New Delhi | Saturday, 12 July 2008
"I respect all religions"
Shri Advaniji at a Muslim women’s conference organised by the BJP’s Minority Morcha
Shri Shahnawaz Hussein, president of the BJP’s Minority Morcha; Smt. Najma Heptullah, Shri Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Smt. Seema Rizvi, other leaders on the dais, and my esteemed sisters and brothers in the audience,
I am very happy to be with you today. When Shri Shahnawaz Hussein came to me some weeks back to tell me about the Minority Morcha’s plans to hold a women’s conference and requested that I inaugurate it, frankly I had some doubts about how many women would turn up for such a programme. My doubts were on account of the ceaseless and motivated propaganda by our adversaries that the BJP is anti-minorities and, particularly, anti-Muslim.
My doubts are completely dispelled today. I am not only impressed by the numbers, but I am even more impressed by the enthusiasm that marks the atmosphere in this hall.
I would, therefore, first of all like to congratulate Shahnawaz and his colleagues, especially women karyakartas, in the Minority Morcha for this successful effort. I would particularly like to commend Najmaji, who is the prabhari of the Minority Morcha.
The Minority Morcha has done praiseworthy work in recent times. Its successful meeting in Hyderabad in April, and the forthright and principled resolution it passed stating the BJP’s position on the issue of religious minorities, drew the attention of one and all.
Muslims and non-Muslims are equal in the eyes of the BJP
Let me reiterate my party’s position once again. In the eyes of the BJP, all citizens of India , irrespective of whether they belong to the “majority” or “minority” communities, are equal. In the eyes of the BJP, all religions of the world deserve equal respect.
I totally disbelieve in any kind of discrimination on the basis of religion.
We accept – and are indeed proud of – the religious diversity of India. Our acceptance, our respect for, and our pride in India’s religious diversity stems from our basic belief that religions are different paths to attain the same goal: to seek the grace of God Almighty, who has created mankind in different religious, national and racial moulds. This belief is rooted in India’s age-old realization: Ekam Sat Viprah Bahudha Vadanti (Truth is One, the Wise interpret it differently).
In other words, religions are different interpretations of the same, single, indivisible Truth. Whether we call that Truth Ishwar, Allah or Lord is immaterial.
Respect for all faiths – which in modern times is known by the term ‘secularism’ -- is the signature tune of India’s spiritual heritage. It is the bedrock of our civilization. Not surprisingly, this fidelity to genuine secularism has defined the spirit of the Indian Constitution, long before the word “secularism” was formally introduced in it during the Emergency.
Since most of the people gathered here are Muslims, let me be more specific. I respect Islam, which is one of the great religions of the world. I greatly value the contribution of Indian Muslims to the evolution of India’s culture, to India’s fight for freedom from colonial rule, and, in the post-1947 era, to the building of a strong and prosperous India.
Just because a section of the Muslim leadership mistakenly, and for its own vested interests, pursued the flawed policy of “Two Nation” theory, and brought about the tragic division of India, there is no justification to view Indian Muslims today through the prism of what happened 60 years ago.
It is equally important to remember that there were staunch nationalist Muslims even during the long freedom struggle. If we go back to the 1857 War of Independence, we have the hallowed names of Begum Hazarat Mahal, Bahadur Shah Zafar and many others. Later we had revolutionary martyrs like Ashfaqullah Khan.
Maulana Azad’s inspiring words
And in the mainstream nationalist movement, we had Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who in 1940 – when the Muslim League had already started talking about carving out a separate Muslim nation – spoke these inspiring words:
“I am a Mussalman and am proud of the fact. Islam’s splendid tradition of 1,300 years is my inheritance. The spirit of Islam guides and helps me forward. I am proud of being an Indian. I am proud of the indivisible unity that is the Indian nationality. I am indispensable to this noble edifice and without me the splendid structure of India is incomplete. I am an essential element which has gone to build India, and I can never surrender this claim.”
Let me add here that we are proud to have Maulana Azad’s granddaughter, Smt. Najma Heptullah, as one of our valued colleagues in the BJP.
Politics of “minorityism” must be defeated
Let me emphasise one more point. The concept of “majority” and “minority” should not be stretched too far. It may connote the numerical attribute of this or that religious community, but when the State is enjoined by the Constitution not to discriminate on the basis of religion, there is no need to bring in the “majority” and “minority” identity of citizens in every sphere of public life.
Some political parties in India, purely for votebank considerations, want Muslims to remain forever in the “minority mindset”. Their politics of “minorityism” is neither helping the nation’s development nor the development of minorities themselves.
It is for this reason that I say that the BJP is “anti-minorityism”, but not anti-minorities.
I appeal to my Muslim brothers and sisters not to fall prey to this politics of “minorityism”. Do not remain pawns in the selfish politics of the Congress and other pseudo-secular parties. Support the BJP and the NDA, and together we shall open a new chapter in the politics of genuine secularism and genuine empowerment of all the underprivileged people belonging to both majority and minority communities.
