Syed Tanveer Ahmed conducted an interview with Mr.Sudheendra Kulkarni, a veteran journalist and former media advisor to the late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Ahmed had a wide-ranging discussion on the 75th anniversary of the Indian freedom struggle and various important issues facing the nation. Following are some excerpts from the interview.
Tanveer: It has been 75 years since we won freedom. We have had many ups and downs. What can be done to make India great?
Kulkarni: The 75th anniversary is a sacred occasion for all of us because our motherland is one. We should work hard to take it forward. Despite so much diversity in religions, communities and customs; we live together. We say India is a “Vishwaguru” (leader of the universe), but the truth is something else. Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs participated in the freedom struggle. Everyone rendered sacrifices. We must learn from our mistakes. The biggest mistake was the Partition of 1947. Two nation theory was a mistake, but it happened. Pakistan and Bangladesh are now a reality. Those talking of Akhand Bharat are living in a fool’s paradise. We are now neighbours. South Asia is the biggest region as far as population is concerned. India is the largest populated country in the region. We should think of everyone, be it Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Afghanistan. Then, the world will admire us. For 40 years, Afghanistan has been fighting wars. Two superpowers invaded the country. Lakhs of people died, and there was so much destruction. We should free this region from outside powers. We should talk to those who are coming to power in Afghanistan. India and Pakistan should jointly work for a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan. What is happening today is that India and Pakistan are working against each other. On the 75th Independence anniversary, we should pledge that India will be free from poverty and unemployment by 2047.
Tanveer: You are working hard for Hindu-Muslim unity. What role should religious leaders and organizations play to promote harmony?
Kulkarni: I am thankful to the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) for inviting me to participate in this programme. I got an opportunity to understand the activities of JIH and meet its leaders. We must familiarize ourselves with each other. It helps to clear misconceptions between Hindu and Muslims. I am not a religious leader but I have a mission. One is Hindu-Muslim harmonization and another is India-Pakistan normalization. I work for Hindu-Muslim harmony and good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan. I am making a small effort. But it is a work in progress. I believe Hindus and Muslims are equal. Our country is not the exclusive domain of one community or the other. India is for all and of all. We have to live peacefully and learn to coexist. We need to live together. My second goal is India-Pakistan normalization. Pakistan is our neighbour. At one point in time, we were one. Pakistan just separated from us 74 years ago. I do not want to go into a discussion about Partition. I have the good fortune to work with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He used to say you can change your friends, but not neighbours. Pakistan is our neighbour. There are some differences and disputes. We need to sit together and solve them. War cannot be a solution. We have had four wars. Did any of our issues get solved? Sahir Ludhanivi once said “jung apne aap main ek masla hai, ye maslon ko kaise hal kar sakata hai” (war by itself is a problem. How can it solve problems?) Friendly relations between India and Pakistan will have a positive impact internally. Many people are suspecting Muslims. Religious leaders have a greater role in creating communal harmony. They still influence common people. They should come forward and try to promote harmony among communities. I will say the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and RSS should also chip in and help in this regard.
Tanveer: You have always favoured dialogue between Hindus and Muslims. How should people go about it?
Kulkarni: Dialogue is the only way out to promote harmony and reduce disharmony. Differences and disputes breed disharmony. There should be a dialogue to remove mistrust, distrust, and disharmony. However, the dialogue should be honest and sincere. There is no need to have a dialogue between those who already believe in Hindu-Muslim amity. There should be a dialogue between those who have differences. There are people in the Hindu community who have some misconceptions. Among Muslims, some people do not interact with Hindus. There should be a dialogue between them. It should be an issue-based structured dialogue. For example, are constitutional values being adhered to in our country Are our democratic institutions working as per the law and Constitution? Why are Muslims feeling insecure? Why do they think that police, courts, or bureaucracy do not do justice to them? Why are they being discriminated against? This is the feeling among the Muslim community. It is a truth. There should be dialogue to reduce this mistrust. There could be other issues like Kashmir, terrorism, and religious extremism. Some say Hindu nationalism and some say India should be Hindu Rashtra (Hindu State). There should be issue-based dialogue wherein media persons, intellectuals, cultural experts, and educationists of both communities could sit and evolve a consensus. When we meet there will be a consensus and common ground. Commonality should be preserved. Big Muslim and Hindu organizations should also shoulder this responsibility. I will be happy If Jamaat- e-Islami Hind and RSS leaders sit together and have an open-minded dialogue. Some days ago RSS chief Dr Mohan Bhagwat addressed a Muslim gathering. He said so many good things. He said there is distrust among Muslims and it should be removed by a dialogue. He said there should be neither Hindu nor Muslim domination. He said both communities should work for national unity. He said politics breaks society. Non-political people of the two communities can unite society. I am not from the RSS. In fact, I am their critic. I do not believe in Hindu Rashtra. I want the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, the RSS, and many others to talk to each other and evolve a consensus. It will send across a very good message.
