From ‘Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas’ to Divisive Politics: A Muslim Woman’s Perspective

An Open Letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by a history professor, challenging the rhetoric of division

Dear Prime Minister,

No, I am not an intruder. Allow me to emphasize that no one in my family is an intruder. My ancestors lived in this country a few centuries before LK Advani reached India and became its citizen. Sad that the person whom you, I mean your government, gave the Bharat Ratna this year, LK Advani had led the demolition of the Babri Masjid.  Let me underline that my ancestors had arrived in this country long before the Mughals. As an ordinary Muslim citizen in India, I wonder: how is it that you deliver such ‘hateful’ speeches directed at us, Indian Muslims, during your public meetings every day? As an ordinary Muslim citizen in India, I wonder: how is it that you deliver such ‘hateful’ speeches directed at us, Indian Muslims, during your public meetings every day? Even if I assume you and your party want to declare India as a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and see us as ‘second class’ citizens, how can such hateful words be uttered towards second-class citizens of any country? If you, as the Prime Minister of India, from the topmost position of the country deliver such hate speech against us, i.e. Muslims, how exactly would the grassroots workers or BJP supporters of your party react? Wouldn’t your statements serve to enrage one section of ordinary people against another and for nothing?  Won’t there be an increase in cases of lynching and harassment of  Muslims, simply because they are suspected of storing beef in their refrigerators?

Dear Prime Minister, I was shocked to hear your speech. Based on my experience of working in some of our neighbouring countries,  I wonder if you can any longer invite the students of any neighbouring Muslim country to study in India with Indian government scholarships? Even if we go to a neighbouring country, we have to hear that these days a Muslim can be beaten to death in India on a flimsy pretext; if you go to an educational institution donning a hijab, you are likely to be chased out. Considering your election campaigns targeting Muslims, will we be able to visit a neighboring country and speak with our heads held high? Friends in Europe and America have often asked if Muslims in India were beaten to death for eating beef. The way you and your cabinet colleagues have targeted people for eating non-vegetarian food, what reply do I have as an Indian?

Dear Prime Minister, I believed in the dream of your rhetoric ‘Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas’. When we woke up, the dream had faded into oblivion. When you or your party supporters say ‘Jai Sri Ram’, I also bow to Lord Ram. I also pay my deepest reverence to Lord Krishna or Lord Shiva. But if your party supporters beat up a Muslim youth just for the ‘crime’ of not chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’, how can we support it? If a non-Muslim in a neighbouring Muslim country does not agree to say ‘Allah Ho Akbar’, then killing him is as much a crime as the hatred spread against Muslims. Unfortunately, your words to win elections and retain power do not align with your actions or the reality on the ground.

Dear Prime Minister, at a time when you are targeting Muslims in different parts of the country in your speeches, seeking a sharp communal divide by misinterpreting former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s points of natural resource distribution, at the same time, a movie called ‘Maidan’ is playing in different cinema halls of the country. It is an extraordinary story of eleven Indians who defied all odds to create a legendary victory on the football field to raise the Tiranga collectively and with pride. Some of those Indian footballers were Sikhs, some Muslims, some Hindus. And yes, the coach of those eleven Indian footballers was an Indian Muslim from Hyderabad who is still fondly remembered by the people of his country as ‘Rahim Saheb’. It is a different matter that when Rahim Sahib achieved this astonishing feat with eleven Indian footballers, someone else was the Prime Minister of India. The Prime Minister did not try to vitiate the Dalits with a ‘myth’ that some political party is trying to snatch all their wealth to be distributed to us.

Dear Prime Minister, when your propaganda casts Muslims as intruders and virulent flesh-eaters, I am reminded of you hugging Indian cricket team pacer Mohammed Shami in the dressing room after the World Cup final! I wonder which of these is true? I wonder what message the Prime Minister of India, the Prime Minister of a country of 1.4 billion people, wants to give? On the one hand, all of your party’s small-big-middle-tier leaders will denigrate the Mughals daily, and when a foreign statesman comes, you will hold hands with him and take pictures in front of the Taj Mahal. What can be more duplicitous than this? You cannot change history just by dropping the Mughal era from the syllabus.

Unfortunately, what you and your party supporters say to win elections in the country and to stay in power does not match your actions or the ground reality.

Like your economic advisor, Sanjeev Sanyal who despite being a Bengali, in his eagerness to get a more stable position in Delhi, denounces Bengalis as ‘pessimists’ over Mrinal Sen’s movies. He seems to forget that if the leftist director from Calcutta had not directed ‘Mrigaya’, BJP would have never got its star campaigner, Mithun Chakraborty!

Dear Prime Minister, in the various speeches these days, you compare your political opponents with the Muslim League. As a Muslim, I humbly request you to take a second look at the correspondence between Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Subhash Chandra Bose as Congress President. Subhash Bose, the Netaji you sometimes have used to belittle Nehru, wrote to Jinnah as Congress president to remind him that the Muslim League did not represent all Muslims in India. You may not know that Jinnah regarded Congress as a party of the Hindus. Netaji said Congress is a party of Hindus and Muslims. When you want to be happy just by winning votes through communal polarization in the name of the Muslim League, let me very humbly remind you, neither were all the Muslims of India supporters of the Muslim League nor did all of them, en masse, want partition. Homogenization of any community tends to represent an incorrect history. Like my grandfather, Syed Siraj Ali, who stood in the Jama Masjid of Delhi, was convinced by the speech of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and eventually decided not to go to Pakistan, a state built on religion. From Nehru to Azad, Subhash Bose to Mahatma Gandhi, all wanted to make India an ‘India for all’, an inclusive nation.

Dear PM, you can change that India today. In foreign eyes, you can change Muslims into second-class citizens by changing Gandhi’s India, which was idolized and emulated by Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Detention camps may await us, but no amount of falsity can change history. Only in the future, India may have to drop its head in shame.


Syed Tanveer Nasreen

is Head of the History Department in Burdwan University and ex ICCR Director of India, in Maldives

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