This is not a new thing I am saying now. Let me tell you that during the Ram Rath Yatra that I had undertaken in 1990 in order to mobilise mass support for the Ayodhya movement, one of the slogans that people sometimes raised was: “Jo Hindu hit ki baat karega, wohi desh par raj karega.” (Only those should rule India who work for the benefit of Hindus.) I would rebuff such people by telling them that the BJP represents every citizen of India, irrespective of whether he or she is a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Parsi or belonging to any other faith. I stated emphatically that whereas other parties that called themselves secular were ignoring the aspirations of 82% of the population, the BJP would promote policies that would meet the aspirations of 100% of India’s population. “Therefore, if a slogan has to be raised, let it be: “Jo rashtra hit ki baat karega, wohi desh par raj karega.” (Only those should rule India who work for the benefit of the nation.)
Our adversaries will say that Muslims will never vote for the BJP. But we are proving them wrong. In Bihar, when we fielded Shahnawaz Hussein as our candidate in the by-election to the Lok Sabha from Bhagalpur constituency, many people discouraged us. They said: “He will not get the Muslim vote because he is from the BJP, and he will not get the Hindu vote because he is a Muslim.”
But we proved them wrong. Shahnawaz Hussein won because he got the votes of both Hindus and Muslims. I would like this situation to get created in more and more constituencies in the next Lok Sabha elections.
Let me make it clear that the BJP is not merely interested in the votes of our Muslim brothers and sisters. We are even more interested in their welfare, in their all-round development, and in their security.
Irrespective of what percentage of Muslims vote for the BJP and the NDA, our government, if voted into office by the people of India, will work for the welfare, development and security of Muslims with the same commitment as we shall show in respect of non-Muslims. This is my solemn assurance.
Welfare, development and security for Muslim women
Friends, when we talk of welfare, development and security, it becomes our moral duty to care for those who are most deprived of these. And this is why we have to care more for women, because women in all communities are generally lagging behind men.
In the case of Muslim women, their deprivation in education, healthcare, employment, and other parameters of development are even more pronounced.
Many studies have shown that Muslim women are among the poorest, educationally most disenfranchised, economically most vulnerable, politically most under-represented group in the country.
Who is responsible for this? There may be many factors, but as far as the responsibility of the government is concerned, shouldn’t the Congress accept the most blame because it has ruled for the longest period, both at the Centre and in many states, after Independence?
Hence my question is: A party that has done so little for poor Muslims, and a party that has done even less for Muslim women, what right does it have to seek Muslim support?
Price rise: Muslim and non-Muslim women equally hit
If we look at the record of the Congress-led UPA government, its betrayal – not only of Muslims but of ordinary people of all communities – is so stark that it has no right to continue in office any longer. I am not talking about its betrayal of India’s national interests in the Indo-US nuclear deal, because I have already said much about it recently.
As far as the common people are concerned, its betrayal and failure is most pronounced in endangering their economic security. The unprecedented price rise in all essential commodities and services has not only further impoverished the poor, but also rendered the middle classes poorer.
And when price rise drills holes in family budgets, it does not discriminate between Hindu families and Muslim families.
Hence, my next question is: a government that has snatched away the livelihood of ordinary Muslim and non-Muslim families, what right does it have to continue in office?
But let us not bother too much about the Congress. Its rule – or rather, misrule – will soon become history. There will be no Congress-led government after the next parliamentary elections, whenever they are held. No astrologer is required to predict this.
Therefore, the time has come for us to look ahead, beyond this discredited, corrupt and opportunist government.
Muslim community’s own responsibility
My party shall in due course unveil its agenda for Good Governance, Development and Security, which will fully reflect our commitment to treating all religious communities equally. I would like the Minority Morcha and its women karyakartas to give your valuable suggestions in this regard.
But I have an appeal to the Muslim community: “Not everything in welfare and development can be achieved by government policies and programmes alone. The community’s own efforts, initiatives and reforms are equally important and necessary. Therefore, focus more on education, especially on women’s education. Focus more on providing opportunities for women to be employed. Focus more on women’s healthcare. Let no one ask the question: Ladki padhkar kya karegi? Ladki jyada padhegi to uski shaadi ke liye dikkat hogi, kyonki hamare ladke bhi jyaada padhaayi nahin karte. Let both boys and girls go higher and higher in education so that they can avail the opportunities created in the 21st century.”
I should also add here that greater focus is needed on gender equality and gender justice – not only in the Muslim community but also in all communities. When we supported Shahbano’s plea in the late 1980s, it was principally on account of our belief in gender justice.
Friends, life has taught me many things. And one thing I have seen and experienced in my own family – in the way my wife and daughter care for me -- is the intrinsic greatness of womanhood. A woman is not inferior to man in any respect. If anything, she is superior. Her physical strength may be relatively less, but she far outscores men in patience, courage, care for others and other higher human values.
Women have proved themselves in every sphere – on the home front as well as in public life. If the unnatural and unjustifiable hurdles that they face are removed, they can contribute even more to society. Which is why the BJP has been the party to espouse the demand of 33% reservation for women in Parliament and state legislatures. Recently, we have already enshrined this principle in the party’s organisational structure at all levels.
Let me close my remarks by invoking a couplet from the great Urdu poet Mazaz, who wrote in 1937 about the need for women to become fully active in the social sphere:
Tere maathe pe ye aanchal bahot khoob hain lekin
Tu is aanchal se ek parcham banaa leti to acchha tha
I am happy that so many Muslim women in this hall have raised the banner (parcham) of women’s equality and empowerment by standing shoulder to shoulder with their male colleagues in the BJP’s Minority Morcha. My best wishes to you.