Book Review: Kabze Jama by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

छोटी सी 140 पेज की किताब, ज़्यादातर उपन्यासकारों की इतनी छोटी से किताब आप ज़्यादा से ज़्यादा 5-6 घंटे में कर देंगे खत्म, लेकिन मुझे 2 दिन लगे इसे पढ़ने में। फारूकी साहब की किताब उस सिंगल् माल्ट व्हिस्की की तरह होती है जो जब आप मुँह में ले कर उसे घुमाते हैं, तो उसका ज़ायका और सुरूर धीरे धीरे आप पर खुलता जाता है..आप पढ़ते हैं और शब्द अनायास ही चित्र बन कर आपके आंखों के सामने दौड़ने लगता है!

किस्सागोई के अंदाज़ में लिखी गयी ये किताब सोलहवीं और अठारवीं सदी का सामाजिक और सांस्कृतिक चित्रण है (कुछ हद तक राजनैतिक भी). किताब का मुख्य पात्र इब्राहिम लोधी के काल का एक सिपाही है जो जब अपनी बेटी का निकाह कराने के लिए देहली से अपने गांव नंगल खुर्द के लिए निकलता है, तो रास्ते में ही लूट लिया जाता है। टूटा हुआ और परेशां जब वो देहली वापस लौटता है, तो उसका दोस्त उसे ये बताता है कि एक तवायफ अमीर जान गरीबों की मदद करती है और शायद तुम्हारी भी मदद करे..वो दोनों उसके पास पहुंचते हैं और वाकई वो उसको 350 तनखे कर्ज़ दे देती है। सिपाही अपने बेटी की शादी करवाता है और 3 साल अपनी कमाई जोड़ कर कर्ज़ की रकम मुकम्मल कर लेता है। कर्ज़ लौटने जब वो वापस अमीर जान की हवेली पहुंचता है, तो उसे पता चलता है कि अमीर जान का इंतेक़ाल हो चुका है। इस गरज़ से की जिसने उसकी मदद की उसके कब्र पे फातेहा ही पढ़ आये, वो जब उसके मज़ार पे पहुंचता है तो देखता है कि कब्र में एक दरवाज़ा है और अंदर से रौशनी आ रही है। अनायास ही वो कब्र के अंदर दाखिल हो जाता है….और अरेबियन नाईट सरीखे फिर खुलती है एक तिलिस्मी दुनिया…टाइम ट्रेवल….वो पहुंच जाता है 250 बरस आगे…सीधे मुग़ल बादशाह मुहम्मद शाह के ज़माने में! फिर पढ़ते जाइये और आखों के सामने देखिये उस समय की देहली….उसका समाज, रहन सहन, लिबास, उसके शुगल, बाज़ार और उसकी संस्कृति…!

ये किताब पढ़ के आपको साफ समझ में आ जायेगा कि क्यों फ़ारूक़ी साहब ये कभी मानने को तैयार नही हुए उन इतिहासकारों का कहना, की देहली अपनी ज़िंदगी में कभी भी पूरी तरह से उजड़ गयी थी!

बेहतरीन किताब!

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Book Review: Wisdom of the Rishis; The three Upanishads

Sri M has led an extraordinary life which has been brilliantly captured in his book ‘Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master’. Born as Mumtaz Ali Khan he experienced unique spiritual and mystical experiences since his childhood. He finally left home at the age of 19, wandering around the Himalayas, seeking salvation. He finally found his Guru from the Nath sampraday, Maheshwar Nath Babaji (whom he would see in his spiritual experiences in his childhood) who gave him the name Madhukar Nath. He initiated him into the Indian spiritual and philosophical tradition and guided him towards the awakening of his kundalini. After much travelling with his Guru in the Himalayas, the latter asked him to return to the plains, to visit the holy places of India associated with all spiritual and religious traditions and seek to understand them. The book provides the interpretation of the verses of the Isha, Kena and Mandukya Upanishads, which many consider to be amongst the most important Upanishads. The Isha Upanishad is one of the shortest Upanishad, consisting of only 18 verses and is a part of the Yajurveda. The Mandukya Upanishad is another short Upanishad with only 12 verses and is a part of the Atarvaveda., while the Kena Upanishads is a part of the Samveda. My journey into reading the Upanishads began with this book, this being the first book that I read, while trying to understand the verses of these 3 Upanishads. I must say it was a good choice as the first book, for Sri M does a brilliant job of explaining the verses in a simple and lucid manner. Later, when I read more detailed and complex interpretations by other masters, the grounding that this book provided, came in handy. The only thing I found really jarring in this book is that the slokas had only been transliterated into English and not Sanskrit/Hindi…now reading Sanskrit in roman script is surely not a very pleasurable experience. If you can ignore that, reading this book will be a lovely experience!

भारतीय दर्शन और सेकुलरिज्म

अपने Watsapp समूह में आज एकक मित्र इस बाबत मुझसे बिफर पड़े जब मैंने ये लिख दिया ‘The current definition of Indian secularism is divorced from the genius of this soil. भारतीय सेकुलरिज्म की परिभाषा भारतीय दर्शन से परे की ही नहीं जा सकती, जो बात नेहरू जी नहीं समझ सके थे’. बस क्या था  कर उन्होंने लिखा की ये हिंदूवादी सब का rhetoric है, Genius of soil क्या होता है, क्या है भारतीय दर्शन?  सब soil एक ही होता है, दर्शन वर्शन रूढ़िवादी विचार है, scientific temper  की बात कीजिये. हम कुछ बोले नहीं, बेकार था बहस करना, सो बस एक स्माइली मार के छोड़ दिए!.