Tanveer: There are different perceptions among Muslims and Hindus. Muslims feel Hindus are trying to suppress them. We want Hindu-Muslim unity. How can both communities overcome this perception?
Kulkarni: There are equal rights for everyone in our country. One of the patriotic songs played during Independence Day and Republic Day is “Sare Jahan Se Accha Hindustan Hamara”. It was written by Allama Iqbal. Why did he write it? In this song, there is a stanza that says: “Mazhab Nahi Sikhata Aapas Main Bair Rakhna, Hindi Hain Hum Watan Hai Hindustan Hamara”. (Religion does not teach animosity, We are Indian and India is our nation) It gives a lesson of unity and togetherness. There is a myth among Hindus and Muslims. I am Hindu and I say it with confidence that majority of Hindus do not want to dominate or suppress Muslims. It is a small minority, whose voice gets amplified because they have political power. Humanity comes first and then the nation. All humans are equal. “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the whole world is a family). How can anyone say my younger brother should remain subdued? Civil society, religious leaders, politicians, and media persons should clear these misconceptions. For example, it is being said Muslims have ruled this country for a thousand years and now it is time for Hindus to rule this nation. Both are wrong. Some Muslim rulers were good and some bad. Propaganda has been unleashed. We need to launch mass education to counter it.
Tanveer: There is a perception that Muslims are a burden on this country and they are exploiting its resources. Another perception is that Muslims are not patriotic and they are not loyal to this country. How can these perceptions be changed?
Kulkarni: This is a very dangerous misperception. Saying Muslims are not loyal to the country, is a big lie. Did Hindus only participate in the freedom movement? See the history. From 1857 to 1947, Hindus and Muslims struggled, fought, and even rendered sacrifices together. You read 1857 history. I will recommend Savarkar’s book. In 1909, he wrote the book `Indian war of Independence in 1857’. He was in England at that time. Everyone should read this book. He wrote that how Muslim patriots worked. He has named many Muslim patriots. Who was Khan Abdul Gaffer Khan? He was the closest aide of Mahatma Gandhi. He was given the title of Frontier Gandhi. He was a Muslim. He was committed to non-violence. Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai and so many others. Poisonous propaganda has been unleashed that Muslims are a burden on this country. Can a brother be a burden on another brother? What kind of deformed thinking is it? Supporting backward class is our responsibility. We have to stand against these elements. Some people in the Muslim community, too, believe only Islam should rule the world. Muslim and Hindu communities should introspect within themselves.
Tanveer: You said religious leaders should play their role in Hindu Muslim unity. Is it the duty of only religious leaders or society should also play its role? What role a common man should play for communal harmony?
Kulkarni: Both religious leaders and civil society have a role to unite people. I do not consider them separately. All religions say all human beings have been created by God. Islam says it, Hinduism says it and all religions say it. This is the fundamental message. If I am a true follower of Hinduism, I should not have any grudge against a Muslim brother. It is also true for Muslims. Indian Constitution has guaranteed equality. Every religion teaches us to honour other religions. Everyone should get dignity, security, and equal opportunity. It can make a healthy civil society. Civil society should play a role. Be it people working in education, culture, business media. It is their responsibility to work for harmony. Some media people are spreading venom. Neither are they serving the country nor humanity. They are not even serving their own religion. We need to strengthen civil society.
Tanveer: It is said the country’s future is decided in schools. In the present situation, what is the role of educational institutions and teachers to promote communal harmony?
Kulkarni: Education particularly, early schooling, moulds thinking of tiny tots. Experts have said that the impressions left on the minds of children up to the age of six remain with them for life. Preschool and school education is very important. If students get a good value system, good education, and guidance, they will become good human beings. They will always say that their teachers and parents have taught them well. Students must be taught basic values, principles, and ideals of all religions in schools. It can be through moral lessons, history books, social science, culture, literature, films, or something else. We have lost sight. Education is not confined to the four walls of schools. TV and the internet have huge influences on people’s minds. Some TV channels are only spreading hatred. Internet and social media are spreading canards. It creates prejudices. Education is extremely important. Teachers should first become good teachers. They should know the basic teaching of all religions. They should respect all religions. We should have an atmosphere that we talk with each other. People should listen to the religious leaders of each other. Education is not just question and answer, and examination. If we have to produce a good human being, we should focus on education. There should be equal opportunities for all in education. Unfortunately, we do not have equal opportunities. Poor students do not go beyond matriculation. The majority of Muslims are educationally backward. We should remove inequalities. Sachar Commission has held a mirror up to the government. It is a bitter truth. Everyone, be it Hindu or Muslim, should work together to remove inequalities.