It is very rare to find close friends, relatives and longtime admirers question an author at whose book launch they have been specially invited, purely because book launches in our part of the world are considered to be sacred and questioning, akin to public shaming. This was certainly so at the book launch of Saeed Naqvi’s book titled “Being The Other: The Muslim in India”, when the author was heavily grilled by his friends and relatives, apart from his adversaries. And the list of those were ‘deeply disappointed’ by the author’s provocative positions taken in the book as well as the ‘pessimistic views’ on India’s future and the Muslims’ place in it include people who are no less ordinary. To name a few, these included veteran photographer, Raghu Rai, the author’s daughter and senior journalist, Saba Naqvi, former diplomat turned politician, Pavan K Verma and veteran journalist and author, Mark Tully. Verma and Tully were in conversation with the author at the launch.
They were disappointed because Naqvi, through this book, makes us uncomfortable as he challenges our commonly held views and understanding about important issues like partition, secularism, communalism, riots, the making of the Kashmir problem, the Babri Masjid demolition, the rise of Hindutva, role of the congress party and its towering leaders including Jawahar Lal Nehru.
Being The Other: The Muslim in India
Saeed Naqvi, Aleph Book Company (2016)
Pages: xv+239, Rs: 599
Take this for example. “The principal excuse given for partition is the two nation theory credited to Muslim League supremo Mohammad Ali Jinnah. However, what is not widely known is that…(it) was first articulated by colonial theorist James Mill…In fact, as senior Congress leader K M Munshi points out, ‘it was (Jinnah) who warned Gandhiji not to encourage the fanaticism of Muslim religious leaders,’ explains Naqvi. According to him more than anyone else, Nehru and (Sardar) Patel were responsible for the partition of the country. And to substantiate his claim, the author cites various communications and meetings between Mountbatten, Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Azad. Here it is imperative to note that Nehru was the hero of the author and his clan. In his own words, Nehru was “the undisputed leader of Muslims in India”.
According to the author, after partition, the Babri Masjid demolition was the biggest shock for Muslims in India. This was not just because a Mosque was demolished, but because it was a political statement declaring victory of Hindutva forces and the failure of secular polity. Naqvi rightly notes that, “The Babri Masjid demolition served as a shocking eye-opener for Indian Muslims. It destroyed whatever confidence the community had in the Indian political class and…Congress.” Moreover, after the demolition and subsequent riots, covert and overt dislike of Muslims in this country has become a lot more open and frequent. Discussing the rise of Hindutva, he notes that “the growth of the RSS in the north India was not without Congress support.”
Adding more insult to injury, Naqvi feels, the supposed war on terror brought another round of othering of Muslims in India. As he believes, “the global war on terror has become the newest platform on which to build Hindu nationalism.” In the post “9/11 war on terror, every fake encounter or atrocity committed by militant groups has been laid at the doorstep of the country’s Muslim community… It is not by accident that thousands of angry Indian Muslim men are routinely picked up on charges of being suspected jihadis,” he further notes. It is another story that most of them get acquitted from different courts as there has hardly been any case against them.
The book might come across as anti-Congress and Nehru-bashing, based on one’s selective reading of it. But here’s the spoiler-the book is hardly so and the devil lies in the details. It requires a cover to cover reading as it is equally critical of the BJP and other political parties. It ably demonstrates, using real life examples, how Muslims have been othered over the years and how the process is still continuing. It clearly showcases the institutionalised bias, impunity, indifference practiced by the system as well as the society at large.
In short, if I would have to introduce the book in one sentence, I would say that it is a firsthand account of a veteran journalist, who happens to be a Muslim and who tries to bring out his views of how Muslims were betrayed in India, and how he feels like an expatriate in his own country. And this is what makes the initial title (Exiled at Home: How India’s Muslims Were Betrayed) more appropriate, as it clearly captures the essence of the book rather accurately.
An edited version of this review first appeared in the Open Magazine.