तो क्या वाक़ई इस देश की मिटटी में कोई जीनियस है के नहीं और और भारतीय दर्शन के बिना भारत में सेकुलरिज्म की सही अवधारणा की भी जा सकती है? मैं जब भी इस्लाम या क्रिश्चियनिटी के बारे में पढता हूँ तो एक बात दिमाग में हमेशा counter-factual के तरह कौंध जाती है की फ़र्ज़  कीजिये अगर प्रोफेट मुहम्मद का जन्म उस समय के भारतवर्ष में हुआ होता, तो क्या उनकी ज़िन्दगी की कहानी वही होती? क्या इस्लाम का स्वरुप वही होता? क्या उनको इसलिए कौशाम्बी से मगध (मतलब एक example दे रहा हूँ) रात के अँधेरे में हिज़रत करना पड़ता क्योंकि वो एक अलग तरह की विचारधरा या मज़हब (जो नाम उसका देना चाहें, आप दें) को फैलाना चाह रहे थे? इस देश की परंपरा ने तो भाई हर धर्म गुरु छोड़िये, हर किसी को खुल कर अपनी बात कहने की इज़ाज़त दी, चाहे वो किसी को पसंद आये या नहीं, किसी भी established विचार से मेल खाये या उसके विरोध में खड़ा हो जाये. किसी ने भगवान बुद्ध को अपनी बात रखने पर हिज़रत करने पे मज़बूर नहीं किया. क्या आप सोच सकते हैं की भारतवर्ष में किसी गैलेलिओ को इस बात पे फांसी की सजा सुनाई जाती की उन्होंने ये कह दिया की धरती सूर्य की परिक्रमा करती है? उसी तरह अगर इसा मसीह भारतवर्ष में जन्मे होते तो क्या उनको इसलिए सलीब पे चढ़ा दिया जाता की वो ये बोल रहे हैं की वो ईश पुत्र हैं? अरे, यहाँ तो उनको भी कुछ नहीं किया गया, (बल्कि इज़्ज़त से ही नवाज़ा गया) जिन्होंने अपने आप को ईश  पुत्र तो क्या ‘अहम ब्रह्मास्मि’ की घोषणा कर खुद को ही ईश कह डाला. लेकिन मेरे लेफ्टिस्ट लिबरल मित्रों को फिर भी अपनी भारतीय परम्पराओं में सेकुलरिज्म नहीं दीखता, पिछड़ापन दीखता है.

अब चलिए थोड़ा और कल्पना की उड़ान लागते हैं … मान लीजिये अगर प्रोफेट मुहम्मद की पैदाइश भारत में होती और उनको divine revelation भी यहीं मिलता, और फिर वो उसके प्रचार प्रसार के लिए निकलते तो फिर क्या होता? मेरे हिसाब से तो यह देश न सिर्फ उनको स्वीकारता, वरन उस विचारधारा को भारतीय दर्शन में उच्च स्थान देता जैसा की यहाँ जन्मे अन्य धर्मों के साथ हुआ. भारतीय धर्मगुरु शायद अपने सूत्रों में प्रोफेट के विचारों की व्याख्या कुछ इस तरह कर रहे होते;  ‘निराकार अद्वैतवाद’ के दर्शन में एक और शक्तिशाली धारा का उद्भव हुआ है, जो पूर्ण अद्वैतवाद नहीं है, और इंसान के स्वर्ग की प्राप्ति को उसके कर्म से जोड़ती है, सो निराकार अद्वैतवाद और कर्म मार्ग का समायोजन है ये विचार.. .हाँ, थोड़ी पूजा पद्यति में भिन्नता है, वो साल में एक महीने उपवास करना पड़ता है, दिन में पांच बार मन्त्र जाप है, और मन्त्र जाप करते समय उठना बैठना पड़ता है, गरीबों का ध्यान रखने के लिए अपने कमाई का कुछ हिस्सा गरीबों में बांटना पड़ता है आदि आदि!  उसी तरह येसु के विचारों की व्याख्या प्रेम मार्गी धारा का एक अंश कह कर की जाती। मतलब सब इस भारतीय दर्शन का हिस्सा मान लिए जाते, भारतीय दर्शन उनको पूरी तरह अपना बनाकर अपने में समाहित कर लेती, जैसा की अन्य सभी मतों और विचारधाराओं के साथ हुआ जो इस sacred geography में जन्मीं। 

दिक्कत यही है की हमने जो सेकुलरिज्म की अवधारणा की है उसका फ्रेमवर्क भारतीय दर्शन और उसकी समग्रता के विपरीत पाश्चात्य experience पे मबनी  है. चूँकि भारतीय दर्शन के परंपरा में किसी के  ‘othering ‘ की कोई जगह नहीं है (सब कुछ उसी ब्रह्म का एक अंश है), धर्म (जो भारतीय सन्दर्भ में रिलिजन हीं है, वरन कंडक्ट है ) या दर्शन को व्यक्तिगत (private) domain  में restrict करने की कोई ज़रुरत नहीं है. सेकुलरिज्म की जड़ें इस देश में गहरी करनी हों तो उस समग्र समावेशी भारतीय दर्शन का प्रचार बढ़ाने  की ज़रुरत है, न की उसे private domain में सिमित करने की, जैसा पश्चायत्य सेकुलरिज्म करता है. वो अब करे भी तो क्या? पश्चिम  जिसमे सारे मज़हब सेमिटिक थे, और जिनका प्रिंसिपल आइडियल ही अपने मज़हब को न मानने वाले को ‘other’ की संज्ञा देना था, उसे अगर सामाजिक सद्भाव चाहिए था तो बिना रिलिजन को प्राइवेट डोमेन में बाँध देने के चारा क्या था? भारतीय दर्शन में कोई भी वर्ग ‘condemned’ नहीं है, जिसकी नियति में नरक जाना लिखा ही हो क्योंकि वो किसी एक सेमिटिक मज़हब में विश्वास नहीं रखता, ये ज़िम्मेदारी किसी भी मताबलम्बी पे थोपी नहीं गयी है की बाकि ‘condemned’ लोगों को कन्वर्ट करो और उनका उद्धार करो.  ये भारतीय दर्शन कोई बुद्धिजीवियों के ‘हाई फलसफा’ वाली बात नहीं है, बल्कि ये भारत के आम जनमानस में पूरी तरह समाहित हो चुकी है. आप किसी गांव  के सबसे अनपढ़ और गरीब व्यक्ति से भी ये पूछ कर देखें की वो जो हिन्दू देवी देवताओं को नहीं मानते, क्या  निश्चित ही नरक जायेंगे, तो १० में कम  के कम ९ व्यक्ति आपको यही जवाब देगा की ‘ये तो उसके कर्म पे निर्भर है, जैसा काम करेगा, वैसा ही फल मिलेगा’.

दूसरी समस्या जो आयी है ये वेस्टर्न सेकुलरिज्म को अपनाने से वो भाषा, lexicography की है. विदेशी कांसेप्ट की भाषा  विदेशी ही होगी. अब इस शब्द को लीजिये, जो खूब प्रचलित है अभी, ‘Toleration’; inter community संबंधों को डिफाइन करने के लिए मुझे इससे घटिया शब्द नहीं दीखता. मतलब एक दुसरे को ‘बर्दास्त’ करना। कितना नेगटिव शब्द है! कहीं आपने भारतीय दर्शन परंपरा में ये सुना या पढ़ा है की भाई क्या करें, अब बौद्ध हो गए हैं लोग तो उनको ‘बर्दास्त’ करना ही पड़ेगा, या फिर जैन हो गए हैं तो उनको बर्दास्त करना ही पड़ेगा? ये ‘बर्दास्त’ शब्द सेमिटिक मज़हब के ‘फ्रेम ऑफ़ रिफरेन्स’ से ही आ सकता है जहाँ आप उनको, जो आपके मज़हब नहीं मानते, उनको ‘धिम्मी’ बना कर उन्हें ‘बर्दास्त’ करते हैं, उनको कभी अपना नहीं मानते. ‘सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः, सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः’ के दर्शन वाले ‘बर्दास्त’ नहीं करते, सब को अपना मान कर उनको ‘accept’ करता हैं . Indian civilizational ethos had no concept of tolerance, but acceptance.

