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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Modi-phobic Imam's social sleight of hand

By Swapan Dasgupta

At one level my sympathies are entirely with the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid for drawing up a personal guest list for the anointment of his son as the Naib Imam. Since there is nothing official about the function and, for all practical purposes, the Jama Masjid is run like a hereditary fiefdom, the Shahi Imam can invite whosoever he wants for his son’s coming-into-the-family-profession party. As far as my information goes, I don’t think his circle of friends and political ‘contacts’ extends to Narendra Modi who also happens to be the Prime Minister.

To the extent that the mandal head of a BJP unit in some corner of India will not be censured for failing to invite the National President Amit Shah for his son’s 18th birthday feast, I think it was unfair of Arnab Goswami to fire his Bofors howitzer shells on a guy who imagines himself as the equivalent of a Pope of all India’s Muslims. Incidentally, there is a self-appointed Jagatguru Shankaracharya who imagines himself a pre-Reformation Hindu Pope. Hypothetically speaking, had the Prime Minister received such an invitation he would have politely sent his regrets.

I don’t think anyone can contest the Shahi Imam’s Constitutional right to invite anyone from Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the ISIS “Caliph” Abu-bakr Al-Baghdadi to his son’s coming-out party. The guest list reflects his preferences.

However, it is an entirely different matter when the Shahi Imam decides to convert his personal choice into an instrument of political grandstanding. We are told that Modi wasn’t invited because he hasn’t done anything for the Muslim community.

I guess the charge is right because in the past five months the PM hasn’t done anything for Muslims specifically. His targeting has been wider: he has reached out to all Indians, a community that presumably includes a significant body of Muslims. The “make in India” initiative covers all manufacturing units, including those owned and operated by Muslims; the jan dhan yojana is aimed at introducing modern banking to all of India’s poor, an economic category that we have been repeatedly reminded includes a large percentage of Muslims; and the Swachh Bharat campaign does not, to the best of my knowledge, exclude areas (including Jama Masjid) where Muslims predominate.

Yes, the PM did not host an Iftar party in Race Course Road. But he didn’t host a Diwali party either.

The Shahi Imam doth protest too much. He may not be enamoured of the PM—and he is under no obligation to be. He may even advise his congregation to not vote BJP. That too is just about permissible in our democracy. However, he is totally in the wrong by insisting that governance should be compartmentalised into communal compartments. In the past, successive Congress succumbed to the sectarian pressures of those who acted as gatekeepers of the Muslim vote. Modi has the wrath of the likes of the Shahi Imam by shutting his doors to all types of power brokers. If the emerging growth of the Indian economy has left a professional sector untouched, it is Delhi’s power brokers, including those who flaunt “Press” stickers in their SUVs. Their hatred for the PM is unconcealed and they are plotting their revenge, waiting for him to trip up.

Actually, the Shahi Imam isn’t the only one who doesn’t want the shadow of Modi in his party. Earlier in October, a body that hosts Delhi’s oldest Dussera at the Ramlila Maidan overturned convention by not inviting Modi to the effigy burning ceremony. Instead, it invited Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh to fire the ceremonial arrows. For that Congress-friendly body, time stood still since the morning of May 16.

Living in denial, it would seem, is rapidly becoming a unique Congress trait. On October 31, there was a great deal of fuss made among others by Congress’ Anand Sharma and Digvijay Singh over Modi’s non-attendance in a ceremony to pay respect to Indira Gandhi who was assassinated that day 30 years ago. While the President of India and the Vice President were present, the Economic Times heading was that “Modi shuns Indira event…” The inescapable conclusion: the PM lacks grace.

Maybe we should teach social niceties to all ministers but there seems to be a catch. Was the PM invited to the function in Akbar Road organised by the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust chaired by Sonia Gandhi? President Pranab Mukherjee didn’t drop in unannounced; he must have been invited. Was such an invite sent to Modi, even as a gesture of courtesy since he is, after all, the PM? I tweeted this question last Friday evening, and sought a clarification from anyone who could provide it. There was no reply and the silence suggested that my hunch was right: the Gandhis don’t like a Modi in their midst on a day they consider a private occasion.

As with the Shahi Imam, I respect the right of a dynasty to mourn (or celebrate) in the company of the like-minded. But, in that case, why make a song and dance over either a non-invitation to Modi or his reluctance to gate crash? You can’t have it both ways.

Confronted by a series of political disasters, the enemies (to be distinguished from political opponents) of Modi are seething with rage. They don’t have too many weapons in their armoury (as yet) and the ace in their pack is a social sleight of hand. In the coming days, other forgotten people will be boasting: “we didn’t invite Modi to our party.” For the moment, it is the theme linking a Madam and an Imam. 

Sunday Pioneer, November 2, 2014

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