Shah Rukh Khan Image Credit: IANS

Muzaffar Beg is one of the sensible voices in Kashmir. However, I could not understand why he was mentioning partition or the 1947 killings when commenting on the controversy over the BJP’s demand for Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s resignation on his remark that both the RSS and the BJP offered training at its shakhas (branches) to Hindu terrorists. On the other hand, a Pakistani lawyer told an Indian Muslim on a television channel that he was worse than a Hindu because he blamed the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) for launching and supporting terrorists. Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan, meanwhile, says as a Muslim, he has felt unsafe.

In an e-mail message to me, one well-read Muslim from Karachi says: “We do not have any problems with our Hindu brothers, in spite of the fact that our Muslim brothers are being killed — simply because they are Muslims — in Gujarat.” An Indian prisoner was severely beaten up and killed at Kot Lakhpat jail by the staff members, who made “racial remarks against Indians”. (Incidentally, this is the same jail where Sarabjit Singh is on death row.)

One common theme that runs through all observations and the death in jail is the same old estrangement between Hindus and Muslims. Partition was considered a solution to the problem when the British rulers were quitting. However, it continues to be a problem. After partition, relations between the two communities have been spoilt. Now it is not only Hindus and Muslims but also India and Pakistan.

I am a witness to partition. The separation was a settlement between the two countries — and based on religion. Nothing could be more futile than an argument now about who was responsible for the partition of the subcontinent. With the sequence of events stretching back to more than six decades, such an exercise can only be an academic question. However, it is clear that the differences between Hindus and Muslims had become so acute by the beginning of the ‘40s that something like partition had become inevitable.

For Beg to remind partition is to raise a scare, knowing well that another partition is out of the question. I concede that the Indian polity is not as secular as our forefathers had wanted or envisaged it to be. Hindus have a feeling that they are a majority and Muslims suffer from a complex of being a minority. Yet, India is far better than Pakistan whose founder Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had said that religion would have nothing to do with the state. Jinnah never propounded the thesis that the Indian Muslims would be Pakistan’s charge.

Therefore, the intellectual from Karachi propagates pan-Islamic when he says that “our Muslim brothers are being killed”. Muslims on this side are Indians and those across the border are Pakistanis. This is precisely what Jinnah said after partition: You are Pakistanis or Indians and you cease to be Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, not in the religious sense but otherwise. He buried the two-nation theory there and then.

What happened in Gujarat is a shame and a stigma on India’s secular face. The result is that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has become a pariah throughout India. Muslims in Gujarat, West Bengal or in any other state are Indian citizens, equal before the law. Some extremists or the states with weak administrations do not make them lesser citizens by their behaviour. True, their backwardness is a point of concern, something which the Sachar Commission made. However, the report remains largely unimplemented even after six years.

In fact, the problem with Beg and others whom I have quoted is that they have not got out of the two-nation theory mindset. Religion does not determine nationhood. The liberation of Bangladesh, East Pakistan separating from West Pakistan, buried the two-nation theory deep. The fact that both were Muslims could not keep East Pakistan from liberating itself when there was discrimination against the people living there.

When the Kashmiris project themselves as a nation, they are confusing community with the nation. They will be either part of the Indian nation or that of Pakistan if and when the UN resolution is implemented. Their independent status neither accepted by India nor by Pakistan and I do not foresee such circumstances where three-four million people, landlocked, become independent.

In fact, the question is a larger one. Hindus and Muslims who have lived together for centuries have not generally shed their animosity towards each other. The only relieving patch was when even during the Muslims rule, they were together in their struggle against emperors. The British were the villain of the piece. By introducing communal electorate and reservations for Muslims they injected the poison of separation in Indian body politics and it has not gone out of the system yet.

Soon after independence, it looked as if we have got rid of the virus. Muslims voluntarily gave up reservations and even when the Constituent Assembly wanted to have a provision of reservations for Muslims, they said no. Little did they realise that they would face discrimination subsequently. So much so, the Sachar Commission has said that the plight of Muslims is worse than that of dalits (backward castes).

The immediate point of concern of Muslims is that an extremist group of Hindus is indulging in acts of terrorism and the Hindu community on the whole is suspecting Muslims for the killing or bomb blasts. Young boys from the community have been picked up by the police as terrorists and kept in jail for years till the courts have acquitted them. True, their innocence is established, but by then they spend best part of their youth in detention. And there is no accountability and none in the police has been punished for having put them in jail wrongly.

The most serious slur is Shah Rukh’s statement that he, as a Muslim, feels unsafe. He is not the kind of person who will exaggerate or try to invent. Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed exploits the expression and welcomes SRK to Pakistan. Of course, the latter has pooh-poohed the offer. Yet, India fails in its credentials of being a secular society as long as the SRKs do not feel safe as Hindus do. I see the revival of a two-nation theory in such developments.

Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian high commissioner to the United Kingdom and a former Rajya Sabha member.