ये सेकुलरिज्म की परिभाषा और लेफ्टिस्टों की दी हुई शिक्षा पद्यति के दो बेहद अफ़सोसनाक परिणाम निकले हैं. एक तो अपनी सभ्यता और दर्शन से कटने के कारण हिन्दुओं में एक ऐसा ‘सेमिटिक’ तपका  खड़ा हो गया है जो न सिर्फ अपने दर्शन के समग्रता और उद्दात्तता से अनभिज्ञ है बल्कि  सोशल मीडिया में ‘विराट हिन्दू’ बनकर कहर मचा रहा है. यहाँ तक की वो अपने पूज्यों तक को नहीं छोड़ रहा. अभी अभी जिस तरह की बातें स्वामी विवेकानंद के बारे में कुछ लोग लिख रहे थे, उसके बारे में क्या कहा जाये?  पर आप लगा दिए हैं आर्टिकल ३०, अब हिन्दू अपने दर्शन को जानना चाहे तो जाने कहाँ से? गूगल बाबा से?

दूसरी तरफ हैं वो जो माइनॉरिटी का ठप्पा लगा के घुमते हैं. हर समय ये शिकायत की हमारी ‘आइडेंटिटी’, हमारी ‘शकाफत’ पे खतरा है. भाई अब थोड़ा unpopular संवाद कर लें….ऐसी आपकी कौन सी एक्सक्लूसिव आइडेंटिटी हैआपकी, कौन से शकाफत है, जो मेरी या अन्य हिन्दुस्तानियों की भी नहीं है? पैजामा पे कॉपीराइट चाहिए की टोपी पर? बिरयानी पे की कबाब पर? हुज़ूर, भूल जाइये, नहीं मिलेगी. आपकी नहीं बची है वो , हिंदुस्तानी हो गयी है. पैजामा कुरता पहन के जाओ अरब मुल्क़ों में और बोलो मुस्लिम ड्रेस पहना हूँ, दौड़ा के मारेगा अरब, बोलेगा तुम इंडियन ड्रेस पहने हो, मुस्लिम ड्रेस तो वो है जो मैंने पहना है. अब आप आओगे उर्दू पर…. वाह मियां, उर्दू की परीक्षा पास करने के लिए पढोगे गोपीचंद नारंग, और ठोकोगे उसपे अपना कॉपीराइट? गोपीचंद जी ने क्या इस्लाम क़बूल कर लिया था? मतलब हज़ारों भाषा इस देश में उपजीं, सब पर सब का अधिकार, आप उसमे से एक ज़बरदस्ती चुनके अपनी बना लोगे? हम लोग जो उर्दू पढ़ रहे हैं, वो ऐसे ही, पराए लोग… आपके मज़हब मानने वाले ज़्यादा तादाद में करते होंगे इस्तेमाल, लेकिन जैसे एक ज़मीन जिसपे पहले एक मकां  हो, पर बाद में उसे बिल्डर तोड़ कर मल्टी स्टोरीड बिल्डिंग बना दे, तो फिर उस पे उन सारे फ्लैट वालों का हक़ हो जाता है, वो ओरिजिनल ज़मीन वाले का खली नहीं रह जाता, वैसे ही अब आपकी सारी चीज़ हिंदुस्तान में सभी की हो गयी है।

Recipe: Chicken Korma

Weekend cooking…..Chicken korma!

Friends, here is the recipe….

Take 1 kg of chicken, wash it properly.

Take 500 grams of दही (curd) (it should basically be half the quantity of chicken you have taken) and in it add 3 table spoons of धनिया पाउडर (Coriander powder), 1 table spoon of जीरा पाउडर (Cumin powder), 1 table spoon of हल्दी पाउडर (turmeric powder), 1table spoon of लाल मिर्च पाउडर (red chilli powder) and 2 table spoons of देगी मिर्च पाउडर (Kashmiri chilli powder) and salt to taste. Mix these well and keep aside.

Take 12 pieces of cashew and put it in a bowl of warm water and then add two table spoon of coconut powder in the cashew and grind it to make a soft paste. Keep aside.

Take 500 gram onion (half the quantity of the amount of chicken you take) and fry it till it turns golden brown. Then grind and make a smooth paste of these fried onions.

Take liberal quantities of oil/ghee (use Ghee for better taste) in a pressure cooker and add खड़ा मसाला (whole spices) ie. बड़ी इलाइची (big cardamom), छोटी इलाइची (small cardamom), लौंग (cloves), गोल मिर्च (black pepper), दाल चीनी (Cinnamon) and fry till these till they start cracking. In it add the chicken and fry on medium flame for about 10-15 minutes, then add 1 and a half table spoon of ginger garlic paste, and keep stirring till the water from chicken starts drying and oil starts to separate.

Then add a cup of water lest the chicken starts sticking to the pan (or burns).

Then add the curd with the masala which we had made earlier and kept aside in the chicken and keep frying till water of the curd evaporated and oil separates.

Now add the onion paste and after sometime, the cashew paste and if need be some water so that the Chicken does not stick to the pan. (चिकन लगे नहीं नीचे)।

Continue cooking on low flame. (If the chicken is not done, you can give one whistle in the pressure cooker…)

Then add 1 spoon of garam masala, ginger julians and 1 table spoon of kevada water (केवड़ा पानी) or rose water (गुलाब जल) and cook on low flame till chicken is done and oil separates.

After that ….फिर मेरे तरह फ़ोटो खींच के लगा दीजिए! 😁 (Take a snap and put it on the blog or social media 🙂 )

PS: This dish is not for the squeamish health conscious faddists, who have a desire enter the record books of life by scoring a perfect 100, in their match of life. It is only for those who play the game of life, for fun. 😁

Book Review: The line of control, Travelling with the Indian and Pakistani armies by Happymon Jacob.

Happymon Jacob writes a very engaging book. I purchased this book yesterday evening and could not put it down until I had finished it. I needed about 6 odd hours to finish the book but not once did I feel bored or tired. In fact when I picked up this book I was in the midst of reading two other books, Kamleshwar’s ‘Kitne Pakistan‘ and Zaki Chehab’s ‘Inside Hamas’, but once I started reading this book, I had no desire to go back to these 2 books!

