This is the letter I wrote to the editor of The Statesman Kolkata today. But first the original article and then my letter.
Leading by examples It never ceases to amaze us how fact could be stranger than fiction. A news item, published in a section of the Press recently, profiling one Kabir Chowdhury of Berhampore in West Bengal might have escaped the attention of many readers. But those who had read it were astonished to find striking resemblances between the religious outlook of the fifteenth century holy man Kabir and that of his present day Bengali namesake. Kabir’s followers believed that he was born to a Brahmin widow and brought up by a Muslim weaver. Deeply religious since his childhood, Kabir followed in the footsteps of his foster father to eke out a living. Soon he became the chief disciple of the great religious leader Ramananda. History idolises him mainly as a man who preached that there is no difference between Hinduism and Islam, and worked relentlessly for harmony between the two religions. Kabir Chowdhury too is a born Hindu. A shop owner, he seems to have taken a leaf from the book of his historical predecessor and follows his words and deeds in letter and spirit. He offers both puja and namaz in temples and mosques, fasts during Ramzan, and takes part in all the religious festivals of the two communities epitomising a secular society. Contrast him with the current crop of Indian politicians and you will simply shrink in chagrin. Chowdhury is no politician. Nor does he nurse a political ambition. But he believes, as do all great teachers and leaders, examples are better than precepts. “My life is my message”, said Gandhiji. And indeed it was. He preached non-violence, and he practised it in his daily life. He wanted us to be truthful for he himself was a worshipper of truth. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, former President of India, reads the two scriptures ~ the Holy Koran and the Gita ~ with equal religious fervour. One can argue politics was never Dr Kalam’s cup of tea ~ it was thrust upon him. But inspired by the Father of the Nation, he too tries in his modest ways to reflect his own words and ideals through his deeds. Both Gandhiji and now Dr Kalam are much above what the word “secular” denotes or “connotes”. They did not have to claim that they were “secular”. But today’s politicians have to: they have to blow their secular trumpet every now and then. All for votes! In fact, there is a scramble among political parties to prove their secular credentials. Putting on a secular mask they would shed tears over the perceived woes of the minorities. Thanks to them, secularism has turned into a clichéd concept. Much to their horror, political parties have now woken up to the fact that their secular pretension is not paying off. So they are pressing for the reservation of minorities in government jobs and educational institutions ignoring the Supreme Court cap. The Buddhists, the Jains or the Christians, however, are not “minorities” to them, for numerically they are minuscule. How many votes can they fetch? So for the moment they can be sidelined! A section of the intelligentsia too joined the secular bandwagon. They supported the ban on Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, denounced Taslima Nasreen for her apostasy and demanded withdrawal of her work Lajja from the market, but they found great creativity in the distorted pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses in paintings and novels! The word “secularism” has helped the career graph of many a politician swing dramatically upwards. At a time when most of our national parties went politically bankrupt and were desperately looking for issues to fight elections with, secularism became the anchor of their political agenda. In the aftermath of the Babari Masjid demolition, political parties vied with each other to hijack secularist issues from each other. The detractors of secularist forces have incorporated a new term for this brand of politics ~ “pseudo-secularism”. They say that secularism has come to mean minority appeasement. But neither does it mean playing the temple card. It is a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black! Both the practitioners of “minoritism” and “majoritism” have one thing in common ~ they exploit religious sentiments of the people to the hilt for their own survival. Politicians and intellectuals would do well to learn a lesson or two on secularism from an ordinary man like Kabir Chowdhury. Here is a devout secularist amidst fundamentally secular humbugs and demagogues. Leaders should lead by examples and not by empty slogans.(The author teaches English at Durgapur Institute of Advanced Technology & Management, Rajbandh)
The two leaders mentioned by Ardhendu Chatterjee in his article ‘Leading by examples’ in yesterday’s Statesman, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam were the beneficiaries of an exquisite education of the highest degree. In addition, Mahatma Gandhi was a staunch follower of Leo Tolstoy and his concept of ‘service to mankind’ as the bedrock of religion. These two Indians are humanitarians first and politicians, as we understand the word, later. However, one need not offer prayers and namaz or maintain a month- long fast to prove one’s secular credentials. ‘Love thy neighbour’, an exhortation preached by all religions, if followed in letter and spirit, more than suffices to heal the sufferings that flesh is heir to, in these troubled times of ours.