The Saffron Triumphalism
Remember A.R.Rehman, the musician, composer extra-ordinaire, winner of an Oscar and forever present on the Grammy nominees' list.
Yes, the same man who gave you a choice which the saffronites were unwilling to concede: a choice to sing "Maa tujhe salaam" with a verve which the saffronite choice would never permit of. Yes, the poor Tamilan boy, born to a poor Hindu family who converted to Islam even as he started earning newer spurs on his musical journey.
Rehman, for all his internationally acknowledged acclaim, has maintained a low profile, his musical genius, his principal asset, and his unassuming willingness to assist the deprived in his Tamil community, Hindus and Muslims alike, to which he was born. Rehman has been a good Muslim as much as he has been a good musician, his horizons now extended beyond the Tamil and Hindi filmi duniya.
These past few days he was busy defending his having composed music for an Iranian movie on Prophet Mohammad's life, an attack ironically emanating from a spokesman of the Barelvi sect of Muslims. And Rehman had indeed made a very evocative defence of his move, making the holy Quran the bedrock of his defence. Rehman for all his international fame has remained a very simple human being, dedicated to his work, his family and to his community as a whole.
He has lately been spending more time traveling, mainly in the US, doing what he does best: making music. Little would the Tamil Muslim genius have known that being A. R. Rehman had long ceased to be fun. For no sooner had he responded to the UP Muslim sect's objection than he had the saffron parivar and its most rabid proselytizing agency, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in the shape of some Mr. Surinder Jain, a Joint Secretary of the VHP, taking to the air waves urging Rehman to "return home", to his parents' faith
It was in Rehman's own interest, argued Jain whose community, we were recently told, are not Hindus but a minority and because of whom BJP-ruled Maharashtra and subsequently some other states as well last week banned consumption of meat during a Jain festival. Accept the saffron offer of ghar wapsi said he. No further questions, please. Come back home, to the Hindu fold, a bewildered Rehman was told by the VHP.
Indeed, the saffronites appeared to revel in Rehman's discomfiture vis-à-vis his Iranian venture. The BJP spokesmen, normally lurking around the sensation-hungry TV studios fell silent. The Parivar hatchet men were obviously doing a good job. Mr Modi, the face of a resurgent saffronised India, was probably himself busy mulling the advice proffered to him by mendicants from Varanasi that he first propitiate the sentry-God of the holy city, Lord Bhairav Nath before making a successful attempt to visit his parliamentary constituency – earlier attempts foiled by weather and a fatality at the chosen venue from where he was to speak. Obviously, even otherwise he is too busy to redeem the pledge of achhe din which he has predictably now extended to include Bihar as well. And just a few days ahead of his another "historic" visit to the US and to the Silicon valley, home to an embarrassingly rich Indian community. Hardly the time to upbraid his saffron comrades for the many provocations they have been routinely dishing out to all non-conformists.
The Prime Minister surely cannot be expected to intervene every now and again – not that he ever does – asking his party governments not to tell people what they should or should not eat. What they should or should not wear. Beef-eating it should, of course, be a 'tobah' ' tobah' countrywide; mutton and other meats should not be consumed during Hindu festive days such as Ganesh Mahotsav, Navratras etc etc. Muslims should avoid all forms of bovine sacrifice, Eid or no Eid. In BJP ruled Rajasthan a question mark has already been put on Eid as a holiday; the State government has declared it as the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya day – the man was the BJP's original ideologue – and orders have gone out to set up blood donation camps all over the State that day.
Jammu and Kashmir, the nation's only Muslim majority State, is also expected to fall in line on the twin issues of beef eating and offering cows as sacrifice on Eid; mercifully they are free to eat mutton (at Rs. 450 a kilo). The ban on beef in the State has become a reality for now with a former BJP lawyer, perhaps the Deputy Attorney General now, persuading the High Court to inject fresh life into an old law proclaimed by the former Dogra rulers and generally observed – by Kashmiri Muslims too.
The old can of worms has been opened and we are now up against the problem of occasional bovine sacrifice which has been practiced in the odd rural community. Can't believe in this time and age people in authority should revive such horrible ghosts from the past.
Can't resist the temptation to wind up with a quotation from the sociologist Shiv Vishvanathan's piece which appeared in a national daily the other day: "The recent debates do reveal that the BJP as a party in regime loves the ban as a weapon, be it food, books, film or body behavior. Deep down, one senses a threat whereby food bans applied thoughtlessly, threaten religion, the Constitution, democracy and in fact culture as a way of life. Official piety and righteousness of the BJP can create the violence of peudo-religosity which might be more threatening than the pseudo-secularism of the Congress."
The good sociologist does not speak of Christmas being turned into good governance day, Good Friday into a working day of all people for the Chief Justices of Indian High Courts; the Christian Supreme Court Judge who objects being told to lump it or leave it. And now in Rajasthan, Eid holiday put into jeopardy, forget the mandatory sacrificial offerings demanded as part of the celebration of this most joyous of Muslim festivals which stand virtually banished.