Here are my main takeaways from the book;

1. The book not only deals with the lives/experiences of the officers and jawans living on both sides of the LOC but also provides a glimpse of the lives lived by the civilians inhabiting these areas. The author writes with great empathy and understanding of their day to day trials and tribulations, caught as they are between the high politics of both nations.

2. One important reason why everyone needs to read this book is to understand the importance of terrain with reference to the LC. When the great nationalists come and froth on TV every night arguing as to how we should go around destroying every available bunkers of the Pakistanis (interestingly a few of them are former infantry officers), we need to understand that India does not dominate all heights in all sectors. Further the foliage and elephant grasses create operational problems when one seeks to check infiltration (of course, ably assisted by the Pakistani army). The author also brings out the reasons for many CFVs, which can mostly be characterized as driven by tactical and local factors, though sometimes they may be strategic too.

3. While the chapters and anecdotes about his visits to Pakistan make for an interesting and fun read, and can be categorised as ‘adventure’, but the curious Pakistan watcher in me was left wanting for more. You drink but you are not quenched. Many of the things that Pak army officers say in the book are well known to even cursory Pak watchers. Well if the author is not self censoring himself then reading the book only reinforces my long held view that come what may, Pak army will always continue to see itself as a force whose fundamental interest/job is to challenge India’s rise in every possible way. Of course, their tactics will vary based on situational exigencies. No where did I get any hint of any major rethink by the Pak army about their views on India. “Inshallah we will prevail” continues to remained a belief and dogma. So looks like people like us who have not visited Pakistan have not missed much. After all all you then have to do is to you need read the Hilal every month (Thankfully it is available online for free) and you know all you need to know about the thinking of Pak army.

4. Where I differ with Happymon Sir is what he writes in the last chapter. I understand he comes from a left leaning persuasion but I find his concern about the rise of so called nationalism in India, way of the mark. My humble disagreement with him is that he is conflating xenophobia and religious intolerance with the noble sentiment that is nationalism. A nationalist is one who thinks about his/her nation first. And if you indeed think about the interests of your nation first, you would surely be clinical in analysing what those interests are and how to best achieve them. Borrowing the Kautilyan lexicon, it might involve sam, daam, dand bhed! I would consider myself as a hard nosed nationalist believing in the motto of “India First”, and I can see how the jingoistic stupidity of the so called nationalist media restricts freedom of action for the executive in achieving our national priorities and interests. So I would characterise their use of nationalism for higher TRPs as ‘faux nationalism’ (rather than nationalism) and those championing this faux nationalism as ‘pretender nationalists’ (rather than nationalists)!

All in all an excellent read. It also made me nostalgic about my own trip to LC. It was like re-living those moments again, including the lovely chai and pakoras!

Book Review: No God but God, The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan

Even for a person like me who has read a little about Islam and its history, and therefore, has some idea about its origins and evolution, the book still makes an interesting read. One has to concede that Reza Aslan writes very well.

This book provides an important introduction to Islam, without delving into depths/semantics of Islamic theology. People who have some interest in Islamic history should read it. It will introduce them to the lives and times in pre Islamic Arabia, a glimpse into the life of the Prophet, the genesis and basic beliefs of the two sects of Islam, Shias and Sunnis. There is also a chapter devoted on Sufi Islam and it’s silsilas, which a Sanatani (Hindu) like me, found most interesting. Having read a little about many of these silsilas (except the Naqahbandi Silsila, which for me is qualifies as “orthodox” 😃 amongst Sufis, at times more orthodox than even the Deobandis (remember Shah Waliullahs writings)) the other Sufi traditions are pretty close to Sanatani (Hindu) sacred texts and rituals.

Reza is an Iranian American, and belongs to a family which left Iran post the Islamic revolution. The penultimate chapter of the book provides an overview about the Islamic revolution in his country of birth, Iran, and the unique style of Islamic governance that was established there by Ayatollah Khomeini, post the 1979 Islamic revolution. This Islamic (Shia) governance framework/regime found expression in the concept of “Vilayat e Faqih” and also embedded within itself concepts such as democracy and representative government. While much can be critiqued about this conception of democratic governance, it cannot however be denied, that Iran today remains the only (well Tunisia after the Arab spring, is gradually building itself towards one) democracy in the Islamic world, howsoever imperfect.

The last chapter of the book deals with the future of Islam and Reza believes that Islam is going through an internal struggle, and like the Christian world, Islam will surely see a reformation in future. One hopes that he is proved right for Islam has had a history of intellectualism, scientific temper, adaptation and absorption of ideas. Speaking at a totally personal level, the problem in my view arose with the rise of the Asharis‘ and the complete destruction of the Mutazilite school of thought. (अरे ये एक काफिर का ओपिनियन है, मुर्शिद लोग, डंडा ले के मत दौड़ा देना 🙏😉)

Book Review: Jugalbandi, The BJP before Modi by Vinay Sitapati.

Though I had finished reading this book sometime ago, writing the book review had slipped out of my mind as I got busy with other reads. Vinay Sitapati writes a brilliant book providing a glimpse into the journey of Hindu nationalism in India – its ideological underpinnings, role of personalities and the context which facilitated/impeded its rise. It also answers academic questions about Hindu nationalism.

Despite all the misinformation that its opponents continuously proffer, Hindu nationalism is not anti-democratic or fascist. Fascists abhor democracy and elections, whereas Hindu nationalism is a product of democracy and elections. Hinduism as a religion, unlike say Islam (which has a conception of Khilafat) does not have a religious/historical conception of how polity should be organized. Concepts like ‘Ram Rajya’ do not provide a framework for organizing polity, but deal with ideals/code of conduct for rulers. Hindu nationalists like Savarkar/Lala Lajpat Rai were delighted when democratic institutions were introduced by the British – this provided Hindu nationalism the opportunity to acquire power through the twin factors of Hindu numerical majority and elections. Frankly apart from winning in elections, Hindu nationalists know of no other way to acquire political power. For them India was/is already a Hindu Rashtra for in this sacred geography Hindus constitute a majority, the issue is only of mobilizing them. It is this belief in democracy that makes the Hindu nationalists contest elections with gusto, and also accept defeat in an election and surrender power without much ado (coming back to fight another day).

