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Religion is too serious to be left to politicians

The Nupur Sharma trial will be closely watched all over the world. Asaduddin Owaisi says that she’s destined for higher things, that anyone who insults Muslims is rewarded by the powers that be.

SUNIL SHARAN | New Delhi |

The most endangered person in India today is neither the president of India nor the prime minister. It is Nupur Sharma. Sharma was always a firebrand personality. She became explosive on TV, spoke insultingly and used a wrong word. For that, her head is on the chopping block. Asaduddin Owaisi wants her in jail. Perhaps she’ll be safest there. But she has to be given due process. Only the courts will decide what fate awaits her. I was in Mumbai a few years ago. In a central plaza was a big poster of the Owaisi brothers. Akbaruddin Owaisi has insulted Hindu Gods much more harshly than has Nupur Sharma the Prophet of Islam. She has even apologized; no such apology seems forthcoming from Akbar.

They say that Prime Minister Modi has curtailed press freedom in India. Yet woke channels thrive in India today. Every night they bash Modi. Woke anchors trot out the older Owaisi whenever there is a Hindu-Muslim controversy. There he holds forth, with the woke anchors listening to his every word. They never seem to interrupt him. Woke channels also invite Naseeruddin Shah. He bristles with anger and trembles with fury. With age must come sagacity. He says that in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, blasphemy is rewarded with death. Well, it isn’t so in India. If Shah likes the Islamic system of justice so much, why doesn’t he move to Pakistan or Afghanistan? He once acted in a movie called Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai. Now one might as well ask, Naseeruddin Shah Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai. He claims to be a liberal, who has married a Hindu woman.

Well, that is precisely the problem. Many Hindus don’t want Hindu women to marry Muslim men unless and until Muslim men allow Muslim women to marry outside their faith, which they don’t and probably never will. Hindutva blossomed because LK Advani went after the Babri Masjid. A shrewd but religious prime minister, Narasimha Rao, was fooled by the “utter perfidy” of the bhakts. India has never been the same again. If Rajiv Gandhi had been alive, he might have stemmed the tide of Hindutva. But he is not, and no one has been able to stop Hindutva from pouring forth through India. The culmination of Hindutva came when the Supreme Court of India handed over the disputed mandir-masjid land in Ayodhya to the Hindus.

P Chidambaram says that the judgment was flawed. Certainly, the court said many things and then did the opposite. A more just judgment could have been sharing the disputed land between a temple and a mosque, or even reserving the land for a national heritage museum. Even though Muslims got adequate land to build a mosque, many seethed with anger. Many Hindutvadis gloated. Now it would be the turn of Kashi and Mathura and perhaps even two thousand more mosques. Which was what led to the TV debate that got Nupur Sharma in hot water. Now a Hindu tailor in Udaipur has been executed; his execution publicly videographed. These guys are serious. They have a lot of crazies within their midst. People just need to understand that one community takes any affront to their religion or religious figures very seriously, even violently.

Why is this so? Well, it is what it is. It’s like asking why the sky is blue. Otherwise, how many crazies will you apprehend? Sharma was a national spokesperson of the BJP and part of its executive committee. She’s been suspended from the party for six months. But the party has a bigger problem on hand. How to save her? They are obligated to do so. She is a citizen of India and a party member. Naveen Jindal, Sharma’s expelled comrade-in-arms, is in even dire trouble. He used even more insulting words. The BJP has washed its hands off him, but the State is obligated to provide him protection as well. Sharma and Jindal and anybody who supports them publicly are living on borrowed time.

Proud Hindu and a Nationalist is what Jindal calls himself now. Well, it’s more like Stupid Hindu. Where really was the need to insult someone’s religious figure? The counter-narrative is that people like Akbaruddin Owaisi insult Hinduism. Well, let the law take its own course with respect to bigots like him. Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity have evolved where people of the respective faiths make fun of their own religion. Perhaps in due course Islam will. Maybe it won’t. Who can say? India is sitting on a religious tinderbox. The Nupur Sharma trial will be closely watched all over the world. Asaduddin Owaisi says that she’s destined for higher things, that anyone who insults Muslims is rewarded by the powers that be.

In this case, it might be difficult to reward Sharma. The controversy burst forth only when Middle Eastern Islamic countries expressed their ire. The prime minister treasures India’s relations with them. Perhaps in some 20 years, Sharma can walk over the shards of her making and mount a resurrection. But not right now. Right now, it is purely a matter of life and death for her. Former French prime minister, Georges Clemenceau said that war is too serious a business to be left to the generals. In the same vein, it could be said that religion is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.