Sometimes , an age-old , well- established ,simple truth reiterated by a politically powerful head of a state can act as a fine catalyst in maintaining its peace and harmony . What Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in praise of Islam and Sufism at the recent World Sufi Forum ( New Delhi, March 17-20, 2016) can be said to conform to this category of truths.
The Prime Minister described Islam as a great religion and defined the spirit of Sufism as the “voice of peace, co-existence, compassion and equality.” Modi also said Indian Muslims “reflect the timeless culture of peace, diversity and equality, of faith of our land” and they are “steeped in the democratic tradition of India, confident of their place in the country and invested in the future of the nation.”
Objectively speaking, there is nothing new in these statements . Many leading Indian politicians , including some of Modi’s predecessors in South Block, have voiced such opinions and sentiments . In his famous work, “Discovery of India,” our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru has written of the importance of Sufism in India. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi described Sufism as “a mixture of Islam and Vedanta” and said that these ‘mystic saints together with Hindu saints formed a fraternity.”
In his message addressed to the pilgrims taking part in the 797th Urs at the historic dargah of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti ( Ajmer) in 2009, Modi’s immediate predecessor Manmohan Singh said, “The Khwaja exhorted his disciples to develop sun-like affection and earth-like hospitality. The highest form of devotion is to redress the misery of those in distress and feed the hungry… The Urs of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz should be an occasion to reflect on his values and promote peace and harmony in the society.”
However, Prime Minister Modi’s aforesaid words in praise of Islam, Sufism and its followers in India do have a special significance today. Prime Minister Modi is a leading member of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. India’s secular and left brigades have constantly accused these entities (RSS, BJP) of using his government to pursue a Hindu revivalist agenda. Modi’s praise of Muslims and their religion may help in allaying apprehensions in a section of the public that his government has any such revivalist programme .
Having thus expressed his appreciation for Muslims , Prime Minister Modi may now pay due attention to addressing the common problems of our 170 million-member Muslim community . Like other communities , Muslims in general still face poverty, malnutrition , illiteracy and squalor in our country . The successive dispensations at the Centre as well as in our provinces have done little to alleviate these evils .
More importantly, Prime Minister Modi may invent appropriate initiatives to see to it that the spirit of Sufism touches our political class, ruling as well as Opposition , today. Here lies the key to the real advancement of our Republic and all its citizens . Enough has already been written on the kind of political degeneration that has of late bedeviled our democracy .
History bears out we had in our political parties once leaders such as Dadabhai Naoroji, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokale, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru Subhash Bose, Maulana Azad, B R Ambedkar, Ram Manohar Lohia , Jai Prakash Narain, Syama Prasad Mukherjee, Deendayal Upadhyaya and E M S Namboodiripad . They all were temperamentally Sufis --- self-less, simple persons who sacrificed their own comforts and struggled hard to serve the entire humanity and our Nation.
In contrast, our political class in general today is dominated by feudal , casteist, communal and dynastic elements. They are too materialistic to care for the welfare of the masses. Their obsession with their own material well-being can be imagined from the fact that while the masses in the country continue to groan under the deadweight of poverty and inflation and our farmers commit suicides, they (politicians ) have not had the slightest compunction in getting united together to ensure an astronomical increase in their own salaries and allowances from time to time .
Dear Mr Prime Minister, please do spread the spirit and culture of Sufism and, in fact, the finer versions of all other religions, including Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Christianity, to our political class. The essence of all religions is service to humanity. Let this religious essence touch our politicians. Our Republic needs it very much. In a democracy, people’s representatives are supposed to be trustees, not masters , of the state. They are supposed to take care of the citizens first and themselves last .