Not only is Hindu nationalism a product of democracy and elections but it is a modern concept, much different from traditional Hinduism. For Savarkar (who is credited to have provided the intellectual foundations of Hindu nationalism through his theory of Hindutva), traditional Hinduism was a source of weakness rather than strength. Deeply influenced by western utilitarianism and rationalism, revolutionary nationalism of Mazzini, atheism and the rising Muslim separatism and violence against Hindus (Moplah riots after the Khilafat movement), his own experiences during his incarceration in Andamans, he became obsessed with the idea of challenging Muslim seperatism and making it as powerful as the west. He derided traditional Hinduism which he found seeped in ritualism, superstitions and caste divisions. Unlike the traditional Hindu scholars like Vivekanand who concerned themselves with the question ‘What is Hinduism?’, Savarkar sought answer to the question, ‘Who is a Hindu?’ – an answer he defined in racial terms and in terms of blood ties (slightly modified by Sangh, who define Hindus as ones who share common cultural ties). It was these ‘Hindus’ who needed to be organized so that Muslim separatism could be challenged, country kept united and India made a great power. It is hilarious when critics accuse Hindu nationalism of being Brahminical as caste divisions are a complete anathema for Hindu nationalists. In their worldview it is these divisions which sap Hindu society of its virility and resulted in India losing its sovereignty to foreigners. There is a reason why despite all disinformation campaigns launched against it by vested interests, today it is the BJP which is the most preferred party for the Dalits and the OBCs; the country has an OBC as PM and a Dalit as President. This tradition of empowering the weaker sections goes back a long time. During the Janata government of 1977, the PM choice of the Jan Sangh faction of the Janata party was Babu Jagjivan Ram, a Dalit.

Now to the question as to ‘Why does the BJP win’? The answer to this question lies in what is called the ‘Hindu Fevicol’ by the author, an adhesive that binds the party and stops it from splitting. This ‘Hindu Fevicol’ is rooted not only in ideology (there are many ideological parties like the Communists, BSP etc. but they have split regularly) but in the particular understanding of history that the Hindu nationalists imbibe and which shapes their ideological worldview.  They believe that it was the division amongst Hindus that resulted in the loss of India’s sovereignty (to foreigners), and was also responsible for the division of the country. Those who visit the Shakhas would understand the constant emphasis that is placed on battles like the third battle of Panipat where Ahmad Shah Durrani despite being an outsider, gained the support of Muslims in India (Rohillas, Afghans and Shiraj-ud-Daula) while the Hindu Rajputs and the Jats did not support the Marathas, (who themselves could not put up a united front, their army having too many Generals and lacking a cohesive war strategy).  It is this understanding of history grilled into the mental makeup of the Hindu nationalists, which places a premium on keeping the outward trappings of unity intact, even though the leaders may have deep differences amongst themselves. It was a well-known fact that Vajpayee wanted Narendra Modi out after the Gujarat riots (which could have effectively ended his political career), but on his death Mr. Modi as PM walked 6 kms with his hearse during his funeral. Contrast that with how the Congress party treated Narshimha Rao after his death. The dissidents might sulk, some might quit politics (Nanaji Deshmukh) but they never divide the party (exceptions like Shankar Singh Vaghela are few and far between). When Vajpayee was sidelined by the party in the 1980s, Rajiv Gandhi was quite interested in having him cross over to the Congress. When he sent his emissaries, Vajpayee is said to have just laughed it off. When asked as to why despite being sidelined he sticks to the party, he is reported to have said, ‘Jayen toh jayen kahan?’. Now wasn’t that a silly answer, for which political party would not have welcomed him?  

The book provides a historical account of the formation of the right-wing Hindu party – first the Jan Sangh and then the BJP. Savarkar and the Hindu Mahasabha were the first expression of Hindu nationalism as an organized political party. When Dr. Hegdewar formed the RSS in 1925, though he agreed with most of the postulates of Hindutva as enunciated by Savarkar – he differed with Savarkar on politics, which he considered to be a corrupting influence. While he wanted to organize Hindus socially, he wanted them remain apolitical. The intellectual genius that Savarkar was, he understood that politics cannot be ignored if socio-political changes have to be brought about. While he constantly pleaded for RSS to become politically active, this was declined by Dr. Hegdewar and his successor Guru Golwalkar. In frustration Savarkar said, ‘What will you do with these people who keep marching?’, ‘Make achar with them?’. That Savarkar was right about not ignoring politics, was understood by RSS only after the assassination Mahatma Gandhi when RSS was banned but not the Mahasabha, even though Godse was a member of the Mahasabha, and the latter’s role in the murder of Mahatma was more direct/pronounced. RSS realized that unlike the Mahasabha, not having a political voice to support it put it at a disadvantage. The Mahasabha had a political footprint, was represented in Parliament and also in the Union Cabinet (not so long ago when SP Mukherji resigned), making banning the outfit much more difficult. This bitter experience made Guruji and the RSS reassess their stance about remaining apolitical. So, when Shyama Prasad Mukherji approached Guruji for help to launch a political party, he agreed to support him. The Bharatiya Jan Sangh was formed on 21 October 1951, with five members of the RSS seconded to it. Thus started the political Jugalbandi of the first duo in the Hindu nationalist classical concert, i.e. Shyama Prasad Mukherji and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. This was followed by the second players of this Jugalbandi, Atal ji and Advani Ji, PM Modi and Amit Shah ji being the third pair of this political Jugalbandi. The common thread that runs through all these Jugalbandis’ is the division of labour amongst the players; one responsible for managing the parliamentary arm of the party and the other managing the party organization. The first role demanded a flair for oratory while the latter the patience of management and eye for detail.

The Hindu nationalist project whose flowering we witness today is nearly a 100-year-old project, and has seen several trials, tribulations and ideological compromises. The ideological hegemony that Nehruvian consensus had over Indian society and polity for several decades, post-independence constrained the space for Hindu nationalism. Ideologues like Vajpayee, whose politics revolved more around parliamentary consensus than mass politics, accepted the fundamental underpinnings of this consensus and reworked Hindu nationalism around it. The problem was compounded by Godse’s assassination of Gandhi deeply harming the Hindu nationalistic project, setting it back by decades. They were reviled and declared political pariah. All focus of the Jana Sangh and the BJP in their initial decades were driven by attempts to mainstream them and acquire political acceptance in the polity. Their big breakthrough came with the proclamation of Emergency in 1975, when they became a part of the opposition front challenging the emergency, and becoming part of the Janata party. In the 1977 elections not only did the Jan Sangh (block) win the largest number of seats amongst all the constituents of the Janata Party, but in their quest for mainstreaming themselves not only did they discard their core ideology (unacceptable to others) but also accepted the least number of ministerial positions, vis a vis number of seats won. This trend of ideological dilution in the quest for political mainstreaming continued with the formation of BJP in April 1980, when Vajpayee defined ‘Gandhian Socialism’ as the core ideology of the party, much to the chagrin of many ideological purists. This dilution in ideology however did not yield the desired electoral success because majority politics in the 1980s had taken a distinctly rightward turn. The threat to national unity posed by the Khalistani separatist movement in Punjab, Bhindranwale’s call of killing Hindus, the fear of losing their demographic edge (always a super sensitive topic with Hindus with the scar of Partition) with rising infiltration (of Muslims) from Bangladesh in Assam, and the conversion of Dalits to Islam in Meenakshipuram, all made the Hindus deeply anxious. Ironically, it was the ‘secular’ Congress which understood this change in the political climate in the country and adjusted its politics accordingly – articulating right wing Hindu policies. It was the Congress leaders instead of the BJP, who were most vociferous in their condemnation of the Meenakshipuram conversions, they undertook a pogrom against the Sikhs (after the death of Mrs Gandhi) and played upon the Hindu anxieties during the 1984 general elections by running a rabidly communal campaign demonizing the Sikhs. Former Congress ministers Dau Dayal Khanna and Gulzari Lal Nanda sharing stage with the VHP were the first to demand that a Ram Mandir be built at Ayodhya as early as 1983. It took the BJP six more years (1989) before it endorsed the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. (Palampur resolution).

