Arif Mohammad Khan
Arif Mohammad Khan Image Credit: PTI

Arif Mohammad Khan is the current governor of Kerala in India but the man can’t be restricted to his constitutional post alone.

Among a rare breed of politicians, he is a thinker too. Khan made history in late 1980s when he challenged his all-powerful boss, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s move to revert a liberal judgement in the famous Shah Bano case.

A hard-core nationalist, devout Muslim and dynamic thinker of Islam and global affairs, Khan spoke with Gulf News recently.

Excerpts from the interview with Sheela Bhatt:

India’s image of being secular nation is being questioned for the last few years?

Those who question the secular image of India have no idea of what India is all about.

Do not forget that world over, societies started becoming plural and accepting diversity only in the last 150 years. This phenomenon of tolerance, pluralism and diversity isn’t new for India.

We have always believed it is an article of faith as far as the Indian cultural heritage is concerned, which evolved over thousands of years. Our civilisational journey started with acknowledgement of diversity and pluralism — as the law of nature. India has always been pluralistic.

Indians practised pluralism much before Jews and Christians came to India.

In the Indian society, even if you try very hard, acceptance of diversity and pluralism is so deeply embedded that nobody can dilute it.

Sometimes our concept of time may be cyclical, or there may be a reaction to certain events but we should not forget that our country was partitioned in 1947 in the name of religion.

Indian secularism is not about saying goodbye to religion. Our secularism embraces diversity and respects it.

How do you explain the prevalent insecurity in a section of minorities in India?

I won’t like to use the term minority because the British introduced it. The constitutional arrangement was such that these terms — majority and minority — were coined.

Britishers refused to recognise India as a nation. They always said that you can only speak on behalf of your community. Nobody, they felt, had a right to speak on behalf of the country. And that is why they never recognised India as a nation.

But as far as the constitution of India is concerned, the building block, the unit is a ‘citizen’. It is not the community. Even the right to religion, if you read it carefully, has been guaranteed to the individual.

That is actually the words used in the constitution — freedom of conscience.

And it is guaranteed to the individual. Why? Because there is no community — no religious community or minority.

Shah Bano case is a case in point. Many Indian Muslims supported the stand of the Muslim Personal Law board. But, Indian Constitution does not recognise the right of the community. It recognises the right of the individual to have freedom of conscience.

Do you think that since 2014, some kind of a major change is underway in the Hindu Muslim communal relationship?

Point out a time in history when this particular section did not feel suspicious, did not feel insecure, give me any time in history. Why was this country partitioned?

Perhaps Muslims felt insecure?

How can you say that the rift is new? How come these people who are expressing anxiety or concern since 2014 did they not express the same anxiety about Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru?

For eight years continuously, every Urdu paper in India described Maulana Azad as Hindu Congress ka Musalmaan Rashtrapati. For years Congress president was known as Rashtrapati.

Professor Rasheed Ahmed Siddiquie pointed out that no abuse in Urdu language was spared when it came to Maulana Azad. How will you explain that?

There is a certain section who thrives in the sense of victimhood. This mentality continues and sows the seeds of division.

I am not making this statement in order to blame the Britishers for our problems because somebody can exploit you only if you are exploitable.

What worries you about India’s future?

Nothing worries me about India’s future. India is marching very effectively to emerge as a world power. And the whole world is going to recognise India’s potential.

I am using the word potential, I am not saying that we have already reached that stage but everybody is recognising, acknowledging India’s potential. Indians are at the helm in major multinationals in the world today. People trust Indians.

You are from UP. How do you find the system in Kerala?

Recently, successful Malayali candidates in central services from Kerala — around 30 — were invited to Raj Bhavan. I told them I am going to say something which they may not like but I will say it.

“I wish and pray that none of you come back to Kerala to join the Kerala cadre. You go to other Indian states,” I told them.

I honestly feel that Kerala is a great society. It is a society where generally nobody talks about Muslim culture, Hindu culture, Muslim dress, Hindu dress, Muslim food, Hindu food, or Christian food or Christian habits, nobody talks like that. They wear the same dress, they eat the same food, they speak the same language.

That bond of Malayali unity is strong. And, possibly, it is so because this is a matriarchal society. You see women walking on the roads of Kerala, that confidence, sense of security is written large on their faces. They don’t need anybody to escort them.

The hard-earned money by Malayalis, living abroad, helps too. What a great reputation Malayalis have built world over.

I participated in two functions in the US this year. The best nursing award went to a Malayali girl. Malayali doctors, Malayali nurses, Malayali teachers — they have created a respectful name for themselves. It has become a brand. Not just in India, all over the world. So I would say to the Malayalis to spread out in India and nurture our culture.