It is to be remembered that the late Prof. Mushirul Hasan who was born on 15th August 1949 and passed away -after four years of his serious accident- on 10th December 2018 at Delhi. At the outset, let me admit that Prof. Hasan had cherished and epitomized the rich heritage of India’s secular and plural legacy. Prof Hasan’s academic contributions have to be remembered in the times of ‘cultural intolerance’ and the ‘Age of Anger’ (on this theme a book was authored by a noted scholar Pankaj Mishra, 2010) which has been now widely noticed across the world. Everywhere, the right-wing and conservative forces are ruling the respective countries. For instance, the rise of President Donald Trump in the USA, RecepTayyip Erdogan in Turkey and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India and so forth can be taken as cases in point.
Taking into mind world-wide dismal situations, Prof. Hasan’s secular and plural perspectives must not easily be forgotten because; as a matter of fact he had taken an uncompromising and assertive intellectual academic stance against the both rabid communal forces such as the BJP-RSS combine and Muslim fundamentalist forces too. For instance, his intellectual views on ‘majoritarian communalism’ and ‘minority communalism’ were well-known. To note that Prof. Hasan was vehemently attacked and humiliated by the Muslim conservative forces when he took firm academic stand against the ban on Rushdie’s controversial, Satantnic verses. However, in today’s political context, the threat of Hindu majoritarianism is still largely looming over after the landslide reinstatement of the PM Modi- 2.0 in 2019 general elections.
Given the sad conditions of our society and economy, one cannot deny the fact that inclusive vision of India is under serious threat; which was cherished by Mushir saheb in his intellectual life and academic writings. For instance, in his widely cited book, Legacy of Divided Nation: India’s Muslims since Independence, 1998, Prof. Hasan had taken critical stand against both majority and minority communalism and foregrounded the secular, plural and composite cultural perspectives which are profoundly reminiscent of India’s history and culture. In contrast to this progressive and secular values, while explaining the stereotypical image of Indian Muslims, constructed by the Hindutva propagandists in the mainstream Indian society, Hasan writes,
“The familiar representation of Indian Muslims was as aggressive fundamentalists, the descendants of the depraved and tyrannical medieval rulers who demolished temples [Babri Masjid at Ayodhya] and forcibly converted Hindus to Islam. They [Indian Muslim] were also portrayed as ‘fifth columnists’, tied to Muslim countries through the common Islamic bond. They were, moreover, demonized as ‘separatists’ and indicted for partitioning the country in August 1947”. (See Hasan, Legacy of Divided Nation, p-25)
One cannot undermine that ever since the current political dispensation came to power, Prof. Mushir saheb’s notion of the secular and democratic fabric that is his inclusive idea of India, is wrestling with a crisis in the making. For instance, increasing incidences like lynching, mob-violence, and hate crimes under the broad agenda of communal polarization have widened the rupture against religious and social identities. Besides, our democratic country is passing through the critical phase of socio-economic crisis, for instance, we are witnessing a huge job slump including socio-economic inequalities on the basis of religion, caste/class and gender etc. As a result of these social problems, our country is lagging behind in terms of the Human Development Index (India ranked at 130 out of 189 countries in 2018) and Happiness Index (India ranked at 140 out of 155 Nations in 2019) and other social and human indicators too. To put it blatantly, due to mob-lynching, everyday communalism and caste-based discriminations India’s religious minorities including Dalits are force to survive under the constant fear and intimidations in their day to day life. However, while addressing the newly elected MPs, of 2019, our Prime Minister Naredera Modi has given assurance that minorities should not feel insecure we are committed to development of all and appeasement of none. To realize this goal, PM Modi has given slogans like Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas and this time he added Sabka vishwas also.(Inclusive development and trust of all sections which include religious minorities too). Despite his assurance, the culture of mob-violence, caste based discriminations and hates crime and against the religious minorities and Dalits continues unabated.