The Congress right-wing turn was such that even the RSS members had started collaborating with the Congress and voting for it. Denuded of RSS support, the BJP lost elections in Delhi and Jammu and was reduced to 2 seats in the Lok Sabha. Arguing that enough was enough, the RSS now openly called for a change in the leadership of the BJP, asking Rajmata Scindia to take over, and when she declined, Advani became the President of the party in place of Mr. Vajpayee. Seeped in organizational and grassroot politics, Advani was aware of the changing political atmosphere in the country, but he had refrained from seeking any course correction to Vajpayee as he was too much in awe and thrall of him. After becoming President, he gradually started asserting himself, bringing the party back to its ideological moorings. While the skeptical Vajpayee sulked, Advani led the rightwing turn in the party – Rath Yatra, alliance with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra – all of which helped in augmenting public support, and paid rich electoral dividends. By 1995 however, the party’s electoral successes had plateaued, and Advani realized that BJP could come to power only by entering into alliance with other political parties. His image as a mascot of hardline Hindutva inhibited other political parties entering into an alliance with the party, and there was no chance of BJP coming to power under his leadership. This understanding made him make that famous and unexpected announcement in the Mumbai plenary of the party (November 1995), where he announced Vajpayee as the Prime Ministerial face of the BJP, surprising many. The rest as they say is history. BJP with its 24 alliance partners finally formed the government and ruled for 6 years before losing power in 2004. The highlight of this 6-year rule was the steps that this govt would take to to improve relations with Pakistan as well as reaching out to the Kashmiris. In this both Vajpayee and Advani were on the same page.

Now for some personalities and their stories that the book deals with. I found the stories of Advani, Rajkumari Kaul and Nusli Wadia most interesting (and poignant). Much is known about Vajpayee and his charisma; he was a leader we produce once in a century. This book needs to be read if you want to understand Advani Ji – the tragic figure that he is, whose contribution are somehow understated. Born in a rich family in Karachi, seeped in the syncretic traditions of Sindh, his mother visited Sikh shrines and Sufi Dargahs, he studied in a Christian Missionary school, (Mr. Sitapati calls him the classical Macaulayputra). His story is the story of the tragedy that partition was – an affluent family reduced to penury and forced to flee India as a result of partition. He was a man completely in awe and thrall of Vajpayee, also deeply loyal to him at a personal level. Vajpayee and Advani shared a fabulous chemistry, had immense liking for each other despite being totally different personalities – Advani was dour, afraid of public speaking, disciplined and loved to spend time with cadres, Vajpayee loved the good things of life, was probably the best orator produced in Indian politics and loved ‘high’ politics of parliament, rather than of the organization. They collaborated and helped each other to undermine their detractors, Advani helped Vajpayee to remove challengers like Balraj Madhok, ML Sondhi and Nanaji Deshmukh while Vajpayee helped Advani to cut MM Joshi to size when he was emerging as a challenger to Advani. They also had their differences, more so during the period BJP was in power, when Vajpayee sidetracked Mr. Advani in matters of governance with his PMO under Brajesh Mishra and his family calling the shots. On organizational matters however, he continued to defer to Advani, he retracted from his insistence that Narendra Modi resign after the Gujarat riots, a view Advani and the party did not endorse.

Rajkumari Kaul, (who was in a relationship with Vajpayee), had first met each other in college, developed an attraction for each other but before their affection to concretize into something more serious, had moved on in life, she marrying the philosophy professor Mr. Kaul and he becoming one of the young star politicians of India. Destiny made them meet again in Delhi, and the relationship was rekindled, Mr. Kaul not objecting to this relationship. She was as much of an intellectual as Mr. Vajpayee and her discussions sharpened/deepened his liberal tendencies. Their relationship as well as their commitment to each other was unique. RSS did not take the relationship kindly and when Guruji asked Vajpayee to break the relationship, much to his credit he refused. The RSS learnt to live with their relationship.

Interestingly, during the earlier days of the Hindu right party, when no other industrial house would look at the party, it was Jinnah’s grandson Nusli Wadia who emerged as their main financier. Nanaji Deshmukh, who was the main fund collector of the party, was a father figure to him. When BJP came to power, many resented his direct access to the PM.

Deeply researched the book is a must read for anyone who is interested in the history of the BJP. It is surely one of the best books to come out this year.    

Book Review: The Televangelist by Ibrahim Essa

I was not very enthused when this book was recommended to me by a friend. एक तो फ़िक्शन, ऊपर से 500 पेज प्लस! But when I picked it, the book turned out to be unputdownable.

The book revolves around Sheik Hatem is a highly popular televangelist of a popular TV show based in Cairo. His popularity and his simple but persuasive style of explaining Islamic precepts and concepts, catches the eye of the all powerful President’s son who assigns him the secret mission of dissuading his brother in law from converting to Christianity. His conversion would cause a scandal in the Muslim majority country and would weaken his hold on power.

Full of unexpected twists and turns, the book provides an excellent glimpse into how Islam operates in authoritarian states like Egypt (and much of the middle east), how it is commodified and also instrumentalised by the state for their own ends. I fell in in love with the character of Sheik Hatem, who starts his life as a preacher in a local mosque and then gradually catches the eye of the establishment. He gets projected, signs contract for his TV programmes and earns his missions. The Faustian bargain is that he stay within the limits of officially sanctioned Islam. So he argues that as an officially sanctioned/approved Mawlana while he does not lie about Islam on TV, he does not delve into the whole truth/analyse the issue in all its ramifications, lest he upset the State or even bore his audience who basically love their ‘rhetorical’ Islam.

