thoroughly exploited. One such incident, which in the case of any other mere mortal would have been summarily dismissed, was simply blown out of proportion in the case of Narendra Modi.

On the face of it, the incident seems pretty innocuous to say the least. On the last day of his fast, a Muslim cleric from Gujarat, came to meet Modi. Like many other guests before him, this cleric tried to greet Modi with some traditional stuff he had brought with him. The cleric put a shawl around Narendra Modi and then pulled out a traditional Islamic skull cap from his pocket. The cleric obviously wanted to put that cap on Modi’s head but one could clearly see Modi saying something to the cleric and he did not wear that cap. The cleric went away after the felicitation but the ever prying eyes of the TV cameras didn’t miss it. Almost every channel highlighted the incident. But a couple of channels even went a step further. They got some self-styled secularist experts in their studios and after much dissection they unanimously declared that by not wearing an Islamic skull cap, Modi has once again proved his communal leanings. The incident left me wondering as to how someone can be communal if he refuses to adopt symbols of other religions? Is it mandatory to adopt religious symbols of different faiths to prove your secular credentials? This incident raises a couple of very interesting points.

Firstly, what if Narendra Modi had tried to wrap a shawl or tried to put a cap with pictures of Hindu Gods or some Vedic inscriptions, on the Muslim cleric? Would the Muslim cleric have accepted that? Just imagine the kind of ferocious response that would have come from the anti Modi brigade. Any such attempt on the part of Modi would have been termed as violation of minority rights and an attempt to force Hindu symbols on the Muslims.

Secondly, why is that it’s only the Hindus who have to adopt symbols of other religions to prove their secular credentials? Why should Narendra Modi, a devout Hindu, be denied his fundamental right to refuse to adopt Islamic religious symbols? Just as a Muslim does not become communal if he refuses to sing “Vande Mataram”, similarly Narendra Modi does not become communal for refusing to wear the Islamic skull cap. The minorities have the fundamental right to practice their religion, which includes the rejection of symbols of other religions then for God’s sake, why can’t the majority Hindu community have the same right?

I firmly believe that Narendra Modi was well within his rights to refuse to wear the Islamic skull cap. His religious beliefs may prohibit him from wearing certain religious symbols but that doesn’t make him communal. Since Hindus have always been inherently secular for thousands of years, it is always routinely expected from them to adopt symbols of other religions. Any rare refusal, as in the case of Narendra Modi, is projected as a “Glaring Omission”. Hindus, like other communities in India, have a right to pick, choose and reject religious symbols and exercise of this fundamental right can not make them communal.   

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