In what follows, the question that which should ask to ourselves- why, we the people of India must remember and carry-forward the secular legacy of Prof. Hasan and his idea of an inclusive India on the special occasion of 73th Independence Day and his 70th birth anniversary. To be precise, Prof. Hasan in his academic and historical writings had articulated the vision which was emerged from the anti-colonial movement and struggle for India’s independent. In short, Hasan in his writings has articulated with academic vigor that secular and plural legacy of our founding fathers must be foregrounded at times when our country is witnessing and passing through critical moment. In this critical phase, we should not forget the contributions of our nationalist leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s progressive ideas, enshrined in our secular Constitution. To put it differently, ideas of the founding fathers of our Nation like India as said above must be the guiding principles in today’s political context rather than putting forward old and outdated concept like two-nation theory based on religion alone, which was adopted by both the Muslim League led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS combined during Colonial rule.
We the people of India must ask vital questions on the special occasion of our 73th Independence Day; have we achieved the pledges sanctified by the makers of modern India that bequeathed to us this historic document? If yes, have we seriously think about what went wrong and who are responsible for current social and economic malaise, we the people of India or our representative leaders and political parties? And how can we overcome the current predicaments confronted by our society and politics at large? What is way forward to move ahead? In my view, without answering these questions, we could not visualize and achieve an egalitarian society, enshrined in our secular Constitution in times to come.
In this regards, our current Prime Minister Narendra Modi including Sangh Privar have often blamed that the Left-liberal forces mainly the Congress Party is responsible for putting the country backward and above all has followed the appeasement policies vis-a-vis Indian Muslims. To prove the point mainly politic of appeasement, the Right-wing often highlights and gives the example of the Shah Bano case. For the right-wing forces the so-called pseudo-secular path that the Congress party strode though is responsible for everything which has gone wrong during the last 60 years of India’s political trajectory. The Congress rule is now seen as ‘wasted decades‘of India’s democratic politics. However, the left-liberals are reluctant to accept this exaggerated narrative of the ruling dispensation and continue to attack the current regime for not addressing genuine democratic demands of the gullible masses.
Before concluding this essay, let me discuss the current situation of academic and intellectual freedom and the role of the present government. In this respect, recently a leading political theorist like Prof. Rajeev Bhargava has shared his views and said that the intellectual and academic freedom of our country is passing through critical phase. For Bhargava, under the present regime the attacks on ‘academic freedom’ and ‘societal intolerance’ have been tremendously aggravated. A secular institution like JNU has been victimized and progressive and critical thinking are being suppressed. Besides, interference of the present government has increased in shaping academic thinking including as far as formulating the University syllabi and ‘pedagogical practices’. In doing so, under the present regime the academic and intellectual freedom has been widely compromised and education has been to the great extent commoditized for serving the corporate rather than promoting free academic thinking said by Prof. Bhargava. Further commenting on the sad situations of University education and space for critical thinking, Bhargava writes,
“If these trends continue, the university as a site of autonomous scholarship, independent thought and uncorrupted enquiry will be disassembled. Our best young minds will emigrate and the very future of our country imperilled by another, ‘brain drain’. India may not easily recover from this blow”. (See,R. Bhargava, “Perilous State of academic freedom”, the Hindu dated August 13, 2019, p-11).
To conclude, it is high time to restore our academic and intellectual freedom as highlighted by Bhargava. In a similar way, Mushir Saheb was also committed to carry-forward critical academic thinking in the larger public sphere. And his academic writings on the range of issues like secularism, pluralism, communal politics, partitions and composite culture are witnessed to the progressive thinking. However, it is not wrong to say that under the present political regime the space for critical and free academic inquiry is drastically shrinking as said earlier. Despite difficult situations, if we are committed and want to achieve the egalitarian vision of our nationalists leaders as said above, it is crucial to preserves the progressive thinking of our founding fathers which are aptly enshrined in our remarkable document like Indian constitution. Hence, it would be the great loss of our Nation like India and to the larger humanity, if we the people of India will forget the contributions of Prof. Hasan on the wide-range of issues as mentioned above. Therefore, we have to remember and pay tribute to him on 70th anniversary. It would not be exaggerate to say that his academic writings and other intellectual contributions could be valuable for the larger society and provide academically insightful inspirations to new generations of young scholars in years to come.
The writer is a research scholar at the University of Delhi.