However, the dialogue that he mouths in the book are is full of acerbic wit and slapstick humour. For example; ‘President Sadat, may he rest in peace, used to say, ‘No politics in religion, and no religion in politics,”.. but my motto is ‘No politics in politics, and no religion in religion.’ At one place he teases an Egyptian Islamist that they prefer Crusader medicines (Western medicines) over Quran-approved medications. ‘So Dr. Gamal, why don’t you make us some effective medicines instead of sitting reading the Quran in your pharmacy day and night. You ought to be doing research and inventing better medicines.’

Ibrahim Essa is a popular media personality in Egypt, who has had his own run-inns with the govt. The book was converted into a movie last year (if I remember correctly) called “Maulana” and it did pretty well at the box office. The ending of the book however is pretty abrupt! Looks like the writer has a sequel in mind. Will surely wait for it.

A thoroughly enjoyable read!

Sir Syed – the man, his reforms and his legacy.

I was recently reading an article which described Sir Syed as a great social and religious reformer. He surely was a great religious reformer, but was he also a social reformer? I have my doubts for other than from his advocacy of widow remarriage, his voice on all the other social ills plaguing the then Muslim society is pretty muted. On religious matters of course his views are nothing short of revolutionary. He surely qualifies as the ‘reformation’ man for Islam. A thorough rationalist, his entire religious theology was premised on the basic postulate that there couldn’t be any contradiction between the Word of God (Quran) and the Work of God (Nature).  He argued that in case there was any contradiction between a scientific fact and a religious ruling/precept, the latter must be reinterpreted in accordance with the former. He challenged the Hadith as a rational basis of Islamic jurisprudence, criticized the practice of Taqlid (to follow), stressed on Tafsir (rational interpretation) and supported free exercise of ijtihad (independent reasoning). For him, no Jinns, Satan or Hoors existed, neither did heaven or hell. He argued that the miracles mentioned in the Quran were not to be understood literally but as idioms. For example, he argued that Isra and Miraj (Prophet’s accession to heaven and vision of God on the night of beatitude) were not a physical or spiritual experience but only a dream. The traditional Ulemas of course were not impressed and dismissed him and his theology as Nechari. He also earned a lot of fatwas in the bargain.

So how do we assess this great man? What was the impact of Sir Syed on the social and political lives of the Muslims of the subcontinent? I would argue that his philosophy of political quietude asking Muslims to stay away from the national movement and depend on the British for promoting Muslim (elite) interest rather than on the larger Muslim society (which included the Pasmanda Muslims) not only created fertile soil for the rise of religious separatism but also laid the foundation of a Muslim society which abhors reforms (till date). His belief that the foundations of an enlightened society could be laid only through modern education and religious reform ignored the reality that religion and education do not constitute the ‘whole’ of society and no society can progress without addressing issues like political participation, removal of social ills, inequality and discrimination. Further, the practical problem that any scholar who seeks to reform societies by reinterpreting religious texts faces is that others who do not agree with him, are bound to challenge him with their own interpretations. More often than not they sound convincing (too), for it is the nature of religious texts that more often than not, they contain mutually contradictory verses.  Religious reform movements that base themselves purely on reinterpretation of religious beliefs and practices while ignoring mass participation/support have limited shelf life with limited overall impact/following (for example the Brahmo Samaj).

While followers of Sir Syed may challenge my assertion, I believe that the fundamental audience of his religious reforms were not Muslim masses (may be the Ashrafs were) but the British colonialists. His writings like the Tehkik-e-Lafz-e-Nasara, The Mohamedan Commentary on the Holy Bible, Asbab Baghawat-e-Hind and Risalah Khair Khawahan Musalman were all directed at the British. The first two books were written with a view to promote the idea of similarity between the Semitic religions of Islam and Christianity, whereas the latter two books sought to project the loyalty of the Muslims to the British. The Khutbat-i-Ahmaddiya, which he wrote in response to William Muir’s (bakwas – interpretation mine) book on the life of the Prophet, as well as his reinterpretation of the Quran was done keeping the British audience in mind. Islam was sought to be projected as a religion that was compatible with modern sciences and thus did not qualify as a backward religion.

The primary focus of Sir Syed was not to address the concerns of Muslim society as a whole but only those of the Muslim elites. His focus thus remained on providing modern education to the Muslim upper castes, their representation in the Viceroy’s executive council and jobs in the government. While he was a votary of excellent inter-community relations with the Hindus at the social level (he was delighted that Muslims were not slaughtering cows during Bakr-Id), when it came to politics he was paranoid about any cooperation with the Hindus, lest Muslim interests (which he considered to be antagonistic to the Hindus) be compromised. He also feared that any political cooperation with the Hindus would jeopardize his argument of unflinching Muslim loyalty to the British.  This made him advocate with some ferocity that Muslims follow a policy of political indifference and not join the Congress – even though the Congress was hardly demanding anything radical those days.  

This political apathy proved detrimental to both India and Muslims in the long run. Political apathy as a policy became untenable when the British introduced limited representative institutions in India. The legitimacy that scholars like Sir Syed provided to the concept of Muslim and Hindu interests being antithetical to each other (Govt. jobs, members of viceroy’s council etc.) not only foreclosed any chance/experience of a common Hindu Muslim struggle, but also led to the rise of Muslim separatism. By constantly evoking unflinching loyalty to the British, he not only provided legitimacy to their rule (if only in the eyes of the Muslims) but also provided the British with the theoretical/ideological rationale for their policy of divide and rule. They could now argue that since a section of India (Muslims) considered them to be legitimate/just rulers of India, it was their responsibility to ensure that the interest of that community was protected.    

This policy of not joining the mainstream and political quietude also had an adverse impact on the Muslim society.  The Indian National Movement was as much a movement for political reforms as it was for social reforms. All communities and social groups who participated in the national movement also worked to eradicate the social ills plaguing their community (like abolition of untouchability amongst Hindus, the reforms in SGPC and formation of Singh Sabha for Sikhs). The national movement which sought to challenge the might of the British empire could not do without mass participation. To enthuse the masses, their pressing concerns like exploitation and social discrimination needed to be addressed and made a part of the nationalist discourse. The policy of political quietude ensured that Muslim politics, dependent on the British and the elites could do without addressing the concerns of the Muslim masses. Since then, (till date) Muslim politics has remained hostage to elite politics and revolves not around substantive but emotive issues.

This political indifference also changed the character of the Indian National Movement to fundamentally Hindu, when seen in the context of social reforms. Unsure about Muslim commitment to composite nationalism, Muslims were left to tackle their social reforms themselves – a hands offish approach that continued even after independence, much to the detriment of Muslim society.

In conclusion it can be said that while his religious ideas were revolutionary, his neglect of social reforms (some might argue very deliberate) and dependence on the British and the Muslim elites, who were more interested in preserving their privileges, rather than securing socio-economic rights for ordinary Muslims led to the condition of the Muslim society remaining hostage to its elites. His ferocious opposition to securing political rights for India within a composite national movement laid the foundation of Muslim separatism, represented by the Aligarh movement.

PS: One important influence over Sir Syed was Adam Smith’s theory of demand and supply, whose works he discovered during his trip to London. In his writings at many places, we find reference to this theory. For example, when he pleads for the adoption of modern education, he argues that during the Mughal period there was demand for traditional religious education but with the advent of the British, who was going to demand such an education? I was intrigued that the genius that Sir Syed was, did he not understand what facilitated the ‘demand’ for religion? Isn’t it the solace that religion with its belief in the supernatural provides, more so when the times are tough? If religion was all about science will it be a source of such a solace, will it be demanded by the masses then?

(The views expressed as personal)

Khadim Hussain Rizvi and the rise of Barelvi extremism in Pakistan

The massive crowd that gathered at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore at the funeral of the firebrand, radical Ameer of the political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Khadim Hussain Rizvi shocked many observers of Pakistan who considered his sect, the Barelvis, quietist and peaceful. Seen as adhering to Sufi Islam and revering saints and the Prophet, many believed they represented the moderate face of Islam providing an antidote to radical Islam.

The Barelvi movement was founded by Ahmed Raza Khan of Bareilly in the late 19th century as a reaction against the reformist Deoband, Ahl-e-Hadith and Ahmadi sects of Islam. Unlike the latter who emphasize upon the ‘humanness’ of the Prophet, the Barelvis consider the Prophet as God’s light (Noor), ever present (hazir-o-nazir), and having knowledge of the unseen (ilm-e-ghaib). They are the lover of the Prophet (Ashiq-e-Rasool) and for them the protection of his sanctity and veneration for him are non-negotiable. The Barelvis have a long history of supporting murder and violence when they believe that the Prophet has been insulted. In British India (1929), they eulogized Ilm-ud-Din as a holy warrior (ghazi) when he murdered the Hindu publisher of the book ‘Rangeela Rasool’ which was considered libelous towards the Prophet. They were most vocal in their condemnation when caricatures of the Prophet were published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2006. In 2008 they hailed Amir Cheema, the Pakistani immigrant to Germany, as a hero when he attempted to assassinate the German publisher of these caricatures. The Barelvi ulemas condemned Governor Salman Taseer when he argued for amending the blasphemy law in Pakistan. When Taseer was murdered by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri, not only did they defend Qadri but also pleaded for his release. Fatwas were issued against offering funeral prayers for Taseer based on which the Imam of Badshahi mosque refused to lead the ritual prayers for Taseer. The violent sit-in in Faizabad led by TLP this month, demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan was in protest against the re-publication of cartoons of the Prophet in France.

The TLP led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi has its genesis in ‘Tahreek-e-Rihai-Mumtaz Qadri’, a movement launched to secure the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the earlier mentioned murderer of Governor Salman Taseer. Building his politics around the twin emotive issues of the finality of the Prophet-hood of Mohammad (khatam-e-nabobat) and strengthening of blasphemy law (tauheen-e-risalat), this charismatic leader established instant connect with his followers through his demagoguery, easy accessibility and smart use of social media platforms. After Mumtaz Qadri was hanged in 2016, the movement was renamed ‘Tahreek-e-Labbaik-ya-Rasulallah’ (TLYRA) which finally converted itself into a political party, TLP. It contested the 2018 elections and surprised many by bagging 2.2 million votes, emerging as Pakistan’s fifth largest political party and the third largest in Punjab. It also won two seats in the Sindh provincial assembly. This political performance was creditable considering that the Barelvi religious political parties like Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) had remained fringe players in the space occupied by religious political parties which was dominated by Deobandi parties like Jamat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). The partisanship that the ‘deep’ state of Pakistan showed towards the radical Deobandi groups at the cost of the Barelvis, further aggravated their marginalization. This emboldened the Deobandi extremist groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba (SS) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), who considered the Barelvis to be heretics to attack Barelvi shrines (Abdullah Shah Ghazi, Data Durbar, Sakhi Sarwar, Shahbaz Lal Qalandar) and murder their religious and political leaders. The LeJ practically wiped out the entire leadership of the Barelvi Sunni Tehreek in 2006 in the Nistar Park attack in Karachi, where nearly 50 Barelvi leaders were killed. Saleem Qadri, the Chief of Sunni Tehreek (ST) was killed in 2001 and Allama Sarfaraz Naeemi in 2009.

After he burst onto the political scene in 2011, Rizvi organized several violent rallies, sit-ins and blockades against the perceived dilution of the twin laws of blasphemy and finality of Prophet-hood. Most of his rallies and sit-ins ended with the government conceding to his demands, which showed their weakness and further emboldened him. When the Election Bill, 2017, proposed changing the wording of the oath from ‘I swear’ to ‘I declare’, Rizvi and his followers held a sit-in at Faizabad arguing that this diluted the finality of Prophet-hood of Muhammad. The then PML (N) government sought the help of the army to disperse the protestors, but they declined showing their tacit support for the sit-in. The beleaguered government capitulated, accepting all demands of Rizvi. Not only was the proposed amendment reversed, the Law Minister, Zahid Hamid who had piloted the amendment resigned and all cases against the protestors were dropped.  The ‘deep’ state’s support to the sit-in was further confirmed when Director General (DG), Rangers Punjab, Major General Azhar Navid Hayat was seen handing over cash filled envelopes to protestors. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, taking suo-moto cognizance of the Faizabad sit-in, castigated the armed forces and its agencies for acting in a partisan manner during the protest. A couple of days before his death, Rizvi had again been leading a protest movement against the re-publication of the cartoons of the Prophet in France. Reports state that the government, in an agreement with the TLP had conceded to all their demands.

The question which many ask now is about the future of TLP and the issues championed by Rizvi. Ironically, while Rizvi riled against the dynastic character of the mainstream political parties in Pakistan, much like them his elder son Saad Rizvi has been named the new ‘Amir’ (Chief) of the party. How far he can keep the party united remains to be seen. The TLP witnessed factionalism in 2017 when Asif Ashraf Jalali broke ranks with Rizvi after Rizvi unilaterally called off the Faizabad sit-in. As for the issues championed by TLP i.e blasphemy laws and finality of Muhammad’s Prophet-hood, both these issues enjoy widespread support in Pakistan. Minorities and Ahmedis are regular targets of these laws. The crisis of governance, declining credibility of mainstream political parties, a failing economy, rising urbanization, unemployed and underemployed young population and above all support of the ‘deep’ state to radical groups will ensure that parties like TLP will sooner than later convert their street power into substantial electoral victories. This does not portent well either for Pakistan or for the region.  

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